Pokemon Sword – Change is good

My love for Pokemon is years-long and runs deep. I’ve played everything from Blue, onwards (with exceptions of non-base games like Ultra Moon and Ultra Sun). I haven’t finished them all, mind.

Pokemon Black was just enough to bore me to tears, and I’ve not finished Apha Sapphire. However, I did finish the original Ruby, so that doesn’t really count.

In that time, I’ve watched Ben, the now legendary Pokemon trainer adapt and change with technology. Moving from my trusty and beloved Gameboy, all the way through to the Nintendo Switch.

What a ride it’s been!

1999 – 2020 has given me plenty of Pokemon adventures. From first putting that Blue cartridge in, alongside my brother and his Red cartridge. We battled, traded and dreamed of one day having a “proper” game on the TV. A fully 3D Pokemon world, on a console with more power than the handhelds we’ve been using.

Pokemon Sword and Shield kind of deliver that, but it’s not quite where I dreamed it would be, just yet (think how GTA went from top-down to open-world).

That might be thanks in-part, to the fact that the past few 3DS releases of Pokemon have seen a fully coloured, 3D adventure with fully-animated Pokemon (during battles).

We’ve seen a gradual improvement over a large amount of time, so the differences aren’t perhpas quite so stark, as we’d dreamt.

Still, I can play it on my TV now, so we’re getting there! Plus the “Wild Area” is a big step in the direction I’d always hoped for.

Pokemon
 

Gym challenge

Pokemon trainers have to earn badges by defeating gyms in the region. Tackling specialist trainers that use specific types. Some are hard, because they just go against the types in the team that you’ve been cultivating. Others are easier because you have all the super-effective attacks in your pocket.

Pokemon Sword/Shield have changed the format a little, and it’s a welcome breath of fresh air to be honest.

You still need to complete 8 gyms, and they have specialty types in each one. However, there are challenges before you can fight the gym leader, and it’s a lovely deviation from the traditional model.

Answering quizzes between battles, navigating a maze where you can’t see points that might make you fall off the map. It’s a twist on a classic. There are still battles with trainers to help you in anticipation of the gym leader, but it’s just a little bit more fun getting there.

If you pass the gym challenge, you’re entitled to battle the gym leader and their pokemon.

Beating everyone means you become a contender to be the Pokemon champion within the region. So then there’s a tournament, any remaining challengers (a lot seem to drop out or fail) have to battle. Then the winner of the challengers enters the final tournament.

It’s you against the gym leaders (in brackets, so you only have to face one or two), and if you win that, you earn a title match against the current reigning champion, Leon.

No Elite Four. Just a proper tournament system, whereby you literally earn your right to fight for the title. I love it!

Pokemon feels more like boxing or wrestling. Battling it out, working through the ranks to earn that number one contender spot.

Pokemon
 

Dynamax

I’m not going to lie, I thought this would be a naff gimmick, and the prospect of it actually put me off Pokemon Sword initially.

Now, it isn’t a massive game-changer, and I don’t think it’s as cool as some of the Mega evolutions, but some of the Dynamaxed Pokemon look great. You can Dynamax any of your Pokemon, and see them become massive versions of themselves, gaining more health and new massive, areana-shaking moves. It’s only for 3 turns, so you can’t over-do it.

Better still, is how it’s tied into the story, and that this can only be done in certain areas of the region (all but one of the Gyms, and in the Wild Area). You can’t really over-use it so the novelty of it lasts quite a bit.

The size and scale of the Pokemon is great. Using the trainers to help give an idea of scale. Better still, some Pokemon have their own special Dynamax version. Adjusting how they look, to help them suit the size they’ve grown to.

Having only a short use and only being able to do it to one Pokemon per battle, means it’s an extra layer of tactics. Do you Dynamax straight away and hope that you can smash-through the early few Pokemon? Or do you keep it as your ace in the hole if shit goes south?

 

The wild area

The wild area was the part of Pokemon Sword I had highest hopes for. A free-roaming area, with high-level pokemon wandering around.

Places for raids to take place, a space to do raids with other players in-game.

The delivery wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped for. In fact, it’s a little rough around the edges. Seeing what I assume are other players, just pop in and out of view briefly. Long matchmaking times for raids and general shonkiness means it just isn’t fully there yet.

It is where I always wanted a full-game to go, though. You can see the Pokemon wondering around the wild area, milling about, minding their business. You have full control of the camera to look around, and it feels like a proper free-roaming element that I think we’ve always wanted to see.

It’s great for grinding, and when you do get matched up for raids, you can get some decent 4-star and 5-star versions of Pokemon. Initially I was a little disheartened, but as I approached the end-game, I found myself here. Looking for stones, raids and specific Pokemon to catch and train.

If the wild area is the way that Pokemon is going, I’m up for it. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t quite so well implemented here.

Perhaps future DLC and patches will fix this up a little?

 

My favourites aren’t here

I can’t lie. When I first read about the roster and the apparent lack of “classic” Pokemon. That was a big disappointment to me. No Sandshrew? No Squirtle or Geodude? Wow.

People were furious. How dare Game Freak make the game how they intend?! I was mad, the internet was mad. What a fun bunch of people we are, eh?

Turns out, this was a great way to shake things up!

I spent so much of my time playing Pokemon Sword, just learning about new Pokemon, or Pokemon of previous generations I’d never bothered with. I couldn’t rely on a few trusty old allies here, I had to adapt and to basically start all over again.

Learning about new Pokemon meant learning about their types, and really leaning into some of the types I’d put-off for quite a while (Fairy, anyone?).

It was actually more fun being so far removed from that little bubble of having my favourites, or ones that I knew/liked. A bold move, yes, but one that paid off. I’d expect that the competitive scene is likely shaken-up a little, too, which is cool!

Better still, there’s DLC coming in Summer and Autumn that looks to give me my precious favourites, and a slew of amazing past legendaries! Blastoise, Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres…….on and on the list goes.

I love the team I have now, but with new challenges on the horizon (new areas to explore!), I can mix and match and go on an adventure to get some old classics, with new Dynamax forms, too!

Awesome.

 

Is it actually any good?

Yes.

Actually it’s great. I’ve played around 30 hours, become a legendary champion, completed the post-story, story and had a blast.

Pokemon Sword isn’t the total re-invention of the franchise, and it definitely plays it safe on occassion.

It’s by far the easiest game of the series, with XP accrued by all of your team, all the time. You’re told what moves are/aren’t effective against the Pokemon you’re battling, too (providing you’ve fought one before).

Dynamaxing is a gimmick, but it’s cool as hell, and those with special Dynamax forms look great (really need a Machamp!!).

Being able to see the Pokemon wandering free, and choosing to engage them, as and when you want, is a total dream. You can skip a lot of the classic “random encounters”, and either sneak around, or make a beeline for the Pokemon that you want.

The story is decent, the characters are cool and seeing characters in a Pokemon game use the term “mate” and other britishisms, is funny.

The galarian forms of some Pokemon, are kinda cool. I still need a Sir Fetch’d, and a Galarian Weezing. But I have all the time I want to dip back in and go get them.

If you love Pokemon, you’ll love Pokemon Sword and Shield. If you had high expectations of a new home-console Pokemon, with free-roaming and online elements, it misses the mark. It tries, but it has a lot of work to do.

I didn’t think I’d engage well enough with it, based on reviews and lots of reading online. Yet, it’s consumed me for a couple of weeks and I’m sad to have to leave it, and move on to something new (for now at least).

If a game can enrapture you like that, and make you feel genuinely sad that you have to move on, surely that’s a sign of something good? Or a sign that it was the right game at the right time, for me.

Either way, it’s one of the best in the whole series. Not as revolutionary as I’d hoped, a touch too easy, too. If this was my first Pokemon game, I’d know what the series was about, and be excited for the future.

As it stands, you can’t lose your virginity twice, and Pokemon Blue will always be my first love of the series. Pokemon Sword stands shoulder to Shoulder with Pokemon Y, which is my second favourite overall, and that’s a high accolade!

Thinking about getting it? Do it!

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