Pokemon Shield Review
Tie those sneakers and hug your mum goodbye because adventure awaits in the Galar region! Yes, Pokemon is back in full swing in Sword and Shield with a number of new features that enhance and streamline the core gameplay, despite its rather public outlash at the lack of a national Pokedex. Nintendo and Game Freak took to heart what fans had been saying and in typical Nintendo fashion, each previous iteration of the series has helped to build towards something bigger and better. Pokemon has always been a truly global phenomenon, and with the power of the Switch it has the potential to be even more so of a worldwide spectacle than ever before. Does Pokemon Sword and Shield live up to the adventure we’ve all been taking since the early 90s? We will see.
For the purpose of this review I played Pokemon Shield, starting out in my home which the game really wanted to let me know was based on England. English slang and terminology appear just frequently enough to seem a bit out of place, particularly because the series has remained without voice acting and so there are no accents to work with and set the tone. You’ll quickly meet your friend and “rival,” encounter his brother – the top Pokemon Champion – and immediately meet a variety of new Pokemon. It’s pretty typical Pokemon fare about leaving town to be the best, but what makes Sword and Shield that much better in my opinion is the simple return to form of your protagonists goals.
A Strong Focus on Becoming the Very Best
There is no impending, looming criminal organization bent on world domination, destruction, enslavement, or any of that usual stuff going on in the background. While there are clearly some minor sinister elements at play, Pokemon Sword and Shield focus on what the series has been about this entire time: becoming a champion. The Galar Region takes their competition seriously and it’s just as big a sporting event as FIFA in real life. It’s so incredibly refreshing to get back to the basics of wanting to be a trainer and feeling like that is your legitimate goal in this game rather than simply wandering and accidentally saving the world. I would dare argue this is the most true Pokemon experience to happen yet.
The biggest changes fans will love are both the Wild Area and the ability to actually see Pokemon in the wild. Gone are the days of spinning in circles in the tall grass waiting to bump into an invisible battle and grind levels. Now, players can see the Pokemon and prepare for battle. They can see who is out in what area, at which time of day, in what weather pattern. It makes for much better encounters and training, not to mention special Pokemon with rare moves are highlighted and easier to spot for catching. The Wild Area is the first time players can properly cycle the camera around in all directions and explore the hills and plains of Galar. It isn’t particularly beautiful or overly detailed, but as a stepping stone in a new direction for Pokemon it is incredible. Dynamax battles are also a lot of fun, working like a sub-boss battle. You’ll get to know the type of the Pokemon you’ll be fighting before going into battle and – should you defeat it – you’ll not only get a chance to capture it but receive a load of great rewards as well. It may not be particularly skill-testing stuff, but it’s a neat battle with explosive effects.
Game Freak has now made it so you can access your Pokemon Box anywhere at any time. Find yourself in a cave of rock-type Pokemon and no water-type on your team? In a few clicks you can have exactly the team you need to come out on top. While this doesn’t heal Pokemon, it makes it easier to keep pressing forward rather than having to backtrack and get the right Pokemon for the job. The same can be said for Pokemon Camp, the new feature which replaces Pokemon Amie. Camps can be set up anywhere at all and used as a chance to not only play with your Pokemon and build their affection for you, but also to cook a big dinner and feed everyone. A well made meal will revive fainted Pokemon and heal the team, with berries having a variety of effects. While it can be a lot of fun, the limited games to play with the Pokemon make it get old in a hurry. It’s a neat way to heal the team and see them from a new perspective, but only being able to shake a stick or throw a ball feels criminally plain.
Quite possibly the most important and more subtle change I noticed is the tactics at play. Camping will heal and revive, but not restore PP. It’s a feature added to encourage you to spend more time in the wild. Players can stealthily crawl through the grass to avoid certain Pokemon, and this feature is doubly important when you realize there are incredibly powerful Pokemon lurking in the wild. No longer can you simply fight everything you see as some of these Pokemon will be several levels higher than your team. These battles are tough and force you to really think about your actions rather than mindlessly fighting everything that moves. Pokemon Sword and Shield challenge you to think and act like a real trainer more than the series has done so in the past. There is a point part-way through the game where enemy difficulty will drop sharply and unexpectedly, an unfortunate turn as all of your continued hard work will essentially put you at god-tier for the rest of the game.
Pokemon Sword and Shield present a revitalizing and refreshing perspective on the series, taking steps back to the series’ roots to remind players what it means to try and become the Pokemon Champion. Several of the new streamlined mechanics make this an easy experience to jump into while focusing more on strategic gameplay in the wild, yet remaining kid-friendly. The new Wild Area is a great feature, and seeing the Pokemon before you encounter them makes for incredible immersion. While the game is just as fun and addicting as ever, the awkward dialogue feels shoe-horned in and the stark difficulty drop off in the mid-game is unfortunate to say the least, making the latter half of the experience a breeze. It’s still an enjoyable experience and a treat to explore the Galar region. It may not be perfect, but it is a strong step in the right direction to giving us the ultimate Pokemon experience.
**Pokemon Shield provided by the publisher**
- Immersive Features
- Pokemon In The Wild!
- Expansive Wild Areas
- More Strategic Gameplay
- Shoe-horned British Dialogue
- Difficulty Drops Mid-Game
- Pokemon Camp Is Boring