Review by Magicxgame

Reviewed: 12/02/19

Don't buy a Switch for this game.

Don't buy Pokemon Sword and Shield. If you're picking up a Nintendo Switch, there are plenty of better games such as The Legend of Zelda; Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, or Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. If you're an older fan who's thinking of getting back into the franchise, just download Pokemon GO instead. Pokemon Sword and Shield aren't the types of games you should expect for a $95 billion franchise.

Graphics

The graphics for the game are poor. Normally, this wouldn't be a big issue; Fire Emblem: Three Houses had unimpressive graphics, and it still turned out to be a great game. However, if you're going to cut over 450 Pokemon to improve the graphics and they still look poor, then you have an issue.

The Pokemon models are ripped straight from the Nintendo 3DS (as confirmed by dataminers), and both the Pokemon and Poke Ball models mesh poorly with the background. Walking Pokemon in the overworld can just pop in and out of existence. When you climb up or down a ladder, the world around the player completely freezes. Finally, in the game's open world area, the Wild Area, the framerate drops fairly often and character models constantly pop in and out. Breath of the Wild didn't suffer from these issues, even though it was a launch title with a much larger open world area.

To be fair, at least the game's towns have interesting designs. Many are based on British architecture, and the town with the fifth and sixth Gyms have lovely aesthetics. However, many of the towns have little to do. The town with the fifth Gym only has four buildings to enter, and the town with the seventh Gym only has two buildings you can enter. Even Pallet Town had three buildings to enter. It's quite disappointing.

Story

Apparently some people care about Pokemon's story, so here goes. The game takes place in the Galar region, which is loosely based on the United Kingdom. Pokemon Sword and Shield ditch the island trial system from Pokemon Sun and Moon and return to the traditional Gym system. The plot itself is your bog standard Pokemon plot; collect the Gym badges, face a few rivals, battle an evil team, and become the Champion. (It's worth noting that there are still only eight Gyms, and there are even two sets of version-exclusive Gyms. Meanwhile, Pokemon Gold and Silver were 1999 Game Boy Color games that managed to fit 16 Gyms in a 1 MB cart.)

The game tries to hype up the Gym Challenge by having the battles take place in stadiums and mentioning how few Gym Challengers make it to the end, but it's hard to be excited about a system that's been in place since the late 90s. You face three rivals, who are uninteresting. Your main rival, Hop, is a blatant clone of Pokemon Sun and Moon's Hau, right down the skin tone and certain animations. Meanwhile, your other two rivals have the exact same endings to their arcs. The main villains, Team Yell, are even more obnoxious than Team Skull and just serve as glorified roadblocks. Finally, you'll immediately realize who the main antagonist is.

The game's dialogue has also taken a hit. While Pokemon has never had a good story, many of the NPCs had humorous dialogue, such as the infamous "I like shorts!" Youngster from Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow, or the kid that randomly received a Mewtwo from a trade in Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. However, the dialogue in this game just falls flat. The characters only cover three subjects: the Gym Challenge, the legend of Galar's heroes, and the unbeatable Champion Leon. Almost every time you complete a Gym, one of the supporting characters will run up to you and yammer about one of the aforementioned subjects. You'll get really sick of hearing about them. The game has an option to skip cutscenes, but there are still plenty of times where you'll have to mash through mindless dialogue.

The post-game is also unremarkable, as the player largely retraces the same path they took over the story. Like in Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire's Delta Episode, you go to a town, fight one battle, and repeat. It's not that long, but it's a lot more tedious than it needs to be due to all of the town hopping. It doesn't help that it's impossible to take the post-game villains seriously.

The game is surprisingly short; I beat the main game in 18 hours and the post game in 2 hours, for a total of 20 hours. For a console RPG, that's pretty sad. Despite the short length, the story suffers from uneven pacing. While you can skip the early game tutorials, there's still a lot of padding early on. You have to visit an early game town twice before you can get your Pokedex, and you have to backtrack to two Gyms over the course of the game. Like Pokemon Sun and Moon, it takes forever just to get to the first Gym. Conversely, the game suffers from the opposite issue later on, when you're just pushed from Gym to Gym with no breathing room.

Despite its flaws, there are a couple of good points to the story. The stadiums provide a much more exciting atmosphere than the traditional Gyms, especially when the Gym Leader is down to their last Pokemon and the music kicks up a notch. The atmosphere and music for the last two battles in the game are also top-notch; they're a step up simply battling a legendary Pokemon in a dank cavern or battling a Pokemon Champion in an empty chamber. Unfortunately, a few highs can't make up for an otherwise short and mediocre story. If you want to play a game that actually has a good story, play Fire Emblem: Three Houses instead.

Sound

The game's soundtrack is decent. There are a few nice themes, such as the Wild Area's theme and the two legendary battle themes, but it's nothing to write home about. However, Undertale developer Toby Fox contributes an excellent battle theme for the game's Battle Tower; it should have served as the game's main trainer battle theme rather than the normal disjointed battle theme. The game's soundtrack is inoffensive, but it doesn't compare to Breath of the Wild's atmospheric soundtrack or Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's majestic compositions.

The Pokemon cries are the same low-quality cries you'd hear on the Nintendo 3DS; even the Pokemon Stadium games remixed the cries. It sounds really jarring when you hear console-quality music mixed in with muffled Pokemon cries.

In a baffling design choice, you can only adjust the sound and volume controls after you receive a key item in the game's third town. This is similar to Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, where the player was forced to use motion controls in Ultra Space until they talked to a random NPC two islands away. Why not give players the option from the start?

Music and sound effects aside, the game has two serious drawbacks. First of all, there's still no voice acting. This is inexcusable for a 2019 console RPG. Fire Emblem has had full voice acting since the Nintendo 3DS, and even Breath of the Wild had voiced cutscenes. When Junichi Masuda was confronted about this, his excuse basically boiled down to, "It's too hard." Remember, this is a $95 billion franchise, folks. Second, there's no option to change the Pokemon's cries to their voices in the anime. You have a well-known anime that's aired in 169 countries worldwide, and you can't be bothered to provide voice samples for Pokemon other than Pikachu and Eevee? That's just lazy.

Gameplay

This is where Sword and Shield really drop the ball. Let's address the elephant in the room.

No National Pokedex

In the 2019 E3 Pokemon Sword and Shield livestream, Junichi Masuda dropped a bomb: Only Pokemon available in the Galar Pokedex would be available in Pokemon Sword and Shield. Ostensibly, the Pokemon were dropped in order to focus on the graphics and gameplay balance. Naturally, this kicked up a large amount of controversy that continues to this day.

Now, I'm actually not opposed to the idea of cutting the Pokedex. Let's be honest: a lot of the Pokemon designs are blatant rehashes (Hoenn and Unova Pokemon are the worst culprits, as many of them are just rehashes of Kanto Pokemon) or are simply uninspired (again, Unova is one of the worst offenders). Competitive Pokemon had issues as well; many of the Pokemon were wildly unbalanced, and it was becoming increasingly hard to construct a team when you had over 800 Pokemon, Mega Evolutions, and Z-Moves in order to take into account. If Game Freak worked on balancing a subset of the Pokemon, then a smaller Pokedex could actually work well for the competitive scene.

However, the end result is just horrible. Over 450 Pokemon were completely cut from the game, leaving less than half of the Pokemon available. Many iconic starter Pokemon, legendary Pokemon, and fan favorites are just gone. (It should be noted that not all of the Pokemon from Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee are in the game, even though they already have Switch models. Gotta save them for Sword and Shield's updated re-releases, right?) Even Pokemon Diamond and Pearl had more Pokemon available, and they were initially released for the Nintendo DS in September 2006. But hey, there are still version exclusives and Pokemon that only evolve through trade! Gotta buy 'em all!

Some moves were also cut as well; admittedly, most were useless, but there were still some powerful moves such as Return and Hidden Power. A lot of returning Pokemon also lose access to powerful moves such as Knock Off unless you import them from a past game (which currently isn't possible).

To make matters worse, all but one of the returning Pokemon have the same stats as before, and the balance changes aren't any more drastic than in previous generations. So if the graphics are poor and the balance changes are the same as in previous generations, then what was the point of cutting 450 Pokemon? If you believe that a 3.6 GB Nintendo 3DS game can handle 800 Pokemon but a 9.5 GB Nintendo Switch game can't handle 900 Pokemon, then I have a bridge to sell you.

Players will be able to transfer Pokemon from previous generations in the upcoming mobile app Pokemon HOME. However, players will only be able to transfer the Pokemon in the Galar Pokedex and a handful of older Pokemon, for 435 Pokemon total. There are several issues here. First of all, what happened to the days where you could transfer your old Pokemon on release day? I still remember trading over my old Pikachu from Pokemon Yellow to Pokemon Silver right after the games' release. But nope, you have to start from scratch or wait several months. Second, you'll have to pay for two transfer services if you're bringing Pokemon from the Nintendo 3DS games, as you'll have to pay for both Pokemon Bank and Pokemon HOME. Finally, the transfer between the Nintendo 3DS games and Pokemon HOME is one way; if you transfer a Pokemon that's unavailable in Pokemon Sword and Shield, it will be trapped in the app until it's playable in a future game. And if it's an unpopular Pokemon like Stantler, it could be there for a long time. Needless to say, unless there are some changes before HOME's release, there will be a lot of angry players early next year.

Storyline

Oh right, maybe I should talk about the actual gameplay. As usual, the storyline is easy; raise a few Pokemon, one or two shot most of the storyline Pokemon, and repeat. All Pokemon in your party now get experience from battle, as if the revamped Exp. Share is permanently on. This is to mask the fact that there aren't a lot of trainers in the storyline, so your Pokemon need all of the experience they can get.

Unfortunately, the level curve in the game is all over the place. At the start of the game, you fight Pokemon with single-digit levels. You're then let loose into the Wild Area, where you can fight and catch Pokemon up to level 20. Then you're right back to the main story, where you battle against level 11 Pokemon again. At the end of the game, the level curve jumps 15 levels between the last three mandatory battles. There's a similar spike at the end of the post-game.

As usual, there's only one difficulty level. Game Freak knows that people want higher difficulty levels - they've even acknowledged difficulty levels in multiple interviews - but they just don't care. Some video game "journalists" have argued that the high-level Pokemon in the wild area can pose a challenge, but accidentally running into a high level Pokemon and having to use a Poke Doll to flee is hardly a challenge.

The wild encounter system is a mix of the past random encounters and Pokemon Let's Go's overworld encounter system, where the Pokemon appeared in the overworld. Now, I loved Let's Go's encounter system. It made the world of Pokemon feel a lot more vibrant and alive, and actually made me want to go out and catch Pokemon instead of simply spamming Repels. However, Sword and Shield's system is a step back. Not only are the overworld Pokemon less plentiful than in Let's Go, but there are still occasionally random encounters in the grass. It's as if Game Freak put them in the game for no other reason than "the past games had them." Repels are also flawed in the game. In past games, they would remove random encounters, and would remove all overworld encounters in Let's Go. In Sword and Shield, Repels remove random encounters, but Pokemon remain in the overworld. Since some of the overworld Pokemon can be hard to dodge, you can use Repels, only to run into a Pokemon anyway. It's extremely annoying, and shows the lack of polish put into the game. Why couldn't they just ditch the antiquated random encounter system and use Let's Go's overworld encounters?

Speaking of Let's Go, players can access their Pokemon boxes at almost any time. However, Pokemon are no longer healed automatically when sent to a box, so you'll have to use the Pokemon Center to heal them. Pokemon Centers also let you change your Pokemon's nickname and relearn old moves. It's a nice touch, but why can't you rename Pokemon yourself at any time like in Let's Go?

Like every game since Pokemon X and Y, Sword and Shield barely have a post-game. Besides the story, there's a Battle Tower and a legendary Pokemon to catch. Yes, a legendary Pokemon. There are three legendary Pokemon to encounter during the game. One is battled during the storyline, and you're guaranteed to catch it; one is battled in the post-game; and the last is an old legendary that is given to you. Even Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow had four legendary Pokemon to catch.

The "New" Dynamax Feature

The game's main gimmick is Dynamax, which causes a player's Pokemon to temporarily grow giant in size. A Dynamaxed Pokemon will remain giant for three turns; if it switches out or faints, then Dynamax is immediately reverted. When a Pokemon is Dynamaxed, it receives a massive boost to its HP, and its moves turn into Max moves. Max attacks have additional effects; for instance, Max Water-type attacks will summon rain, Max Electric-type attacks set electric terrain, and so on. Max status moves will simply guard the Pokemon against attacks. Certain Pokemon, such as Charizard, have more powerful Gigamax forms instead. Dynamax Pokemon are primarily obtained in the Wild Area.

Dynamax is an okay feature. However, it's a blatant rip-off of both Mega Evolutions (having certain Pokemon transform in battle) and Z-Moves (Max moves), both of which are now gone from the game. It's hard to view Dynamax as anything but a gimmick when Charizard already had two Mega Evolutions, but had both of them removed in favor of Gigamax. It doesn't help that Dynamax feels less balanced than Mega Evolutions or Z-Moves. Mega Evolutions were powerful but fairly balanced, and Z-Moves could only be used once. However, Dynamax merely turns Pokemon into walking nukes. Dynamaxed Pokemon can't be flinched, which may cause a problem in Double Battles.

Unlike Mega Evolutions and Z-Moves, Dynamax can only be used in certain Wild Area Battle and in Stadiums, so you can't sweep through the main story using it like with the aforementioned features.

The Wild Area and Max Raids

One of the game's main selling points is the Wild Area, an open world area that sprawls across the Galar region. It features multiple areas, such as lakes, forests, deserts, and so on, and features a variety of wild Pokemon. Like Breath of the Wild, I couldn't help but be impressed by the Wild Area when I first entered it. However, don't be fooled; Sword and Shield's Wild Area is certainly no Hyrule.

The Pokemon in the Wild Area are of varying levels, all the way from level 10 to level 60. However, the level of Pokemon you can catch is now dictated by the number of badges you have, so that you can't capture an overleveled Pokemon and run through the storyline. This will cause frustrating situations where you venture into the Wild Area, weaken a strong Pokemon, then find out that you can't catch it because it's too high leveled. I had a situation where I found a level 36 Hawlucha, but couldn't catch it since I could only catch level 35 Pokemon at a time. It's quite annoying.

One of the main attractions are Max Raid Battles, a form of battles similar to Pokemon GO's Raid Battle system. In certain areas, players can find wild Pokemon of one to five stars that Dynamax at the start of the battle. Pokemon at higher ranks will have higher base stats (Individual Values, or IVs) and moves. Four players then take on the Pokemon. If the Pokemon is defeated, players can capture it and receive items afterwards. Opposing Pokemon in Max Raid battles can set up barriers to protect themselves, remove stat buffs from the players' teams, or even attack multiple times per turn. Players can team up with other players, or team up with computer players instead. Occasionally, there are events where certain Dynamax or Gigantamax Pokemon are more likely to spawn.

Sounds great, right? It would be, if it was easy to find someone to communicate with. Sword and Shield have a device called the Y-Comm, which allows people to go online and communicate with others similar to the old Player Search System. Ideally, players can find and join random Max Raid Battles online. However, it's nearly impossible to set up a four-person Max Raid battle with random people over the Y-Comm. Similar to Pokemon Sun and Moon's Festival Plaza, it's hard to find people over the Y-Comm. Nine times out of ten, if you try to join a Max Raid Battle, you'll get an error message stating that the battle has already started. I was only able to find two other random players at best. You're better off setting up Max Raid Battles with friends or simply getting a level 100 legendary Pokemon and blasting through them by yourself.

Certain special Max Raids contain Gigantamax Pokemon, but these have their own issues. First of all, unlike typical Max Raid battles, you aren't guaranteed to catch the Pokemon. So if you set up a four-person Max Raid, all four of you will have to stick there until the end. (And God help you if you actually set up a battle with random Y-Comm players.) Second, only certain species of certain Pokemon can Gigantamax, and it can't be passed down through breeding. Finally, these events are limited time only, so you'll be at the mercy of traders if you happen to miss an event.

Besides Max Raids, players can communicate with other players in the Wild Area to receive items. Once again, players will constantly flicker in and out of existence, so you may try to talk to a player only to have them vanish. Players can earn Watts in the Wild Area, which can be exchanged for items or services.

While the Wild Area has a lot of potential and is fun during the first couple of visits, it largely feels half-baked. Play Breath of the Wild for an actual open-world adventure.

The Battle Tower

The Battle Tower returns as a post-game challenge. In past games, the Battle Tower challenged players to build a continuous winning streak. By winning, players could earn Battle Points, which could be exchanged for various items.

The Battle Tower has been overhauled in Sword and Shield, which is a mixed bag. Rather than a continuous streak, the Battle Tower is now divided into different tiers. Players start at the Beginner Tier, and work their way up to the Master Ball tier. Players will earn rewards after clearing each tier. If a player loses, they may return to the start of the tier or be demoted a tier rather than having to start from the beginning. Finally, players can rent one of five decent teams. Game Freak actually did a good job at making the Battle Tower more accessible to the average player.

Unfortunately, there's a big downside. In past generations, players would obtain more Battle Points as they progressed through the Battle Tower. However, in Sword and Shield, players will only earn 2 Battle Points after every single battle. It doesn't matter if you're starting out in the Beginner Tier or you're in the Master Tier; you will receive 2 Battle Points. And as expected, the useful items are expensive, so get used to the slog. It's very disappointing; the game heaps rewards on the player after they clear a tier, but once you've cleared all of the tiers, it's just a grind fest. It doesn't help that the opposing teams are more repetitive, due to the smaller Pokedex.

Finally, I should note that it's been a decade since the Battle Frontier has appeared in a Pokemon game; its last appearance was in Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver, which were released in 2009 in Japan. It's funny how Pokemon Emerald could fit a Battle Frontier on a Game Boy Advance cart while the Nintendo Switch doesn't have it, isn't it?

Other Recycled Features

There are two other recycled features from past games, so here goes. Poke Jobs are similar to the minigames from the Poke Pelago, where you can send your Pokemon on various tasks to collect experience or items. Camping allows the player to interact with their Pokemon outside of battle. Players can also make curry for various effects. There's even a Curry Dex, which tracks the various recipes the player has made.

Online Play

As stated earlier, players can use the Y-Comm to access online features. Besides teaming up for Max Raid Battles, players can exchange Trainer Cards, participate in Surprise Trades to trade random Pokemon, and so forth.

The game's main online battle mode is the Versus Stadium, which takes the place of the Global Battle Union and the Battle Spot of previous games. Here, players can participate in Casual or Ranked Battles against other trainers. Like the Battle Tower, Ranked Battles use a tiered system. Players start at the Beginner Tier and work their way up to the Master Tier. Once players hit Master Tier, the game uses an ELO-based ranking system. Players can also host or join Online Competitions without having to go to a website. Players can also use Rental Teams if they don't have a good team of their own. However, Sword and Shield only let players save six rental teams at once; even the Pokemon Stadium games allowed players to save up to ten teams per mode. Players also can't search and download teams from the Pokemon Global Link anymore, which is annoying.

Unfortunately, Casual Battles has one big flaw. In Pokemon Sun and Moon, players could choose whether or not to use powerful Legendary and Mythical Pokemon such as Mew in Casual Battles. In Sword and Shield, players don't have this option for some reason. If you don't like using legendaries but don't want to participate in Ranked Battles, then you're out of luck.

The only battle modes against other players are Single, Double, and Multi Battles. No Triple or Rotation battles; no Battle Royales; no Inverse battles; just three features. Additionally, there are only two basic rulesets for each mode. In comparison, games such as Pokemon Stadium 2 allowed players to create fully customized rulesets with level restrictions, select which Pokemon could be used for battle, and so forth.

Battles aside, there is no Global Trade Station either. Now, the Global Trade Station was highly flawed, but it allowed players to conduct quick trades to evolve certain Pokemon or obtain version-exclusive Pokemon. Now, you just have to enter trades with random people and try to trade Pokemon without voice chat. But don't worry; you'll be able to set up trades through the paid Pokemon HOME app next year!

Training Your Pokemon for Competitive Play

While Game Freak has gone on and on about making the games' storylines more accessible, raising a team for competitive play is just as tedious as ever. First, the good. Players can now use any number of vitamins to max out their Pokemon's Effort Values (EVs), while there was a cap in past games. Second, players are able to change their Pokemon's nature through mints, which are available through the Battle Tower. Finally, it's also easier to catch Pokemon of an ideal nature, as the Synchronize ability always works to guarantee that players can find Pokemon of a certain nature. (Previously, it was a 50% chance.)

Now, the bad. In the first four generations, players could teach their Pokemon moves through Technical Machines (TMs), which broke after one use. In the next three generations, TMs could be used any number of times. In Sword and Shield, TMs return, but the game also adds Technical Records (TRs), moves which break after one use. As you'd expect, all of the TMs contain crappy moves such as Mega Punch and Snore, while the TRs contain worthwhile moves such as Thunderbolt and Ice Beam. In order to obtain TRs, you need to win Max Raid Battles or purchase them with Watts. TRs are such a step back that it's a slap in the face.

Like in the previous generation, players can Hyper Train their Pokemon to max out their Pokemon's IVs. Players can use a Bottle Cap to max out one IV, or a Gold Bottle Cap to max out all of a Pokemon's IVs. Some Bottle Caps are obtained through the Battle Tower or by doing well in the Versus Stadium, and other Bottle Caps can be purchased at the Battle Tower. However, players can only Hyper Train their Pokemon at level 100, even though all standard battles use level 50 Pokemon. So not only do you have to grind your Pokemon to level 100, you have to grind the Battle Tower for Bottle Caps as well. Isn't this game fun?

As stated before, Gigantamax Pokemon can only be obtained through Wild Raids, and can't be bred. So if you want that competitive Gigantmax Pokemon, you'd better participate in Max Raid Battles for a limited period of time. And since it can't breed, you'll probably need to obtain mints and Bottle Caps for it, so you'll have to go grind the Battle Tower as well.

Removal of Features

Let's just recap all of the features that the cutting edge Switch games have removed or altered for the worse, shall we?

  • They removed 455 Pokemon.
  • They removed over 100 moves.
  • They removed Mega Evolutions and Z-Moves.
  • They removed Battle Royales.
  • They removed the Pokemon Global Link and the Global Trade Station, making it harder to trade Pokemon.
  • They removed the ability to record Battle Videos and share them.
  • Teachable moves such as Thunderbolt and Ice Beam are one-use again.

Final Verdict

Pokemon Sword and Shield are a step back in almost every way. I came in with low expectations, and I was still disappointed. Before the games' release, Game Freak said that Pokemon games were relegated to their B team, and it sure feels like it. There's a reason why games such as Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate have scores in the 90s on Metacritic, while Sword and Shield are in the low 80s. I can't recommend this half-finished game to anyone but diehard Pokemon fans.

If you're picking up a Switch, go with a safe game such as Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, or Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

If you're getting a game for your child, pick up Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Mario Odyssey, or Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. All are kid-friendly games with a lot more depth.

If you want a good RPG, buy Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age, or Xenoblade Chronicles 2.

If you're thinking of coming back into the series, just download Pokemon GO and have a good time with some friends.

If you're disappointed with the game, make sure to let Nintendo, Game Freak, and The Pokemon Company know. Of course, you should be respectful, but you aren't "toxic" or "entitled" for wanting a good product for $60. Don't be shamed by video game "journalists" with conflicts of interest. Don't be afraid to call a spade a spade.

Pokemon Sword and Shield are poor games, and I can't recommend them.

Rating: 4

Product Release: Pokemon Sword (US, 11/15/19)

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