Pokemon Sword and Shield Review

Pokemon Sword & Shield – Have They Evolved?

Pokemon Sword & Shield Review Header

Pokemon Sword & Shield are the latest mainline games in the very long running series. They are also the first mainline Pokemon games to be released on the Nintendo Switch. The new region that you explore in these games is the Galar region, which is based on the UK. As usual, there are new Pokemon, new challenges, and new ways to battle.

There was some controversy before the release of these games, to say the least. In my opinion, I do not think all of the criticisms thrown at GameFreak was fair. The main problems brought up were “poor Pokemon models” and dropping the National Pokedex. I’ll speak about them below but fair warning, I disagree that these are problems. 

I also think review bombing a game for superficial reasons, or before you actually play it, is deplorable. This is just simply unacceptable behaviour. Glad I got that out of the way… Now for the review. 

Pokemon Sword & Shield Legendary

Gameplay? 10/10 – Being a long time fan of the Pokemon formula, Sword and Shield add enough to maintain that consistency.

I’ll have to hold my hands up here, I am guilty of thoroughly enjoying the Pokemon formula. I have bought at least one game at every release, since I bought my own Gameboy Advance for Pokemon Sapphire. So this score reflects the fact that I love everything about playing through a Pokemon game.

Pokemon games are pretty simple, your mum always kicks you out at 10 and sends you on a long difficult journey. You are given a Pokemon to be your first partner. Along the way you will catch many more partners and battle many opponents. For some reason you will end up taking on some kind of bad group of trainers. Pretty simple but it works, it has been pretty similar since the first generation of games. 

As a Pokemon trainer you have 2 main objectives, the first is to battle your way to being the strongest trainer in the region. The second is to catch every Pokemon.

This is where one of the controversies mentioned above comes in. Normally you have the Regional Pokedex, this stores only the Pokemon natively found in your current region. Then you have the National Pokedex, this stores the information for every Pokemon ever. In this game they did not include the Nationaldex. Instead that made a large Regionaldex with 400 Pokemon. 

Now this isn’t every Pokemon ever, this is why people got upset. They couldn’t use all of their old favourite Pokemon anymore. Now whilst I appreciate this and I am also missing a lot of my favourite Pokemon, I don’t think this is reason enough to write a game off. 

For one thing, 400 is the largest Regionaldex in any Pokemon game, and few people actually catch that many Pokemon in any game. The second is that it doesn’t take anything from the actual game.

For a side note and a minor brag, I legitimately caught all 400 Pokemon and completed my Pokedex in Pokemon Sword. I have both titles so I just transferred all the version exclusives over to my copy of Sword.

Along with the new region come a lot of new Pokemon. Now before I talk about anything else, this may be the first region where I don’t really like any of the starter Pokemon after they evolve. The first forms Grookey (best boy), Scorbunny, and Sobble all look really cute but I don’t really like any of their evolutions. Now other than those, I actually think Sword & shield have some of the best Pokemon/designs in many games for quite a while. Maybe overall, the best since the fourth generation? I think so, yeah.

Pokemon Sword & Shield Starter

Next let’s talk about all the battling you’ll be doing. Pokemon is a turn based JRPG, pretty standard stuff really. You use your Pokemon to fight other people’s Pokemon, just in case you’re part of the 1% of the planet that hasn’t played a Pokemon game. The biggest fights are against the Gym Leaders. 

The formula has returned, you have to battle 8 Gym Leaders across the Galar region. These 8 leaders are stronger than normal trainers and will each focus on a single Pokemon type. The gym battles have been ramped up to 100 in the new games. 

Pokemon Sword & Shield gym leaders

This seems like a prudent time to speak about the newest battle mechanic introduced, Dynamaxing. Dynamaxing involves a Pokemon becoming many times larger than normal. It looks awesome! Along with becoming larger, they get more health, and their attacks turn into souped up versions of the originals. Each type gets its own Dynamax move. Some Pokemon get special Gigantimax forms, these make them huge and change their form. Along with this form change they get exclusive G-Max moves, alongside the Dynamaxed ones.

It is worth mentioning the Wild Area here, this is a huge open expanse on the map. It is the first of its kind in a Pokemon game and I love it. Here you can explore a bunch of different areas, each with separate weather and different Pokemon to find. I really like the wild area, it’s a neat idea and I think it was implemented really well. One of the main activities in the wild area is the max raid battles.

Pokemon Sword & Shield wild area

Max raid battles are 4 v 1 battles against a Dynamaxed Pokemon. As part of the 4 you can battle alongside your friends or random people online, any spaces not taken by real people are auto filled with NPC’s. This is good because if you don’t have friends playing nearby or you don’t want to play online, you can still participate in the raid battles. These raids are against a super powered dynamax Pokemon, they function essentially like a simple boss fight. I really like the max raid battles, doing them can net you a strong Pokemon or get you a lot of goodies to help you on your Pokemon journey.

Pokemon Sword & Shield Max Raid Battle

Something unusual that is happening this time around is there are a lot of updates for the game. Mostly events, events specifically targeted at the max raid battles. There are a lot of events where there are rarer or different Pokemon appearing in the raid battles. Even cooler is they are giving limited time access to gigantimax Pokemon in these raids. Even one gigantimax Pokemon that hadn’t been seen before in Toxtricity.

Visuals? 8/10 – Despite being the best looking Pokemon game to date, numerous quality issues hold it back.

Let me start by saying that this is the best looking mainline Pokemon game to date. I don’t think this can really be debated honestly. I like the designs and the over art style in a lot of the older games, in particular the second generation. Silver has a fantastic art style, it’s just a product of the system limitations of the time. 

I loved every second in this world that has been created, the world of Pokemon has never felt so alive in a mainline title. This is helped by the fact that roaming Pokemon have returned. 

As you wander through the world many Pokemon will be frolicing around in the grass, this returns from Pokemon Let’s GO, and it’s the correct choice. I loved walking around and just seeing all these Pokemon doing their thing. A very nice touch is how some of the wild Pokemon act differently. An example would be how Yamper chases after you, much like a dog would actually do. Then others will run away, like Wimpod, and then others just rush you.

The battles all look really good, the animation for the Mons and the attacking animations are all pretty crisp. More could be done, obviously, but for a Pokemon game, they have never looked so big and impressive. Talking battles, the Dynamax mechanic looks incredible. Having Godzilla-Pikachu raining down lightning destruction on your foes is glorious! I never found it to lose its wonder and whimsy!

Godzilla Pikachu

Being set in the UK I think they captured some of the ascetics pretty well. My favourite part about this is the Punk-ness that they have brought along. Piers being one of the gym leaders and a punk rocker himself, looks amazing. The enemy team is based on punky football hooligans, it’s very British and I accept, and appreciate it.

Pokemon Sword & Shield Piers

There are a few issues that are present, I personally don’t think they mar the effort provided, but they are areas that need improvement.

These are the drop in and the lower quality models in some places. The big one here for me is the drop in. It is quite bad. The draw distance isn’t even particularly far, which makes it worse. You’ll just be walking up a road in a town and when you’re a short distance away NPC’s and Pokemon will just pop in all over the place. It definitely could have been improved.

Audio? 9/10 – With the improvement in hardware contributing massively, the soundtrack is fantastic. Although having to find an item in the game world to adjust volume is mind boggling.

I don’t think that it is an exaggeration to say that Sword & Shield have the best music in any Pokemon game. I would say that mostly this can be attributed to the hardware it is on now, but it’s still a big leap forward. It’s all quite atmospheric and sets the tone of every scene really well.

I think a really big highlight for me are the bagpipes! These games being set in the UK, they obviously tried to take inspiration where possible. This has manifested itself in the bagpipes that play in quite a bit of the music, it’s honestly glorious.

Battle scenes especially have been ramped up too, with the gym battles being particularly grander. They have added the crowd as ambient noise during the gym battles. As you fight the battle the crowd can be heard cheering and chanting, it is a really nice touch. It just brings these big ol’ spectacles to life more!

Now I personally experienced no audio issue throughout any of my playthroughs. That being said there is one minor “issue” shall we call it.

To change the ingame volume you have to go to like the 3rd city and talk to some random dude to get an item. This guy gives you some head phones, you can now change the volume. This is an odd choice to say the least. I think it was added to emphasise that they have made this change but I honestly think it’s unnecessary. What would have been better would be to have the ability from the start and then someone just explains it to you.

Other than that it’s a beautiful ensemble that puts together a delightful experience.

Story? 7/10 – In typical Pokemon fashion, the story is fine, but doesn’t take many risks.

I’ll mention this a couple more times in this review but it’s a typical mainline Pokemon story. It could have done with fleshing out of course but it’s passable for Pokemon. 

It’s simple, it has good characters, and it at least tries to highlight some current global issues, in it’s own way.

The framework, I think, is good enough. It just needs some work. My hope for the future really is just a fully fleshed out story in a Pokemon game.

There’s not much to say here really, you are a young boy who sets out on a journey. You’re trying to catch ‘em all, battle ‘em all, and win ‘em all. 

I think the sheer simplicity of the story is a strong point however. The Pokemon are the stars and they are always in the spotlight. I don’t think a fuller story would necessarily take away from this but I can say that currently the spotlight never moves from the Pokemon, and I’m ok with that.

Acting? 8/10 – Without any voice acting we had to average out the rest of the scores and attribute them here.

Pokemon Sword & Shield don’t actually have any voice action so we can’t really rate it. To give this game a fair rating a decision was made. We took the mean average of the other sections and rounded it to the nearest whole number and gave this section that score.

We think this is the fairest way to handle cases like this where sections aren’t able to be rated otherwise.

Writing? 7/10 – Much as the story, the writing is okay, but doesn’t push the boundaries of Pokemon storytelling.

Pokemon games aren’t known for deep stories but it seems that there has been some improvements for Sword & Shield. You mostly follow the same formula, of going out as a kid, catching and fighting Pokemon to become the champion. You just wanna be the very best. Like no one ever was right?

Areas of improvement include, some of the characters. Especially Opal and Piers. These are 2 of the gym leaders that you are shown pretty early on. Their characters and the writing behind them is fantastic. This is the first Pokemon game where I wish they had voice acting, I would love to have a voiced Opal and Piers in the games. I think that it does show an ever higher level of writing, when just reading text on a screen teems with personality!

Pokemon Sword & Shield Opal

I think that they should do a fully fleshed out RPG story for one of the next Pokemon games. That’s my opinion obviously but I really think the series could use this revitalisation. 

There’s not much else to say, it’s a pretty standard mainline Pokemon story.

Performance? 7/10 – With shocking draw distance regularly on show, Pokemon Sword and Shield are held back slightly.

The Switch isn’t the most powerful console, so some allowances should be made. That being said there are still some very impressive looking games on the system. 

Pokemon as a franchise has never been known for pushing the envelope in terms of graphical fidelity. I’m both not sure if that’s a bad thing or if they should change it. For me personally I adore the general ascetic that comes with a Pokemon game. The devs have very clearly put in a lot of effort to make this game look better than its predecessors. There is no arguing that they succeeded in this. It is a gorgeous Pokemon game, from the moment you start up the world looks better and more alive than ever before.

Pokemon Sword & Shield Home Time

Now as I said, it’s a “gorgeous Pokemon game”, I was specific because it obviously doesn’t look as good as say Fire Emblem Three Houses or Zelda Breath of the Wild. Nor would any expect it to be, but for the style the franchise is known for, it looks incredible.

Something mentioned above, Dynamaxing, this is a new mechanic where Pokemon in certain battles can become many times larger than normal. This is quite the spectacle in game. These Dynamaxed Pokemon look amazing! There’s no other way to describe them, when you’re in a huge Pokemon gym and there are 2 Godzilla sized Mons fighting. What a rush!

Now this game is clearly not without fault. I think overall the performance in most areas rarely drops but there are problems.

Probably the biggest one, is the drop in. Now I don’t think it will ruin the enjoyment of the game, it is very noticable. I mentioned this above so I won’t repeat myself. It really needs to be improved upon.

Another problem that is raised a lot, is that some of the models just aren’t very good. I can definitely agree with this, but only insofar as it only being a problem for some models. For the most part I think that everything looks amazing in this game. It’s bigger, better, and clearer than any of its predecessors. There are just some models that should have had a lot more polish and that’s a shame.

This may or may not have been fixed now but when the games were first released, the online functions in the wild area were not great. You can go online and either join other peoples max raid battles or they can join yours. At launch this didn’t really work, at least not with strangers online. I’ve definitely seen that people have/can do online max raid battles but not sure if they’re doing it with just friends. It’s just a lesson learned hopefully.

Fun Factor? 10/10 – Being a hardcore Pokemon fan Pokemon is still as fun as it ever was.

Pokemon is fun. I’m not a child anymore but Pokemon games are always fun. Sword & Shield are no different. 

This is actually really hard to put into words. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s the simplicity, it might just be the cute little critter! Not sure what it is but Pokemon games have always had a calming effect on me. I can just sit there, happily, playing a Pokemon game for countless hours on end. I literally did this multiple times with Sword & Shield. 

They are just cute and simple games, with easy to grasp mechanics, and big epic battles. They are the perfect chill out games, no matter what is going one elsewhere, you can lose yourself in Sword & Shield.

Value? 8/10 – Still held back by being sold as two separate products, Sword and Shield offers enough replayablity and approaches to be recommended.

I think pretty much every Pokemon game is good value. Even at launch price, Sword and Shield in particular are fantastic entries into the series, the games are worth it. Currently, based on what I’ve seen, you can pick either of the games up for around £40. This in my opinion is still good value.

I mean you get roughly 25 hours on one play through of the story. You can easily go through the game many, many times. Use different combinations of Pokemon or try challenge runs. You can collect all Pokemon. You can train competitive teams and play online. I mean Pokemon games have some of the best replayability of any franchise, that alone makes them worthy. 

I do have 2 issues with Pokemon games as a whole and specifically with these games.

The main issue that i have with Pokemon in general, is the 2 versions approach. I get that it makes them more money, they’ve always done it, and it’s supposed to encourage cooperation. It’s just not a good model, they also lock certain Pokemon behind each version. Again, I get the idea they were going for BUT I would much rather they just release 1 game with all Pokemon available. The main reason is that most people, myself very much included, will just buy both games and trade themselves the extra Pokemon they need. 

The other isn’t really an issue, so much as a hope for the future. I think that the next step in the Pokemon evolution should be that they really flesh out the story. The mainline titles are all pretty simple, and any time the devs have tried to improve the story some fans have complained. I just think it’s time that they release a mainline title that has a much longer and expanded story. That’s my hope for the future anyway.

How Much Did The Reviewer Enjoy It? 10/10 – With some of the best new Pokemon we’ve seen, and benefiting from a home console, Sword and Shield are great.

I honestly enjoyed both games multiple times. So much so that I finished Sword once. I finished 3 challenge runs in Shield, just using a single type of Pokemon. And I finished the whole 400 Pokemon Regionaldex in Sword.

In case you wanted to know, I did a run with only Bug types, then only Steel types, and my last one was only Dragon types.

I think this is a fantastic entry into the series and definitely one of the better mainline games. It’s also a really good first attempt at a mainline Pokemon game on the Switch. I think there are definitely areas of improvement and I hope that at least some of the feedback is considered and the next game will be even better.

All in all I definitely think Sword & Shield are some of the best entries in the whole franchise

These will also be the first mainline Pokemon games to get genuine DLC, speaking of, I am very excited to see everything that the DLC brings. Stay tuned soon as I will be doing a little DLC preview for Pokemon Sword & Shield.

Pokemon Sword & Shield Review.
Written by Kyle Munn

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