The Great Pokémon Controversy of 2019 threatened to overshadow the release of Sword/Shield – at least on Twitter. The non-inclusion of over half of the pre-existing Pokémon, or Dexit as some people might refer to it, has been a point of discontent for old fans since it was announced as they lament the loss of their favourite Pokémon. Luckily most of my favourites made it in so SCREW YOU SUCKAAAAAAAAAAAAAS!!!!

My unprofessionalism aside, I have played Pokémon since day one and I will always buy the new one no matter what so while I do miss some of the missing Pokémon it was never going to be a deal killer for me. The main thing for me was is the game good? Well…yeah! Pokémon Sword/Shield is a good game, not a flawless game but it definitely completes the bridge between players getting into the series with Pokémon GO! to getting into the main series as a whole. This is a game designed for getting people into the series while offering veterans a slightly streamlined version of the Pokémon adventure of some of the previous generations.

This is the first Pokémon game to truly reflect what my daily life is like, constantly being followed by adoring fans

The story behind S/S is as simple as a Pokémon game can be – you are a ten year old who gets their first Pokémon and goes on an adventure to be the very best like no one ever was. You catch a bunch of new friends, you beat up other people’s cute friends for sport and profit and all to eventually sit atop the Pokémon world as it’s Champion. The story does have some twists and turns towards the end but this is overall the prototypical Pokémon storyline and it honestly barely matters in the long run.

Galar is a wonderful world though and is definitely up there with some of my favourites of generation pasts. Maybe it’s the fact the game is based on English culture and being Scottish I can at least appreciate the effort put in to create this pastiche. Early on you visit some lovely countrysides, there are cities built behind castle walls, snowy mountains and even a fairy filled forest. There is genuine effort here to make every main location in the game feel unique and memorable in its own way.

This is the bridge to Wedgehurst, the 2nd town of the game. Idyllic…for now.

There does seem to be less Routes and dungeons compared to previous games – in fact there are two mines and that’s about as close to a dungeon as you get. There is no puzzles to solve to get through a place so gone are the days of having to Strength push a boulder for ten minutes to get out of a maze. The likely idea of streamlining the Routes though is to put more focus on the Wild Area.

The Wild Area is a giant patch of land you visit as soon as you’re out of the starter towns and about to begin your first gym battle. The Area is split into many different sections, each one will have a certain weather affecting the kinds of Pokémon that will pop up in that section. This is a great way to get a large and varied party early on in the game. You can find items sparkling on the ground, find various vendors who will sell you items using a new kind of currency called Watts that can be found with the main gimmick of the Wild Area – the Dynamax dens.

Beware: Bewear

Most dens will earn you some Watts but if there is a big laser blast coming out of that hole first of all see a doctor and second of all it will contain a giant version of a Pokémon. You can either connect with three other real players online or take it on with three NPCs who are usually terrible in order to take it down to no health. In these battles you can also Dynamax your own Pokémon to also be a big giant boi (or gurl). I find a lot of these battles will either be over in two moves or will drag on for way too long. You do not have unlimited time to win this battle either – once you and/or your allies Pokémon faint four times the battle ends, so in other words you have one life each on average in order to beat the giant ‘Mon. When you go into a Dynamax battle they will have a star rating and in my experience if it’s 3 or above – try to get other people involved because the NPC trainers are GARBAGE.

I love Wooper, even when Wooper is a Wooping 50ft tall.

Some Pokémon even have unique forms when they have Dynamax’d – examples include Gen I favourites like Charizard, Pikachu, Eevee and Meowth all have unique models when they are made giant. The long awaited return of big original chubby Pikachu was definitely worth it. Overall this is a fun gimmick that the game tries hard to make a big part of the story while not completely ruining it through overuse, but by the second half of the game I was caught between not having patience to wait up to three minutes to team up with people and not being strong enough to tackle the harder Dynamax ‘Mons. The rewards for doing these are definitely worth it though.

After being replaced in Sun/Moon, the Gym Challenge makes its triumphant return in Sword/Shield. This time they’ve found a way to make the gym battles feel like an actual sporting event for once by taking elements of football/soccer culture and mashing it in there with the usual Pokémon charm. All the gym battles take place in football stadium-esque arenas, the crowd cheers when you do a move and my favourite part of the game is when you get the gym leader down to their last Pokémon, they Dynamax them and the music changes to include chanting and I find it really charming. There’s even version exclusive gyms in this one – without going into specific details I do genuinely believe this might be the best set of gyms in a long time for the series. Each gym has a mission attached you have to beat, some of them involve a small game of skill, or completing a puzzle or doing a quiz in one case but always having to battle lesser trainers on the way. They’re usually fun and a welcome return for gyms for the series.

This Opal, one of the mid-game gym leaders. Gym leaders play a fairly big role in the game’s story this time around.

Now, the non-inclusion of most of the old Pokémon may be a sore point for a lot of people but this gives the new Pokémon a chance to shine in the spotlight and boy so they shine. So many new Pokémon seem to have captured the attention of people, having seen a lot of love for Snom, Toxel/Toxtricity, Falinks and the water starter Sobble over the past couple of weeks. I even did something I never have done before – I became the Champion using an all new generation of Pokémon. Corviknight, Coalossal, Falinks, Rillaboom, Drednaw and a new evolution of an old Pokémon that I won’t spoil all became the team of CHAMPIONS and it has been a while since I have immediately attached myself to a bunch of new Pokémon. Like I said earlier, a lot of my old favourites made it in but they ended up not getting to play much because I just wanted to play with the new folk in town because they know how to party.

You can make Curry in your camp which you can enjoy with your Pokémon. Unless you REALLY mess it up.

So far I have been really positive about Pokémon Sword/Shield, right? Well let’s crap on it’s parade a little by talking about the few things I didn’t really care for. As someone who has been playing Pokémon games for twenty god damn years oh my god that’s…uhh, not a sentence I was ready to write apparently. As someone who has played Pokémon games for a very long time now I will say that as much as I enjoyed this game, there is nothing in it that truly blew me away with excitement. Innovation was not in the plans for this game and honestly that is okay but it does mean that I feel like I’ve been here a few times before. I was never expecting them to mess with the formula too much anyway, so I am not disappointed in what I got at all – but the game lacks surprises, shall we say.

Streamlining the game was a wise move especially since they clearly were designing Sword and Shield to be a jumping on point for the series – but while I tend to use Exp Share (an item that traditionally shares experience points with the whole party), the fact that there is no longer an option to turn it off is a little wack, as is hiding certain sound options behind a random NPC that you have to play a few hours of the game before you even meet him. That was just strange.

This person thinks I’m Wicked. I know someone who might disagree with her.

The biggest issue I have with the game comes in the form of the online aspects. They have replaced the old system which worked pretty well with a new system which works pretty well if what they wanted to introduce was COMPLETE AND UTTER CHAOS. The old system of “here’s a Pokémon I have, I want this specific one, please give me” has been replaced with “I WANT TO TRADE” and then being matched up with a random with no real way to suggest what you need or what they need. It’s another odd choice. In order to trade with a friend you have to both input a certain four number code and hope no one else is gonna use that code at the same time. The first time I tried to do an online trade with a friend ended in mutual anger as neither of us knew why nothing was happening. I’ve figured it out now but it’s a mess of a system and it makes things harder for no reason. This really is a Nintendo game.

Otherwise I think the game looks decent but not spectacular, the music is good overall and I had an absolute blast playing through this game. In Pokémon Y I played around 125 hours before I bothered to beat the game, in Sword it was 45. I haven’t been as anal about catching ’em all in each area then moving on, I have waited until I already beat the game before even bothering with breeding and filling up my Pokédex. Now I can enjoy Pokémon at my own leisure again.

Despite everything, I think Pokémon Sword and Shield are the strongest Pokémon games since maybe Ruby/Sapphire – this could be a case of feeling burnt out after Sun/Moon and having a streamlined game helping me get back into the series in a big way, but I genuinely had a blast playing through this game and while I do not think they have pushed the series forward too much with this one, it is definitely a strong foundation for things to come in the next couple of years.

OVERALL SCORE: XTA Logo/ScoreXTA Logo/ScoreXTA Logo/ScoreXTA Logo/Score

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