Released on: November 15, 2019
Available on: Nintendo Switch
Price: 79.99$ CDN (59.99$ US)
___As mentioned in my Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee review, I have been a fan of the Pokemon series since I was eight years old. I started watching the cartoon, then I found out they made a game and that it was a role-playing game (which I have also enjoyed ever since I was a kid). While I did skip a generation in my teenage years, by senior year of high school, I got back into it and have enjoyed it since. Usually, when a new Pokemon generation gets announced, I get ecstatic! A new region, new Pokemon, new features, who could blame me. However, for Sword and Shield, it has been revealed that the developers will be cutting some features back. I was upset with this news, given my history with the Pokemon franchise. Despite my skepticism, I decided to get Pokemon Sword anyway. So are all the cutbacks worth it?
___The story of Pokemon Sword deviates very little from other Pokemon games. The player still takes control of a fledgling Pokemon trainer, someone who catches and trains Pokemon for battling. They travel to different towns and cities, challenging gym leaders for their badge. Once they get all eight badges, they then challenge the champion for a chance to take their title. While this is nothing new for Pokemon, the most significant difference here is how much emphasis these gym battles have. They take place in a giant stadium for everyone to see the glory that is the player’s Pokemon destroying their competition, which does a lot to spice up the formulaic plot. That said, it is still the same tale as all the other Pokemon games.
___The setting of Galar, Pokemon Sword’s region, invokes a sense of wonder. When in towns and cities, the scenery, the landscape, and the buildings all look nice; they give off an air of industrialism. There are train stations that connect Galar, and there is a big open area known as the Wild Area. In bigger cities, the houses are connected, giving a real sense of a well developed urban area.
___The new Pokemon introduced in Pokemon Sword are interesting. Some of my favorites include Corviknight, a giant armored crow, SirFetch’d, a bird with a giant leek sword and leaf shield, and Cursola, a dead coral Pokemon. Those are just a few of my favorites. The beauty of Pokemon is that, with so many, everyone has their own set of preferred Pokemon.
___The music is where Pokemon Sword shines. The soundtrack ranges from pleasant to absolutely fantastic, with my personal favorite being the gym battle theme. With the crowd cheering and that techno beat playing, it made fighting gym leaders epic.
___Pokemon Sword received some significant quality of life improvements. The player can now access the entirety of their Pokemon collection with the Box Link (provided they are not in a Pokemon gym), making finetuning one’s Pokemon team a snap. The player’s bicycle can travel on water. Non-sensical, but I’ll take it. The majority of Pokemon do appear in the overworld; however, while exploring the tall grass, there will be exclamation marks (!!) that will house a random Pokemon, meaning the randomness is optional. If the player wants to change the moveset or name of their Pokemon, they need to head over to any Pokemon center to do so, which is a welcomed convenience. Previous Pokemon games had the player memorize which character in which town to do this.
___Pokemon Sword introduces Raid Battles, an instance where four players team up to take on a giant-sized Pokemon (known as Dynamaxed). The player has the ability to Dynamax their Pokemon as well for three turns. Beating the Dynamaxed Pokemon allows the player to catch it. Winning these Raids also awards the player with items to help them along their journey. These Raids are an excellent addition, as they offer a fresh take on Pokemon battle.
___So with everything said, it’s safe to call Pokemon Sword great, right? Well…
___The graphics of Pokemon Sword, on a technical level, are subpar. When in the Wild Area, the player has complete control over the camera. A controllable camera is fine in theory since the Wild Area is vast, and having a controllable camera helps the player see everything. This freedom, however, reveals glaring graphical issues. The textures are low quality, the models are simple, and the game looks like it was made for a console two generations ago. This lack of graphical polish clashes with the magnificent scenery that the towns and cities provided, making Pokemon Sword graphically conflicting.
___The gameplay of Pokemon Sword has not changed much from earlier iterations. It introduces the concept of Dynamaxing, which, while helpful in Raids, feels like a gimmick when battling regularly. The player can only Dynamax during Raids, gym battles, and against other players. Even with this limit, Dynamaxing takes away a lot of the strategical prowess Pokemon battling had. The battle animations feel rudimentary. Pokemon Sword also recycles models from the older Pokemon games found on the previous handheld system, the Nintendo 3DS. I do understand that animation takes time, but at the same time, it makes Pokemon battles feel stale.
___While Pokemon games are not known to be overly tricky, Pokemon Sword feels especially easy. Unless the player has self-imposed challenges, they will plow through the game’s obstacles without breaking a sweat. So much so that there have been reports of people beating Pokemon Sword with only one Pokemon. Even in my case, my starting Pokemon was up to the task of overcoming most challenges that came our way. The worst part is the beginning, where your rival, Hop, WILL NOT STOP PESTERING THE PLAYER. While he does get redeemed a little during the adventure, he and Leon are insufferable at the start.
___I guess it’s time to address the elephant in the room: the exclusion of more than fifty percent of Pokemon from past games. It was customary for all Pokemon to be available once the player beats the main story. If they have a previous iteration of Pokemon, they can transfer their old Pokemon from the past games to the new ones, which is no longer the case with Pokemon Sword. The story is that the developers needed to make this cut to include new features. While I understand that having almost one thousand creatures is asking a lot from the developers, it is worth noting that the previous Pokemon generation, Pokemon Sun and Moon, had this feature and all available Pokemon at the time. For a numerical comparison, Pokemon Sun and Moon had 802 Pokemon versus Pokemon Sword and Shield’s 400.
___Pokemon Sword puts me in an awkward position. I like the new features that are in the games. Still, the lack of difficulty, Pokemon and graphical polish, makes me feel like Pokemon Sword and Shield was an obligation from the developers rather than something made with passion. For that reason, it isn’t easy to recommend Pokemon Sword and Shield to the hardcore Pokemon fans. That said, the core game of Pokemon is still fun for those willing to overlook Pokemon Sword and Shield’s shortcomings..