Review Copy Provided by Nintendo / Reviewed by Brian J. Stieve
Pokemon is back as the series finally has a main entry to console. Game Freak looks to shake up the franchise with some new elements like Gigantamax, Dynamax and the brand new Wild Area. Are these changes enough to breathe some Giganta-sized life into the franchise, or does it simply stick too close to the beaten path as you try to catch ‘em all?
Pokemon Sword and Shield Show the Series Has a Bright Future | DBLTAP Game Review
Pokemon Sword and Shield take place in the brand new Galar region. For the most part, the story is nothing new: You wake up at home, talk to your mom, meet your hometown rival, choose from one of three starters and venture out to become the Pokemon champion after defeating the gym leaders in the region.
Luckily, Game Freak tries to make some variations to the formula along the way. You get multiple rivals instead of one, try to uncover the ancient past of the entire region, and even face different gym leaders depending on which version of the game you’ve chosen.
While the game doesn’t do anything groundbreaking in terms of plot development, it is nice to see a bit more emphasis put on the topic with some basic twists and turns incorporated. It seemed each time we thought we were winding down on the story, it added a whole new element or introduced new characters - which was at times fun, but just seemed like busywork to extend the game length at others.
When it comes to the gameplay, there are some dramatic changes that make their way into the new entries.
The system of finding, battling and catching Pokemon has received a well-needed face lift. While in previous iterations, you simply run through the grass and get caught in a wild battle with a random Pokemon, now you will be able to see most of the Pokemon wandering around in the over-world, allowing you to choose to go after them or not.
This results in a lot less dead game time, and if you are already powerful enough and/or don’t want to catch a certain Pokemon, you can just evade them and not waste your time. Each Pokemon also has their own unique personality to them - some will bravely run right up to you to fight, some respond to your whistling and some who are more skittish. This really helps immerse the Pokemon catching experience as they all have their own unique personalities to match their character designs.
The wild area is a brand new location in the Pokemon franchise. In it, you’ll have full rotational control of the camera as you look to hunt down the rarest and strongest of Pokemon.
Upon your initial arrival into the zone, you’ll run into some Pokemon that are way too powerful and high level for you to even attempt to defeat, let alone catch. You’ll want to check back frequently as different Pokemon will appear depending on the weather conditions of each zone.
The presentation is a mixed bag in this newest iteration. Some of the art design in the new zones is truly breathtaking. The new Pokemon and characters are a masterclass in character design throughout, each with their own unique looks and silhouettes - and this goes double for the new Gigantamax forms.
The new battle themes and music are beautifully interwoven to match both the setting and the mood of the current location. Combine the new gym battle theme song with Dynamax fueled gym battles and you’ll be just as hyped as the ravenous crowd cheering you on. Unfortunately, that level of polish does not hold standard throughout the game.
There are performance issues, specifically in the Wild Area. Frequently, while riding a bike here you will see frame drops, stutters and we’ve even the occasional game crash. Ground and Shadow textures are wrought with pixels and Pokemon sound effects are considerably low quality. Many of them sound as if they were coming from an early Game Boy system, which is well below a graphic and audio quality standard expected from a AAA game in 2019.
Online functionality is one of the weaker areas of the game. While Nintendo isn’t particularly known for its online functionality as some of its competitors, this game seems to take a bit of a step backward. Once finding a link trade, you each offer a Pokemon for trade. You then review the other trainer’s offer and determine if you’d like to accept or decline their offer.
The biggest issue with this is that there’s no way to communicate outside of rejecting a trade and no way to review the matched trainer’s Pokemon to see if there’s something you want. This results in both players offering and declining continuously until one person cancels it altogether. If you want to pair up with someone specifically to trade, you can send a four digit link code at the same time. You have to be careful with this because it’s entirely possible somebody else can be trying to use that same number at the same time and you can pair up with the wrong person accidentally. It makes you wonder if this was an intentional new design, or if there simply wasn’t enough time to implement a more robust trading feature.
The battles work fine, although, you’re only able to choose from three pre-made rule sets and can’t create any custom rules such as amount of Pokemon allowed or item options.
The most disappointing aspect is finding people for Max Raid Battles. While this is a fun feature, we spent countless times searching for someone to join us or trying to join someone else’s raid without any luck. This happened both on wireless and wired connections. You’d see other players in a searching animation for a partner. Upon talking to them and be told you need to connect to them via the Y-Link, then once searching - no results are found.
Overall, Pokemon Sword and Shield is a great stand-alone game. While it doesn’t have all Pokemon from previous generations, it definitely has more than enough to keep you busy and entertained.
With plenty to do post-game, this game looks to keep you busy and coming back for more and more. Hopefully, future iterations will push these new features further and improve upon both the Pokedex count as well as technical features. Pokemon Sword and Shield looks to be a building block for what should be a bright future ahead for the Pokemon series.
Score: 8 out of 10
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