When the Pokemon series first debuted in 1996, it became instantly popular. Over its 23 years it rapidly grew to become the highest grossing media franchise of all time. It was obvious that Nintendo’s most successful series would make its way to their newest console, the Nintendo Switch, and the resulting games are Pokemon Sword and Shield. But during the announcement Nintendo revealed that instead of over 900 Pokemon returning, only around 400 would be in the game, it caused rage among fans. However, did this culling of pokemon hurt the franchise’s newest game more than its new features helped?
The story in a small town named Postwick. Here the rival of this game, Hop, who has the goal of beating his brother to become the champion, and grows throughout the story as he becomes more mature is introduced alongside his brother, the champion Leon. Leon gives you your very first pokemon. After this, you and Hop run into the woods to save a pokemon where you see the game exclusive legendary for the first time. From here, you and Hop venture to the wild area and start the gym challenge. While you are on the gym challenge, mysterious things start happening throughout the Galar region.
The aforementioned Galar region is the setting of Pokemon Sword and Shield, and is based on England. It features large machine filled cities, wide open fields, and dark caves, along with some more fantastical environments like glowing mushroom forests. The large variety of locations keep the player’s journey on the gym challenge from feeling redundant. Each different terrain has a gym that reflects the surrounding area, as well as the new pokemon also reflecting it.
The biggest draw of Pokemon games are always the new Pokemon, and Sword and Shield deliver on that with 81 new pokemon and 13 regional variants. The new Pokemon range from basic like Applin, which is an apple with eyes, to the complex like Grimmsnarl, who has a vague resemblance to the Green Goblin. Alongside the new Pokemon were Galarian forms, which were new takes on old Pokemon which helped bring attention to the sometimes forgotten past designs.
The basic combat structure is largely intact with a few new kinds of battles. The big selling point of these games was the new Dynamax and Gigantamax system. With this system the player can make their pokemon giant in select locations, like raid battles and gym battles. The Gigantamax pokemon are Pokemon that change form when Dynamaxing and can be obtained from some raid battles.
Raid battles and gym battles are different from previous games. Raid battles are spots in the Wild Area where you can gather up to four people and fight a giant pokemon. If you defeat it, you are able to catch it. Gym battles have been modified, and the battle against the leader now happens in a stadium with cheering crowds. Dynamaxing is also available in these fights. There are two gyms that change between versions. The fighting and rock type gyms are exclusive to Pokemon Sword, and the Ghost and Ice type gyms are exclusive to Pokemon Shield.
In a game as large as Pokemon Sword and Shield, the characters are what keep the player tethered to the main focus. Another gym challenger, Marnie, is trying to win the challenge while being pestered by fans, and she helps add a different variety to the challengers. There are a multitude of other characters that the player encounters, and while not all are as fleshed out, they all keep things in the story interesting.
Despite not all the pokemon being present in this game, it always felt like their were many pokemon new and old to discover. The new Dynamax system felt half-baked, and it could not compare to the mega evolutions of the past. The Wild Area was always fun to explore and battle in. The new gym battles make them more impactful because they feel like a sporting event. The new pokemon were interesting and welcome additions to the roster.