After the advent of the Nintendo Switch allowed classic franchises like Mario and The Legend of Zelda to reach new heights, all eyes were on Pokémon to make the transition to the new console generation. The announcement of Pokémon Sword and Shield by longtime publisher Game Freak, along with the promise of new models, animations and mechanics, generated a significant amount of hype for the new games. Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield were released together on Nov. 15, 2019 for the Switch.
Despite the growing excitement for these new releases, people on the internet were skeptical of the improvements Game Freak promised. This apprehension later ignited into an online firestorm after the news that not all Pokémon from older generations would be returning, and several leaks suggested that Game Freak had lied about creating new models and assets for the games.
Overall, Pokémon Sword and Shield were mediocre games. While the games did feature some noteworthy advancements from previous entries in the series and utilize some of the improved hardware of the new console, all steps forward were accompanied by at least one step back.
Nowhere is the dichotomy between change and constancy represented better than in the game’s presentation. Game Freak had an interesting concept with the Galar region but ultimately failed in executing this vision. The Galar Region was designed as digital rendition of the United Kingdom, featuring interesting landmarks like Big Ben and the Coca-Cola London Eye. Additionally, Game Freak intended to juxtapose the countryside with industrialized cities, something not previously featured in a Pokémon game. Unfortunately, most landmarks, scenery and ground textures look like upscaled assets from a Playstation 2 game.
In polar contrast, the Pokémon models and animations are expressive, detailed and take advantage of the games’ lighting engine exceptionally well. Unfortunately, the high-quality animation of the Pokémon clashes with the subpar animation of the landscape, making for an inconsistent experience.
The gameplay mechanics of Pokémon battles have not seen any massive overhaul like the generation four special and physical split which greatly improved game balance but rather sees some minor tweaks. Notably, greater Pokémon type availability works in tandem with trainers and gym leaders to create a much more difficult and engaging Pokémon game.
Pokémon Sword and Shield’s main story was another area that regressed from former entries in the series. Previous games integrated the gym leader and evil team plotlines in the story to improve the series pacing and took the time to flesh out their characters with convincing motivations and backstories. Pokémon Sword and Shield completely drop these improvements, failing to explain much of its plot. Instead, it just shoves you through a series of eight gym battles. Although a far more interesting plot unfolds in the background, it is never thoroughly explained and does not receive the attention it deserves
Additionally, the characters of Sword and Shield are incomprehensible, as none of them are given more than three lines of backstory explanation. Nowhere is this more problematic than with the main villain. In a span of 30 minutes of gameplay he goes from some unintelligent leader to a megalomaniac set to destroy the world without any concrete explanation.
Pokémon Sword and Shield straddle the line between decent and good Pokémon games. If you felt burnt out with Pokémon Sun and Moon then it would be wise to pass on these new games. For the Pokémon superfan or someone who is looking to jump back into the series after a hiatus, the Galar region is worth a visit, although you may want to wait for a price drop to $40.