Pokémon Shield review

Everyone has complicated feelings about new Pokémon releases. Game Freak has the impossible job of pleasing a demographic that ranges from young to old, first-time players to long-time hardcore fans. This is an audience which, by and large, wants an entirely fresh new experience without changing a thing. 

My hype levels increased tenfold after playing Pokémon Sword and Shield. This game heralds in the new era of Pokémon – the “Wild Area Era”.

It’s Pokémon, innit?

The Galar region is like Game Freak asked the question “What is British?” and the answer was “Sex Pistols, rolling hills and football.” 

In fact, one of the major tonal changes is the treatment of Pokémon battles less like a Fight Club and more as a respectable, professional sport (like football, if that metaphor wasn’t obvious enough). There are uniforms, fan clubs, and gym battles in huge stadiums with thousands of cheering fans, all amped to see a grown adult fight a 12-year-old.

I didn’t realise gym battles were missing that extra level of gravitas until now, and I can’t go back. I need the applause now. Crave it.

I was relieved to see that Pokémon Sword and Shield take on parts of Pokémon Let’s Go that I had enjoyed – most notably, free-roaming Pokémon out in the world that I can avoid. The “Wild Area” where Pokémon of different levels and types roam in a large open world area takes this concept to the next level. It’s truly the crown jewel of the new generation of mainstream Pokémon titles. 

The new sense of scale is both increased and minimised throughout Pokémon Sword and Shield. The sweeping vistas that fade out into the distance that you can eventually visit are wonderous, and a sight beyond the wildest dreams of early top-down 2D Pokémon games. Galar-vanting through the Wild Area (no apologies) gives an equal sense of the epic. Never before have you been put into a position of actively avoiding Pokémon that are well beyond your level to fight, let alone catch, but I’ll bet 20 Poke-Pounds that you’ll try to grab that Onix.

You know the one I mean.

Long long caaaaaat

A more obvious way in which Pokémon Sword and Shield is larger is through the Dynamax mechanic – the Galar specific phenomenon through which you can battle with giant Pokémon. I don’t feel like I need to say much about this other than this: it’s great. It feels ridiculously epic, while not becoming an overpowered one-shot mechanic.

Shout out to the few that got form-changing Gigantamax forms. Meowth as Longcat? Now you’re talking my mid-2000s meme language.

In other ways, the Galar region feels smaller. Mirroring our increasingly globalised world, it’s now easier than ever to jump from one part of the map to another. Moves like Fly, formerly HMs only, are no longer tied to a Pokémon in your party. The newly limited Pokedex also reduces the feeling of size in Galar, with the number of Pokémon available to collect significantly reduced.

For what it’s worth, I believe the fewer number of available Pokémon gives the new additions space to breathe, and overlooked oldies a time to shine. And the new designs are, overall, excellent. There are several instant classics, like Wooloo, who feel like they’ve been part of the Pokémon universe all along. Of course, like every generation, there are also a few designs that look like they were inspired by things lying around the breakroom. Sinistea, despite the great theming, is literally a haunted mug. No, that’s not a weird Stephen King pitch. But hey, fancy a cuppa?

Refreshing the classic

If nothing else, I can now devote more time to individual Pokémon, with fewer languishing forever in the forgotten depths of the Box. I’ve long fretted over the fates of Pokémon who didn’t make my A-Team; sentenced to a lifetime in a Box like forgotten childhood toys. Now with Poke-jobs, these Pokémon can now find purpose in life via fishing, cooking and other odd-jobs.

I do feel a little bad using my Pokémon’s hard-earned money on new clothes after they’ve worked a 12-hour shift, but hey, welcome to Poke-Britain. We built this place on stealing from the workers, right?

We did… Guvvna.

A new feature is the Pokémon Camp, which allows you to “camp” with your Pokémon while outside of town. It’s very useful for healing on the go via making curries, and I get a kick out of my Pokémon interacting with each other. However, while the premise is promising, the campsite overall feels unfinished.

Being able to cook curry to heal and grow closer to your team is initially a blast, but quickly becomes repetitive. I got close to developing a repetitive-strain-injury from stirring one too many curry bowls for hungry Pokémon. The whole thing just feels like it could have been more. The interactions with Pokémon are very limited, and the novelty wears off very quickly.

Shame, that.

Blimey they’re some mates

As is tradition, the soundtrack carries over souped-up classic Pokémon battle themes, with a few hours of totally new tracks. Much of the new stuff reminds me of very early Sonic the Hedgehog soundtracks, with the odd guitar and football chant thrown in. The guitar does layer on the cheese at times, but I love both the hooligan cheers and respect for the original tunes.

The characters can be… well, over-enthusiastic, which isn’t helped by repetitive character animations. Your friend/rival Hop is a prime example of this, who borrows animations from Alola-region Hau. Like, almost all of his animations. Ultimately, however I found the new characters to be very endearing, with a good balance of rivalry and friendship.

Marnie was a phenomenal addition, and arguably the real rival of the game. With Cockney rhyming slang and excellent Brit punk fashion, a rival with more personality we have never had.

And hey, we all know that the true meaning of Pokémon is friendship. Or was it being the very best? I forget. It’s been a long day.

Outro

But what version should I get, I hear you ask? Well, maybe it’s just because I liked My Little Pony as a kid, but version exclusive Galarian Ponyta means that Shield is the only real choice. No, I’m not taking feedback. No, Sirfetch’d is not an equal trade-off. You’re embarrassing yourself now.

Honestly, have some self-respect.

In seriousness though, you can’t go wrong with either version. It’s still Pokémon and, compared to Sun and Moon and their Ultras this is a step in the right direction.

Bob’s your uncle, mate. Get yourself some Pokémon.

Verdict
85%

Pokemon Sword and Shield are a return to form for the franchise, and show that there's still room for this old Ponyta to learn new tricks.

  • Verdict

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