Pokémon Sword and Shield are like moving into a new house. I loathe moving house. It’s honestly one of my least favourite things to do, forcing you to take everything you own and uproot it; there are always far too many boxes, a bunch of wires to deal with, and a massive amount of admin to undertake. The only thing that can make moving more bearable is if you go through everything you own and get rid of things you don’t need. You get to start off your life in your new home with just the essentials and can now populate it with lots of cool new things instead.
That’s basically how I feel about Pokémon Sword and Shield; not having to worry about bringing all your old monsters over is a blessing. You don’t have the attachment to them, sure, but you get a chance to form new attachments, to rediscover old friends, make new ones, and ultimately have fun doing so.
The design of all the Pokémon in the Galar region is where the new entries shine. While there isn’t a full National Dex to complete, the new forms and creatures all coalesce into this incredible new pool of beasts to choose from. Better yet, the completely new monsters are some of the best we’ve ever had, and the selection you get from the get-go is almost overwhelming. I had a full team of varied types before I even got to the first gym. It’s something that has been improved upon with each new game, but it’s perfected here.
On the subject of gyms, they’re a bit different to the norm, but only a bit. As always you’re tackling each gym in a set order, but you have to complete a different mission to get to each gym leader. The first one has you herding rolling Wooloo onto different pressure plates, while the third has you competing to catch Pokémon with other trainers. It’s an interesting idea for gyms, though it doesn’t feel as though they take it as far as they could have done. It would have been awesome to see more specific restrictions and rules before gyms, something like having a particular Pokémon on your team or maybe even having caught a certain number of Pokémon through the game to that point. The gyms themselves still conclude with the usual boss battle, but at least this time you get to make your Pokémon massive to add to the spectacle.
There are story reasons for the new Dynamax mechanic, but they’re all a bit flimsy really. It’s also a strange mechanic in and of itself. It makes your Pok´mon huge and changes the attacks they can use, but for the most part, each move type only has one Dynamaxed equivalent. So, for example, both Fire Fang and Ember will result in the same attack if you’ve Dynamaxed your Growlithe. It’s an odd choice, and while I’m sure there are reasons for it, it does detract from some of the impact of the flashy process. We’ve basically been given this instead of Z-Moves and Mega-Evolutions, and it effectively serves the same purpose. It’s fun, but it could have been better.
The other significant addition is the Wild Area. This is as close to an open world section as we’ve seen in a Pokémon game so far, and it shows a lot of promise. It’s home to a plethora of sections which contain different monsters as well as different weather conditions, all of which vary as time passes. While this keeps things a lot more interesting, it can make hunting down specific monsters frustrating, let alone knowing which ones are available. On top of this, the sections are all a bit too small, which can make the whole thing feel very fleeting despite the size of the Wild Area itself. It’s another new addition that is almost incredible, but it just doesn’t feel finished. We’ve all been craving an open world Pokémon game, and this is an enjoyable but incredibly small taster of what could be done with the series.
It also doesn’t make the graphical leap that would have been nice to see given the more powerful hardware too. Though everything looks nice and clean, it’s nowhere near as pretty as so many other titles on the Switch. The visual design is excellent, but it would have been nice to see just a little bit more depth to the presentation as a whole. This is especially true when it comes to the attacks, which are all a bit too simplistic. The audio is excellent throughout though, and the soundtrack itself is one of the best in the series.
The world of Galar has an interesting structure thanks to the Wild Area and some of the towns you travel through, but once again, it feels a little simple when compared to other games on the Switch, or even just other games in the series. The first couple of dungeons are barely dungeons at all, and are essentially just straight paths through a small cave instead of being full of the twists and turns that makes other dungeons so intriguing/frustrating. It makes exploring the region a little less enticing than other generations of Pokémon games, and it’s kind of sad.