Pokemon Sword and Shield shows a ton of promise, being the first authentic Nintendo Switch mainline series game with a lot of expectations.
I was looking forward to playing Pokemon Sword and Shield at E3 this year because I wanted to see what a new generation of Pokemon looked like on Switch. While 2018’s Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee! were a lot of fun, they radically changed some mechanics of the game and just remade Kanto instead of heralding a new generation. Galar in Pokemon Sword and Shield has been designed from the ground up for Nintendo Switch, but I was also interested to see how the core battles improved.
That was the question I had answered in my E3 demo, as I was locked into the water type Pokemon Gym headed by Nessa. While the core mechanics of Pokemon battling are intact just as you’d expect, the performance during battle is a lot better than it was on 3DS, even when players activate Dynamax. As the new main battle gimmick of Generation 8, Dynamax is just as exciting as you would expect and is only accentuated by Pokemon Sword and Shield’s improved presentation.
As I walked into Nessa’s gym, I was greeted by a man who told me about the gym leader, what type they use, and what their weaknesses were. Interestingly, this guy can also heal players’ teams now, removing the trips to the Pokemon Center after almost every battle that Pokemon fans are used to. This was the first thing that showed me that quality of life improvements and a better presentation are what will be the biggest draw outside of the obvious new region and Pokemon.
With the little we had seen of Pokemon gyms before E3, I was worried that they will now lock players into a simple string of battles in an arena. Fortunately, this is not the case. Nessa’s gym had various water spouts blocking the player’s path that had to be turned off in the right order to progress. Of course, mandatory Pokemon battles were sprinkled throughout the apparent path. The gym was colorful and felt a bit more alive and vibrant than any gym in previous games. While the Pokemon’s levels were locked at 50 during my demo, I understood that this was a robust design for an early-game gym.
When I wasn’t solving the simple puzzle, I was battling other trainers. This works exactly as one would think, maintaining the genius but simple turn-based gameplay and type matchups the series is known for. The real strengths of these battles come in the presentation. As much as I will defend the Pokemon games on Nintendo 3DS, I will admit that the frame rate usually tanked in battles, especially when they were played in 3D. That is completely gone in Pokemon Sword and Shield, and everything looks great in HD. Even though this was technically the case with the Pokemon: Let’s Go games as well, Pokemon Sword and Shield do feature increased visual fidelity and novel new Pokemon.
My demo team consisted of six new Pokemon: Sobble, Scorbunny, Grookey, Wooloo, Corviknight, and Yamper. I was also able to fight Impidimp, Drednaw, and Gossifleur over as well. When it comes to new Pokemon designs, all of the confirmed ones so far are creative, colorful, and based on concepts that seem fairly obvious but haven’t yet been capitalized on – like a Corgi with Yamper. Pokemon types and move descriptions can also be accessed at the press of a button during a battle now, which makes everything flow smoother when you meet a new Pokemon for the first time.
The most significant addition to battles by far is Dynamax, which turns a trainer’s Pokemon giant and gives them access to new moves. Nessa, the gym leader, was the only trainer to use it during the demo. She used it on her Drednaw, and it gained access to the move Max Rockfall; meanwhile, I used my Dynamax on Grookey and was able to use Max Overgrowth, Max Darkness, and Max Strike. While it didn’t intrinsically change how battles are fought, it’s an entertaining visual experience the first time you see it. These Kaiju-esque fights fit Pokemon well, and using powerful super effective attacks on a weak appointment is a power trip.
The long term appeal of the Dynamax mechanic remains to be seen, but I did not have any significant problems with what I played of Pokemon Sun and Moon. Even though my demo locked me to a single gym, it has gotten me confident in Pokemon Sword and Shield. Some people may be peeved by the fact that a National Dex is not in the game, but if Pokemon Sword and Shield can hit the same high bar of quality of this demo across the board, we may have another classic generation on our hands.
Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield releases exclusively for Nintendo Switch on November 15. You can pre-order the game over on Amazon.
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