Pokemon Sword and Shield
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Pokemon Sword and Shield: The Plusles and the Minuns

Neither Plusle nor Minun has made the cut in Pokemon Sword and Shield.

A lot has already been said about Pokemon Sword and Shield. Hot takes have been hotly taken at every site under the sun, but my absolute (chosen) ignorance of the game has made me a late voice.

There’s a lot to love about Pokemon Sword and Shield—the core gameplay loops and concepts of the franchise are just so stupid strong that even gutting content leaves behind an engaging RPG. The new Pokemon are spectacular, and despite mind-bending decisions, the balance of the single-player battles holds out mostly okay, when it counts. Some of the new gigantamaxing forms are cool, but at the same time, they’re so limited as to be forgettable.

Pokemon Sword and Shield have so much right and so much wrong, all at the same time, that every single compliment has to be followed with a but….Sometimes, the good outweighs the bad. Sometimes “Dexit.”

Here’s a little look at the pros and cons of Pokemon Sword and Shield.

The New Pokemon are fantastic.

Pokemon Sword and Shield

This is a generation of incredible Pokemon designs with some creative types (including Toxtricity’s Electric/Poison, a first of its kind, a more attainable Fire/Bug in Centiscorch, and more) and unique qualities. Each new Pokemon is trickled out throughout the game at a great pace, leaving surprises up to the very end of the main adventure. The new fossils are a hilarious and suitable way to combine Pokemon, and the Galarian forms are a huge step up on the Alolan forms with brand new evolutions for Pokemon historically missing out (such as Farfetch’d and Corsola).

While the original reveal of the three starters came by way of a lackluster CG video, the in-game, in-engine introduction made them instantly endearing, turning my disappointment into excitement. It’s a wonder they outsourced that thing at all….

For the record, I ended up using Cinderace, Drednaw, Centiscorch, Appletun, Sandaconda and Falinks. Too bad there wasn’t quite room for Cramorant.

But 60% of the full Pokedex can’t be transferred forward. And there’s only 80 new ones.

…and Gamefreak has said this will be the standard going forward.

The new Pokemon fill the Pokedex from 810-890, including Galarian evolutions but not new forms of old ‘mons (Meowth, Ponyta, Corsola, etc.), and discounting the 20+ Gigantimax Pokemon. By no means is that the smallest generation (Kalos had less than 80, but then, Kalos had 30 new Mega Evolutions).

However, Sword and Shield also cut out over 450 Pokemon.

They aren’t obtainable in-game, and they can’t be transferred in at all, whatsoever.

Gamefreak has stated that this will be the standard going forward for Pokemon.

This cut has deeply hurt the post-game of Pokemon Sword and Shield. I beat the main story in about 30 hours and finished catching every Galarian Pokemon and completing post-game story content by 42.

There has been some hubbub online about “Dexit,” but it has not been much ado about nothing.

It is understandable that Gamefreak would struggle with the transition to a home console, but inconsistent excuses and deaf PR did little to handle the situation.

Let’s be clear: while Pokemon is the greatest money-making franchise in the world, much of that money comes from merchandising and other outlets that don’t necessarily funnel directly back into Game Freak. Regardless, this is a franchise that sells more than 10 million games with each launch (Sword and Shield is already the fastest selling Nintendo Switch title world-wide, hitting 6 million in the time Super Smash Bros Ultimate hit 5). They aren’t a small independent studio without the wherewithal to make things happen by a deadline if they want to. The game doesn’t fill anywhere near a 32GB game cartridge, either, meaning there’s plenty of room for all our mates.

Time constraints and engineering trouble may be valid excuses…for Pokemon Sword and Shield.

They are also self-imposed by Nintendo, Gamefreak, and the Pokemon Company.

Pokemon Sword and Shield

It’s the doubling down that it’s impossible to feature every Pokemon from the history of the series (the 3DS had 807, by the way; the Switch can do 890 without issue) (I admit this is reductive, due to the increasing number of secondary and tertiary forms) going forward that makes it difficult to understand. So they could only do 400+ now. The models are made for the franchise’s Switch engine; what’s to say by the end of the generation the games can’t fill out the rest of the ‘dex?

The expectation is that Pokemon keeps its cast, and doesn’t axe it. It has maintained this since Pokemon Sapphire and Ruby. MarioKart with only 4 cups wouldn’t be defended on the internet, and especially not with an effective cost increase of 50%, because we have come to expect 8 cups.

In my boxes on the 3DS, I have Pokemon 1-807 lined up. I have caught them all, and it has driven my post-game experience since the franchise’s inception. For years, it has been a simple matter of dragging and dropping them into the latest game and maintaining my collection.

While my original 40 hours of play have not been effected by “Dexit” (I always use a party of brand new, generation-specific Pokemon), the game has come to a sudden halt. The pointlessness of recapturing the 300+ returning Pokemon is amplified by the surety that I will not be able to move them all into the next game anyway.

(Pokemon Home, to launch in 2020, is not an acceptable replacement any more than Pokemon Ranch or Pokemon Bank would have been in their generations.)

For the record, none of my shiny Pokemon (Rayquaza, Tentacool, and Golduck) can be transferred into Pokemon Sword and Shield.

There are interesting new moves and abilities.

The likes of Court Change and Teatime are awesome new moves with intriguing utility, and there’s a lot more where they came from. New moves always have interesting implications for the newest competitive metagame. Will Court Change bring Cinderace into the forefront thanks to its ability to eliminate opponents’ entry hazards, set them all on the opponent’s side of the field, and steal dual screens, all in a single turn? What about Teatime setting off early Unburdens, eliminating opponents’ berries that would have buffered super-effective attacks, and keeping recyclers even healthier?

Gamefreak has managed to continue to push the inventiveness envelope with Generation 8 when it comes to abilities, too. Cramorant picks up fish whenever it uses Dive or Surf and throws them at its opponent when struck to deal ¼ of their maximum health in damage, paralyzing them or lowering their defense in the process, thanks to its ability, Gulp Missile. Then there’s Ripen, which doubles the effect of berries, and Eldegoss’s in-game Dynamax killer, Cotton Down, which lowers the speed of all Pokemon except itself whenever it’s hit by an attack.

The new moves and new abilities are fun to use in practice, and it’ll be exciting to see how far they’ll go in the versus battles of Pokemon.

But Return and Hidden Power have been cut.

…and 60% of the Pokedex isn’t here to enjoy them.

That’s all well and good, but for the first time, a number of old moves have been taken out. Most of these are the Z-moves, and flavor filler that don’t have a particular effect on the game as a whole. But then there’s Return, a staple on Normal types thanks to its consistency and power, and Hidden Power, a common coverage move that was Unown’s only real purpose in life. Both are cut. That means no surprise Hidden Power Fires to check the likes of Ferrothorn, and a reliance on…Double-Edge for Normal types?

Part of the fun of a new generation is seeing updates to the old Pokemon’s movesets and abilities that may improve their viability. Due to Dexit, however, over 450 Pokemon aren’t here to receive those benefits. Would Krookodile have gotten Jaw Lock? Would anyone have shared Perish Body, or Ripen, or Power Spot? Who would have climbed the competitive ranks, and who would have risen to counter them?

The “why” isn’t impossible to understand, regarding move removal. Gamefreak probably wanted to mix up the meta. But at what cost, Gamefreak? At what cost?

At the very least, Unown.

Wild Area can be enjoyed with friends.

Seeing your pal running around the Wild Area for the first time is a trip. This is the first mainline Pokemon game where your trainers can hang out in an area with wild Pokemon, which is pretty sweet. Exploring for TMs together, seeing past Pokemon and new Pokemon running around alike in the bushes, and cooking curry to fill the only ‘dex that hasn’t been cut are just a few of the things you can do together. But the Wild Area is also cool on its own: it’s an open Pokemon area that crosses several biomes and features a weather-based rotation of the game’s Pokemon.

But there are 0 dungeons and only ten routes.

The cool factor of the Wild Area erodes pretty quickly. Running around together is sweet, but comes at the cost of visual fidelity. Not only does it run at a shoddier resolution, the area is, when set beside the few routes in the game, under-designed. Each area is lacking in texture and personality. The size of it also cost Sword and Shield a greater number of routes and, more noticeably, dungeons. There are a couple of mines, but nothing along the lines of Red’s Rock Tunnel or Diamond’s Mt. Coronet.

This is a huge reason for why the middle of the game passes so quickly. You jump from gym to gym without any mazing, puzzle-solving dungeons.

Raid battles are fun.

Pokemon Sword and Shield

The new raid battles, in which you get together with your friends to bust down Godzilla-sized Pokemon, is a fun new cooperative element. Each Pokemon has incredible health bars, powerful moves, and, at the higher levels, extra shields. Time is limited, and your team is limited to four-stock. Since you can bring three friends with you, you’ll want to make sure they’re not brain-dead AI for the most difficult battles. They’re as likely to bring in a one-shot-is-too-much Magikarp as a contributing member of the team.

It can be quite fun to hunt down the fancy Gigantamaxed versions, and the rewards of each battle (typically three powerful TRs and a handful of experience candies) are well worth it.

But Dynamax and Gigantamaxing have serious problems.

Firstly, they negatively impact competitive battling, centralizing each match to a single mechanic. Yuck. But that doesn’t really impact the main game, where it makes gym battles a little bit harder (and so a little bit more fun). There, however, Dynamax is limited to gym battles, championship fights, a handful of story battles, and Raid Battles. It’s also in-game confirmed that the power is exclusive to the Galar region, meaning it will shortly go the way of Mega Evolutions and Z-moves, and disappear.

That makes collecting the Gigantamax forms seem like a bit of wasted effort.

The worst bit, though, is that Gigantamax is limited only to Pokemon you catch in a Raid battle who is already the Dynamax form. While any Altaria could be mega-evolved, regardless of when and where you caught it, I can’t Gigantamax any of my party, even though three of them have a Gigantamax form.

(Just to clarify, any Pokemon can Dynamax; only Gigantamax Pokemon get the unique visual upgrade and fancy new move.)

When trying to catch a Gigantamax (after you’ve tracked it down and busted your way through its shields and health bars), you only get one ball, one chance. If it busts free, it’s hitting the road, meaning you’ve got to hunt it down again, fight it again, and cross your fingers again.

Limited in execution, unavailable to main-game teams, and ultimately unhealthy for competitive battling, Dynamax leaves an awful lot to be desired.

Catching Legendary Pokemon isn’t borderline automatic.

The last few generations didn’t want us to fail to catch the story legendaries, meaning you could practically toss a Pokeball at a full health Lunala and count your chickens. Not so for Zamazenta and Zacian, who buff their stats and fight back against constraining devices. I didn’t have to reset as I have historically due to pitiable luck (Legendaries used to struggle themselves to death before joining my party), but it’s nice to have some excitement again.

Even if there are only two legendaries per version.

But the rest of the game’s difficulty has been compromised by required XP share.

Remember when XP Share could be turned on and off, allowing you to tailor your growths to the game’s balance? Ultra Moon could be a butt-kicker if you left it off the whole game (it should be mentioned that hard Pokemon really just turns into PP-stalling with Hyper Potions and Revives), but an absolute cake-walk of one-shotting, super-effective moves that take out all stress if you turned it on.

Pokemon Sword and Shield don’t let you turn the item off. GameFreak suggested we could just put the rest of our Pokemon into the box while training one Pokemon at a time. That’s great for keeping your Effort Values the way you want them when building up Battle Tower and online-ready teams, but doesn’t help for a run of the same six Pokemon, all the way through.

Perhaps it’s my fault for trying to keep my team at the same level across the board, but Appletun’s level 100 requirement is simply lower than the rest of my party. Despite rarely using him in battles, he’s a full 12 levels up on the rest of my team (and we’re up to the eighties now, folks). Meanwhile, stalwart Sandaconda and Falinks struggle to keep up with even Centiscorch while being used in every fight.

While some of the game was pretty well-balanced despite the XP share, Appletun’s rocketing through the climb to 100 and the general over-leveling of my team has made the game, ultimately, stupidly easy. This only grew more obvious the further I got in the story.

It also doesn’t help that the Elite Four replacement doesn’t rescale for post-game, an omission that has held consistent through the latest mainline games for no understandable reason. And now you’re healed between every fight during the championship, too. It really doesn’t get easier than that.

Gyms take central stage in Pokemon Sword and Shield.

The story of Pokemon Sword and Shield focuses entirely on the gyms, and it makes for an exciting and fun, sporting world. As a result, you have a greater number of rivals who are also fighting their way to the top. Each of them deals with their own struggles and the game’s Team Yell is a nice deviation from the typical bad guy team. The game’s emotional climaxes in the story better match up to the gameplay’s climax thanks to the gym focus too.

But the side legendary story is barely cohesive.

It’s falling apart at its seams. SPOILER ALERT At the height of everything, you and rival Hop rally the support of other characters in order to raid the bad guy’s office building…because your dinner-date is running late. The scene feels like it forgot a key component of raising the stakes, and falls flat because of it. Major characters related to the Legends aren’t even introduced until the post-game side story.

Thematically, the plot in Pokemon Sword and Shield seems a bit at odds with the environmental messaging of Pokemon like Cursola. The bad guy is trying to solve an energy crisis…and the good guy is going to help him do it, but, uh, not like today, man. Because today is Sports Day. So let’s put off solving an energy crisis (that isn’t expected to come into effect, apparently, for another thousand years) and have a bit of fun.

But the bad guy can’t wait a day (even though he can wait for a thousand years) because of his impatience, and enacts his plan to use a Legendary Pokemon as a power source. A plan that, it should be said, the Champion (who is presented at all times as a good guy, even after this revelation) is 100% on board with (just not today, dude). His role: catch the Legend, because there’s no way Mr. Suit can.

Anyhow, you catch the Legendary Pokemon instead to store it in your (eternally incomplete) living Pokedex, there’s no solution to the (sort of) impending energy crisis, and you get to finish your momentarily interrupted sporting event. The bad guy turns himself in, the good guy champion accomplice makes the Battle Tower, and you go back out there to finish catching less than half of the 890 Pokemon.

Pokemon Sword and Shield are fun games, but lacking relative to their predecessors. There are quality of life improvements abound, including newly convenient evolutions (Leafeon comes by way of a Leaf Stone), zero transition from biking to surfing, the ability to change a Pokemon’s nature (at a stupidly expensive 50 BP), and more. But there’s no GTS to track down the starters you didn’t get. Most of the music is melodiously incoherent. And Pokemon Home, which is supposed to make all the pain go away, is still months out and totally nebulous.

About Michael

Brutal Gamer's Nintendo Editor began his gaming life a little late- at five years old. But he's made up for it in the two decades since, gaming and writing about gaming with the same passion, fervor, and unrelenting love as his five-year old self.

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