Pokemon Sword and Shield Review: More Creatures, Less Difficulty, Plus a Cookbook

A serene and peaceful in-game momentI love the Pokemon game series and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Many consider Pokemon games to be “silly” and “for children,” and that’s a positive opinion – in the worst case, the franchise is compared to something like brainwashed Teletubbies. What can you do: a lot of people only know about Pokemon because of Pikachu, and they only remember the cartoons. The younger generation is also aware of Pokemon GO on mobile phones.

In reality, Pokemon – which is the main series on handheld consoles – is a very interesting and versatile RPG with thousands and thousands of options for assembling a party to achieve a goal. I’m not exaggerating. There are many tactics for victory – whether it’s a fast “zerg rush” or a slow but guaranteed one. There are many commands that will work one way or another in different situations. There are many hidden variables that, of course, you can completely ignore – but if you decide, for example, to breed the perfect Pokemon, then you’ll have to dive headfirst into the well-developed genetics of virtual creatures. Millions of fans around the world, songs, toys, figurines, anime, movies. (“Detective Pikachu” is a good family comedy, I recommend it).

And here comes Pokemon Sword/Shield – the latest part of the game, essentially the first full-fledged game on the Switch (Let’s Go Eevee/Pikachu, released earlier, are technically just remakes of the Game Boy’s Pokemon Yellow, so they’re not something new in terms of the plot). Expectations. Hype. Trailers. Images of new Pokemon and trainers spreading across the internet and immediately inspiring hundreds of fan arts. What did we get in the end?

Unfortunately, not what we wanted.

A powerful Gigantamax Pokémon

Is that Pokémon or KISS band vocalist Gene Simmons on the bottom right?

The first thing that catches the eye: Pokemon Sword/Shield is an easy game. Too easy. Elementary, from the series “press a button, get a result”. One might argue, “but it’s for children!” No. Samuil Marshak said, “You should write for children the same way you write for adults, only better.” Of course, he meant books, but the same can be said for movies and video games. Eight to ten-year-old children will happily play Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart, Breath of the Wild – but adults will play these games with the same enjoyment. The analogy is that beloved and good children’s books are enjoyable to reread at 19 and 59.

Moreover, a whole audience of gamers has grown up with Pokemon, now in their thirties – those who started with Game Boy’s Red/Blue and continued playing on DS and 3DS, remaining loyal to the franchise. It is they who, out of pure enthusiasm, create fan games like Pokemon Uranium and Pokemon Insurgence (which Nintendo unsuccessfully tries to destroy – what gets on the internet, as usual, disappears…), it is they who create rom-hacks (read: “mods”) of existing games, changing the balance to their liking. It is they who came up with the Nuzlocke challenge – every Pokemon that dies in the game is considered “eliminated” in reality, and it cannot be used anymore, and they are only allowed to catch the first encountered Pokemon in each location. By the way, this challenge is extremely popular on English-language resources and on YouTube. And they would not be against at least having a “Hard” option with multiple settings.

A thrilling battle scene

And here you can take beautiful shots, almost like in anime.

So, SwordShield is too easy even by six-year-old standards. (I won’t even mention ten-year-olds, the current ten-year-olds beat me in Cuphead!) Thanks to the unremovable Exp Share, which distributes the experience gained in battle among all the creatures, it is impossible to overlevel by being 10 levels higher than the next trainer – it’s an impossible task. I honestly tried to accomplish it, completely changing my team three times throughout the game, and it didn’t help – by the end, my Pokémon were stronger than the enemy’s by 5-7 levels. The AI doesn’t know anything about tactics. NPC trainers were much better in previous games, they switched Pokémon and had a wider range of attacks, defenses, and items. Now their creatures just rush into attack and die meaninglessly. Considering that a) regular trainers have only one Pokémon, while Gym Leaders have two to five (almost no one has a full team of six) and b) the aforementioned player overleveling – the enemy can’t even “overwhelm with numbers” like goblins. And it creates the impression that you are playing Pokémon “tag,” intended for who knows who. I don’t remember anything like this in any of the earlier games. They were challenging, interesting, and exciting – but never boring.

What’s new: they added the so-called Dynamax – energy that allows Pokémon to grow to skyscraper sizes. However, only in certain locations like boss stadiums or raids, and only for three turns. It seems like the developers really don’t like Mega Evolutions (which, by the way, the entire Pokémon community loves without exception): they constantly try to make players forget about the beautiful Megas and replace them with half-baked substitutes. First, Z-moves in SunMoonUltraSunUltraMoon, and now Dynamax… Some Pokémon look pretty cool in their Godzilla form, I won’t argue, but the same effect could have been achieved with Mega Evolutions! And there would be no need to build stadiums the size of two airports. Bring back Mega Evolutions, they were the best thing that could have been invented!

Characters versus wild Pokémon

Indeed, what is more interesting: the variety of new forms or simply Very Big Pokemons?

(There is hope that they will return: after all, Mega forms exist in Pokemon Go. That’s all we’re holding on to!)

The story in any Pokemon game is more or less just for show. But it used to be different. It was divided, as usual, into two parts. The first part was the journey of a young hero through the region, gradually earning badges and becoming the Champion. And the second part was the uncovering of the secret plans of some bad guys, even if they were cartoonish and foolishly funny, like “now we will pull a huge fish out of the ocean and I will punch it in the face!” (c) Archie, leader of Team Aqua. At least for us, the goal was not only to become the “leader of the district” in the sport of battling creatures, but also to make the world better by exposing evil villains and restoring peace, gum, and friendship.

Exploring the world on a bicycle

Desolate Plains… I mean, Wild Area, where there are only Pokémon, but no trainers. And you can freely ride a bicycle.

No one really asked for more.

In Sword/Shield, it turned out to be less. The first part of the story, the journey for badges and the Champion’s title in the new Galar region, is present (if you take that away, what will be left at all?..). However, the second part is missing. There is Team Yell, which can’t even be considered a hindrance on the way, let alone an enemy team – and that is clear from the very beginning. Occasionally, something strange or suspicious happens, and the hero becomes a witness to it (an earthquake, an explosion at some factory), but the current Champion, the unbeatable Leon with his unbeatable Charizard, immediately comes and says, “Dude, don’t get distracted, earn your badges, I’ll handle everything myself!”. Huh? I was throwing enemies around with one hand in Platinum, while holding the manes of monsters from a parallel dimension with the other! I was storming the antagonist’s castle together with all the trainers in the region in Black/White! I was flying on Latios in Omega Ruby! And here, they send me, like a child (okay, the hero is 10-12 years old, but usually that didn’t stop NPCs in other games from sending him right into the epicenter of events) to eat porridge and obey the adults. Pffft.

Galarian Obstagoon in action

This is what a Dynamax raid looks like – ants against a skyscraper! I have NPC companions with me.

And there is also this thing called Dexit. Named in analogy to Brexit.

Let me explain. The complete list of existing Pokémon, from the starter – Bulbasaur – to the latest one at the moment, whoever it may be, is called the “National Pokédex”, Dex for short. Pokédex. Currently, there are 898 creatures on the list – this is with the release of Sword/Shield and its two DLCs. Before the release, there were 809. Fans eagerly awaited the start of the first game of the new generation on the Switch and hoped to see all their favorite Pokémon there. Maybe not right away, but eventually? After all, for this, everyone was willing to wait for a few more years if necessary.

A scenic view in the Galar region

A sunset landscape and a heroine with an unchanged backpack.

But no. In Sword/Shield, the Pokédex was not just cut by 10% or 20%, but almost in half. Over 400 Pokémon were not included in the Pokédex, and therefore not in the game. Not only could you not catch them in the game, but you also couldn’t transfer them from earlier games in the series using transfer programs like Pokemon Bank and Pokemon Home! The ability to transfer beloved companions and battle partners from other Pokémon games has been a key feature of the series for a long time. Now it’s gone. The developers tried to fix the situation with the add-ons The Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra, adding over 100 previously excluded creatures, but not everyone will want to purchase add-ons for $30 each just to expand the Pokédex. However, trading and transferring the added creatures became possible for free without the add-ons. Hooray, I guess? If I had started playing before the DLC was released, I wouldn’t have been able to transfer my uniquely colored Absol from Pokemon X to the Galar region. Well, thanks for that.

A fierce Rattata encounter

Sad Rattata and its evolution Raticate. You won’t believe it, but they are still not in the game – and you can’t even transfer them! (Picture credit – jamiedrummond)

“Do you ask if there are only negatives and no positives in the game? Well, there are positives. The graphics are full 3D, although they don’t fully utilize the Switch’s capabilities as a console (these capabilities are clearly seen, for example, in the 2020 release of Xenoblade Chronicles). Battles between known trainers and leaders finally take place in a large stadium filled with spectators, rather than on some sports field behind garages. There are new Pokémon, among which there are some very interesting ones. I liked the evolutionary line of Corviknight – a magnificent steel bird, Galarian Ponyta, the cute apple Pokémon Applin, and the penguin Eiscue – Ice Q.”

Galarian Pokémon species

Gwen Pin! And an ice cube on the head.

There are clothing stores and hair salons that allow you to customize your character’s appearance to your liking, starting from Pokemon XY. There are numerous and diverse Poke Jobs where you can send your creatures to earn experience and useful items. There is a convenient Corviknight Taxi that replaces Fly and allows you to instantly travel to any visited region. There is a Rotom Bike and bike races, plus the ability to upgrade the bike to ride on water. There are many interesting, useful, and convenient things. And about forty hours of enjoyable Pokemon gameplay.

You can take breaks along the way, cook curry for your pets, and play with them. You can earn Watts (the local alternative currency) for raids and buying good attacks, and go fishing. There is a separate Curry Dex for curry! The animations are very good, with beautiful cities and transitions between them – forests with mushrooms and flickering lights, snowy mountain trails, and underground mines shimmering with gemstones.

Preparing a delicious curry meal

Curry, like Irish stew, can be made from any ingredients.

Another matter is that all this does not evoke any sense of challenge. Unless you set restrictions for yourself – not using items, including “healing items”, not overleveling (which, as I already mentioned, is difficult), not participating in Dynamax raids that give too many cheat candies for experience, not Dynamaxing your own Pokémon… People on YouTube do exactly that. It turns out to be interesting at times. But why should players make an interesting game, not the developers?

In general, if you are interested in a challenge, it is better to look towards games like Pokemon Insurgence or Pokemon Uranium, they are fan-made games, but quite difficult and require a strategic approach. If you are getting the game for a child, go for Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee, at least you can pet the fluffy Pokémon there. Or – get a 3DS, which is now very cheap, and any game from that console, like Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire.

Starting a new adventure in Galar

To play or not to play?

A SwordShield…

I’m glad that I finally managed to play them (thanks to the New Year’s gift), because I love Pokémon too much to ignore the latest main game in the series. It has some worthy moments and interesting Pokémon. But, perhaps, I won’t replay it – considering how many other games I’ve replayed, it’s impossible to count! I’ll finish the post-game, leave the save, transfer the creatures to Pokémon Bank, and wait for what’s next. Rumor has it that the developers are planning to make a remake of Pokémon DiamondPearl. Oh well. Riding the hype wave of remaking an old game can take you high, but it would be better if they made something new and worthy for the Switch. With all the Pokémon, a good story, and beautiful graphics. So that, like Breath of the Wild and Animal Crossing New Horizons, people will fondly remember this game for years and years to come. Can we dare to hope?

Pokémon Sword and Shield
Adventure, RPG
Game Freak
Release Date:
Editor's rating:
Is it worth playing? (If the score is more than 70%)



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