Review: Pokemon “Sword” and “Shield”

Uncover the newest entries in the series with a reforged formula

Pokemon has always been a staple of Nintendo’s lineup, somehow selling millions upon millions of games even more than twenty years after it started. Personally, I feel like this series is as strong as it is because it knows what to refine and improve upon while retaining the heart of the Pokemon experience. While I can see how Pokemon can be becoming stale for some at this point, I feel like the games do a good job at constantly remaining fresh yet familiar. However, there is a need for this series to evolve more, and with the power of the Nintendo Switch, a home console, fans expected the newest entries, “Pokemon Sword” and “Pokemon Shield,” to bring the franchise to a whole new level of quality.

In my opinion, “Sword” and “Shield” are wonderful additions to the series. It pushes Pokemon in a more modern direction that makes it more accessible, intuitive and sustainable in the long term. They are, for the most part, very similar to their many predecessors. Like any other generation, it simply adds new Pokemon (most of which are fantastic) and some new mechanics while offering players an adventure that is simple and sweet. “Sword” and “Shield” aren’t particularly my favorites of the series, for it can be quite flawed in some areas. However, despite some grips I have, I still see their values and charm that they bring to this historic series.

Starting off with the positives, the biggest addition which defines these entries is the Wild Area and the Raid battles within it. For the most part, “Sword” and “Shield” follow a traditional structure of navigating linear routes in order to make it to the next town on your journey. While linearity doesn’t inherently hamper the Pokemon experience, it’s nice to finally have an open area to explore. The Wild Area isn’t too big nor does it have much depth to it,  but I think that the raid battles within them are a fun distraction that gives the Wild Area a lot of value. In any case, the Wild Area serves as a fun detour throughout the adventure while also representing a step forward for the franchise and a promise for expanded open areas in future titles.

Another point of improvement that “Sword” and “Shield” bring is that the many conveniences that have been made to the gameplay. For instance, leveling up Pokemon has become super easy thanks to EXP. candies from Raids and a built-in EXP-Share. Thanks to these changes, the game has a very smooth feel to it while training up weaker Pokemon is less of a hassle. “Sword” and “Shield” have made random encounters more optional, making the experience more convenient as you are not being constantly interrupted. All of these features and more help make these games stand out from the other entries in how modern they feel. “Sword” and “Shield” are particularly strong when it comes to making the Pokemon experience more convenient and accessible.

For me, however, the plot is the strongest part of the adventure, while somehow also being its weakest. To elaborate, I think “Sword” and “Shield” have one of the weaker stories in the series, but I also think that they have some of the best characters. The legendary and villain plotlines were underwhelming, since, without going into too much detail, they aren’t as developed or fleshed out as other entries. However, to be fair, the game focuses on the gym challenge plotline more than anything else. The game feels like playing through a whole anime-style tournament arc since the game fleshes out the gym challenge so well while creating compelling and memorable rivals for you to beat. It’s a nice spin on the traditional Pokemon formula that makes you motivated to become the champion. Both the tournament arc and the characters and very well done; however, the story does fall apart a bit at the end due to the previously mentioned legendary and villain plotlines. Overall, the story is fine enough, and I do think it has merit compared to the other entries in the series, yet it also could have been executed better in a few areas.

Another issue that I take with these games has to do with the main gimmick, Dynamaxing. I don’t take issue with the mechanic itself. In fact, I like it well enough. Is it broken? Yes. Is it at least fun? Absolutely. However, the part that I really take issue with is its varient: Gigantamaxing. Not only do the new designs not add much for me personally, but getting these forms is way too inconvenient. You can only find them in specific Raid battles, and they’re very rare. This wouldn’t be an issue if there was an option to allow Pokemon not found in Raids to Gigantamax. To illustrate what I’m talking about, let’s say you have a Coalossal on your team. You want to Gigantamax it because you know it has a Gigantamax form. However, it can’t Gigantamax because you didn’t catch it in a raid battle. I know that the developers most likely wanted to incentivize doing the raids, but they could have at least allowed players to collect something like a “Gigantamax Candy” in order to allow regular and compatible Pokemon to Gigantamax. As it stands, Gigantamaxing is a fine mechanic, I just wish that it wasn’t so elusive to the average player.

However, despite some noteworthy flaws, “Pokemon Sword” and “Pokemon Shield” are fine additions that refreshes the whole Pokemon experience. They are the same Pokemon games that we’ve all come to know and love, but they have been reforged enough to feel somewhat brand new. It’s still flawed in many ways; there’s no denying that. However, every Pokemon game is flawed in some capacity. What makes me love this series is how, like any adventure, it manages to be fun and memorable despite some bumps along the road.

~Elijah Basu, Staff Writer~

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