Let’s face it – unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can’t have failed to notice there was a new Pokemon game out. And for a UK native like myself, it’s equally as exciting to see that Pokemon Sword and Shield’s new Galar region is based loosely on Britain. As you journey through the game you can clearly see towns and cities clearly inspired by Edinburgh, London, and Bath to name but a few.
Does the game itself hold up though? This is, after all, just the latest in the long-running series and there’s very little anymore that it can bring to the table that’s new. Yes, and no is the answer. This is still a Pokemon game – it still follows the familiar pathway of a pokemon trainer (played by yourself) who journeys through the land encountering and catching monsters and battling your way to becoming the Champion. There’s a few extra tweaks and addition to Sword and Shield but at its heart, this is the same game as ever.
So let’s start with the positive things about the game: The world itself is gorgeous and the extra touch with seeing pokemon in different roles in the towns, feels very much like in the Detective Pikachu film. There’s a strong message of environmentalism throughout, eventually becoming a crucial part of the overarching plot and this makes the game feel much more modern than it’s previous iterations. There are some obvious nods to the mobile game of Pokemon Go as well, with the addition of Raid battles and more online content which encourage interaction with other players such as the creation of tradable League cards. It adds an extra layer of collaboration with other players, rather than just being able to battle or trade with others in the past.
Story-wise however, the game is lacking – this isn’t a massive surprise as many of the previous games focus more heavily on the individual exploration elements over plot. But for a generation who have grown up playing these games, it’s a shame that more thought wasn’t put into making the storyline and side characters more three-dimensional and complex. The side characters such as Marnie, Bede and Leon could be so much more interesting if they were given more of a role within the story of the game but instead just cameo every so often and act more as challengers or cheerleaders as called for. Even your rival Hop, who does thankfully get some development throughout the game, comes across more like someone you feel bad for rather than want to root for. It’s a shame and honestly in games nowadays, I expect more.
In addition, the Y-comm aspect (online services) can be a bit of a mess at times – either not updating fast enough to present relevant information or not always connecting at all which can be frustrating when trying to play with friends or join raids. The fact that in addition to the base game, this content is locked behind a Nintendo Online subscription is a shame as it really does add more fun to the game when it works properly.
This is not a bad game, however – there are many good things about it and overall it’s fun to play and the end-game challenges are rewarding and feel fairly satisfying (even if the villain reveal was less so). The gyms too are enhanced via the addition of mini-puzzles prior to the battles which adds an extra layer of difficulty to them which makes them feel more like actual intellectual challenges as opposed to just ensuring you have a strong team. The Wild areas on the map too really encourage players to take their time and explore more rather than rushing through to get to the next town as fast as possible.
If you’re a Pokemon fan then this game will pretty much check all the boxes you’re expecting from a game in the series. The new generation of pokemon are fairly well thought out to match the new Galar region and the collectibility element is still very much present. This game is fairly light and fun despite the more environmental messages sprinkled throughout but even as a long-time fan of the series, I confess I got a little bored mid-way through. The problem with the Pokemon games is that time and time again, it’s the same formulae and you know what to expect. You travel, you build a team of monsters, you fight gym after gym until you’ve beaten everyone in the game. Rinse and repeat. There are some welcome changes to this game in the franchise and whilst I would say it improves on the previous release (Sun and Moon), it isn’t going to be the best addition.
Pokemon Sword & Shield
An improvement on the previous iterations in the franchise, but Sword and Shield doesn't bring much new to the table and ultimately proves itself to be less-than-legendary.