Best answer: No. A Nintendo Switch Online subscription is not mandatory for playing Pokémon Sword & Shield. Still, it is beneficial to have one — you won't be able to trade Pokémon, find other players' camps, or battle online without it.
What online functions are available?
Pokémon Sword & Shield is a great time, whether you want to play it solo or with friends. Of course, if you want to trade Pokémon, find other players' camps, and battle online, you're going to need Nintendo Online. It's been officially confirmed that online and local wireless functions can be used for battles in the Battle Stadium and Pokémon Trades. Trading includes a new Surprise Trade option, the ability to come across other players' camps in the game, and a four-player Max Raid Battles mode where players can team up to challenge a powerful Dynamaxed Pokémon.
There is also the ability to transfer Pokémon via the Pokémon HOME service, a mobile app that's available now for the Nintendo Switch in addition to both Android and iOS devices. You can trade Pokémon with friends all around the world, move Pokémon between compatible games, plus more features with the Pokémon HOME Premium Plan.
With this service, you'll be able to transfer Pokemon from all current Pokémon games, including Pokémon Bank, Pokémon Let's Go: Pikachu & Eevee, and even Pokemon Go into the cloud. From there, you can download your pocket pals into Pokémon Sword & Shield! If you bought the game during the first two months of release, you were also given a special Meowth capable of Gigantamaxing.
What other new options are included?
If you played Pokémon: Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee and have saves from either of these games on your Nintendo Switch system, you'll receive a special Pikachu or Eevee that can transform into huge Gigantamax forms.
It would be awesome if players from Pokémon Go and Sword & Shield players could collaborate online. Still, due to the lack of GPS in the Nintendo Switch and the fact that Pokémon Go always requires an active internet connection, the developers have confirmed it isn't possible to collaborate directly with Pokémon Go.
What about mini-games? I love eclectic mini-games as they can easily switch up the gameplay and provide some quick multiplayer action. Could you imagine a snowboarding Pikachu or Pokémon bowling? To my dismay, snowboarding Pikachu isn't a thing, but you can spend time getting to know your Pokémon better at camp. You can even whip up a dish of delicious curry to complete your Curry Dex.
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