Something special happened in the eighth generation of mainline “Pokémon” games; for the first time you can play a full “Pokémon” adventure on your big-screen TV.
Thanks to Nintendo’s ingenious Switch system, you can take the latest “Pokémon” adventure with you and play it on your 77-inch OLED when you get home, and the result is brilliant.
“Pokémon Sword” and “Pokémon Shield” represents the first massive overhaul of the franchise in years, and though plagued with controversy and the ire of some hardcore fans, the game has never looked and played better.
Let’s look at the negatives first, since that’s what the naysayers are focusing on. Those who have spent the last 40-years catching them all may be disappointed to know that the National Pokédex is not available in the game at this time.
In a game where “catching them all” has been a motto from day one, this has left a bad taste in some mouths. But considering there’s now about 1,000 Pokémon total, that would have taken too long to bring into the new high-definition, expanded world.
This doesn’t mean the missing creatures are gone forever. A new app launches next year, linking all the previous games, and I would expect the old favorites that weren’t included to start showing up about then. The same complaint has been made about some special moves that have suffered the same fate. Whether or not they will stay gone remains to be seen.
If these reasons are enough to keep you away from the “Sword and Shield,” that’s your choice. However, you’ll be missing out on a fantastic adventure that’s pure Pokémon joy through and through.
The game introduces us to the Galar region, a place where fighting Pokémon has achieved new levels…literally.
New to the series comes the ability to “Dynamax” your favorite Pokémon. In the right situations, such as stadiums and specific places in the Wild Area, you can activate your special Dynamax bracelet and make one Pokémon on your team huge, like building huge.
The Dynamax effect lasts three rounds, during which you have access to special powerful moves, making for some truly epic fights. A few Pokémon can even take it a step further and “Gigantimax” which gives them a new look and even more power. It’s a brilliant mechanic and one that isn’t so overused it gets old.
Another new addition is that of the aforementioned Wild Area. This massive open space allows players to hunt Pokémon to their hearts’ desire. The weather changes depending on when you play, and this affects the Pokémon you’ll find. Weather also affects the effectiveness of certain Pokémon, with things like water-type creatures receiving a boost in the rain.
Aside from these tweaks the game progresses per the tried and true “Pokémon” formula. You’ll travel the land, fight gym leaders and work your way up to the title of Champion. However, the story here feels richer, more in line with the anime series than previous games. There’s a touch of intrigue, a few twists and some diversions that really mean something.
There’s also a better selection of post-game content, with additional story, battles and that Pokédex to fill. True, the national Dex isn’t here, but there are still 400 total Pokémon to catch, evolve, breed and trade.
It’s stunning to see a real Pokémon game on a big screen, and to hear it through a good stereo system. (Last year’s “Pokémon Let’s Go” games don’t count.)
All told I have put about 45 hours into “Pokémon Sword,” and still have some elusive gaps in my personal Dex, and I have to say I enjoyed every minute. I didn’t miss the National Dex because there are still so many Pokémon to catch, including a ton of new creatures and regional variants. I never missed the omitted moves because there are still plenty of great ones to choose from.
I did, however, figure out that “Pokémon” games continually get better. That sometimes you have to make a small sacrifice to move forward. And that when Nintendo releases a third or Ultra version of the game next year, I will play again. Until then, I have a Battle Tower to conquer.
“Pokémon Sword/Pokémon Shield” – Electronic Arts – Rated E
Who it’s for: Anyone with a passing interest in catching them all
Switch – A