Bottom line: Pokémon Sword and Shield offer awesome new Pokémon for you to discover and a beautifully designed, U.K.-inspired world to explore. These games don't offer a lot of new elements, with familiar gameplay and a short storyline. However, these games still provide a fun, lighthearted experience for players of all ages.
Several awesome new Pokémon
Fun U.K.-themed world
New catching experiences in the Wild Area
New ways to play with friends
It's a little too easy
Not all Pokémon are in the game
The main story is relatively short
The level-catching limit
A little too familiar
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Pokémon Sword and Shield have finally released on Nintendo Switch. The newest installments in the core Pokémon RPG franchise have drawn a wide range of responses from gamers over the past year. When Game Freak, Pokémon's developer, revealed that only some of the previously created Pokémon would be available in Gen 8, many players became angry and even down right abusive online. Now that the game has been out for a bit, the fanbase is seriously divided — some loving it to pieces while others give it the lowest scores possible.
Since this was the first Pokémon generation to ever come onto a console, and because these games are personal to a lot of people, there were a lot of high expectations. Unfortunately, the games don't live up to many of these standards. However, they are still fun games that employ many of the same mechanics and formatting that we've grown to love from the Pokémon series while adding some new elements. As long as you don't expect too much from them, they are fun, lighthearted games.
A familiar romp in a new land
Pokémon Sword and Shield What I like
In Sword and Shield, players embark on a journey across the U.K.-inspired Galar region and choose their own party from hundreds of Pokémon. Your goal is to become the greatest Pokémon Trainer ever, which means you're going to have to battle all eight Pokémon gyms and then take on the reigning Champion of the Galar region. One of the main staples of Pokémon is attempting to complete the Pokédex, by collecting every single Pokémon in the game. However, some Pokémon are exclusive to Sword while others are exclusive to Shield. This makes it so players need to trade with someone with the other version in order to complete this challenge.
This all seems familiar if you've played over the past few generations. Let's now take a look at what's different.
Several awesome new Pokémon Cute, powerful, and fitting for the area
There's a lot of controversy over the evolution designs of the starters, (definitely founded in my opinion) but overall the game introduces several fun new characters that fit right at home in the Pokémon universe. I love how many of them are a nod to the U.K.'s history, like the Galarian Weezing, which looks like Victorian chimeny stacks, or the adorable sheep Pokémon, Wooloo, who reminds you of England's sloping pastures.
All in all, the new characters don't feel out of place and it's super exciting when you come across them in the wild. As said before, I wasn't super stoked about the final evolutions of the starters (don't really like humanoid forms), but, with the exception of Inteleon, they've grown on me a little.
Fun U.K.-themed world Location appropriate dialogue and places
I absolutely love the look of the Galar region. From the quaint little villages to the sprawling cities, the architecture and world around you are fun and remind you of the real-world area. The game also pulls you in early on with conversations where characters use terms and expressions common in the U.K. For instance, the characters refer to their mothers as "Mum" or might refer to a Pokémon as "little chap." It helps set the mood and makes you feel like you're exploring a new area in the Pokémon universe.
There's also an overall sporty feel to the region, which centers on Pokémon battles, but is remeniscent of the professional soccer — er, football championships that are so beloved in the U.K. (and other parts of the world). For an American, this feels foreign and exciting.
These elements feel different from the previous regions explored within the Pokémon series and makes Galar stand out.
The Wild Area New catching experiences and exploration
It's seriously exciting when you first step out into the semi-open world location known as the Wild Area. Instead of being confined to a trail, you can run around and explore. Additionally, you can run into super powerful Pokémon way above your current level. They'll one-hit KO your entire party, so you'll sometimes need to run away instead of actually engaging in battle. This adds a new experience where low-level players end up running for dear life when a final evolution starts charging at them. You really have to pick and choose which battles you fight in if you want your party to survive.
There are several NPCs that randomly show up around the Wild Area map. Depending on their character type, you have the chance of either battling for a decent amount of money or purchasing rare items when you interact with them. I like this because it encourages and rewards me for exploring the area.
Additionally, if you have a Nintendo Switch Online membership and connect your Switch to the internet, you'll come across other players from around the world in the Wild Area. If you interact with them, you can trade your character's Player Cards or get helpful items. For me, it's fun seeing how other people around the world have customized their main character's hair, clothes, and accessories.
Multiplayer options New ways to play with friends
Something new to Gen 8 are Max Raid Battles, which also occur in the Wild Area. These are similar to the Raid Battles seen in Pokémon Go, where multiple players band together to take down a huge, powerful Pokémon.
There are Pokémon dens, which are basically holes with a magenta light shooting out of them, all around this expansive area. Up to four people can enter one of these dens and battle a Dynamax Pokémon together. Some of these battles are challenging, while others are super easy to defeat.
Being able to fight and capture the same Pokémon with my buddies definitely adds an element of joy to the game. Pokémon Sword also has different Max Raid Battle options than Pokémon Shield. So, when I was playing Sword with my friends who had Shield, we helped each other catch rare Pokémon as well as the creatures that are exclusive to either game.
Nostalgic gameplay The mechanics are very familiar
This last thing is as much to the game's advantage as it isn't. If you've played any of the previous Pokémon games in the franchise, Pokémon Sword and Shield will feel very familiar. The game begins with you choosing between a Grass-type, Water-type, and Fire-type Pokémon. From there, you can catch hundreds of different Pokémon, level them up by battling, and then challenge the various gyms found around the Galar region. There's a team antagonist, much like Gen 1's Team Rocket, and several rivals for you to compete against.
All of these familiar elements are fun, but the game doesn't stray very far from the original Gen 1 games. It really feels like they should have evolved more given that they're now on a console and Pokémon has been a thing for the past 23 years.
Almost... too easy
Pokémon Sword and Shield What I don't like
When I first heard that Pokémon Sword and Shield was coming to the Nintendo Switch, I envisioned a Breath-of-the-Wild-esque open world with completely reimagined game mechanics. This is partially due to the fact that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, two of Nintendo's other huge single-player franchises, completely innovated the way their games were played.
I and several other gamers out there were hoping for things like a completely open world, being able to catch high-level Pokémon from the beginning, being able to go to any gym from the start, having a more in-depth storyline, etc. However, while there are new mechanics in Pokémon Sword and Shield, these games don't revolutionize the formula like many players had hoped. In some ways, the game, while familiar and nostalgic, feels stale and simplified. The characters especially feel one-dimensional and boring. I hate writing that, because I do love these games overall. Thing is, if you're going to like these games, you have to expect they will be casual games instead of hard core ones.
It's a little too easy Puzzles and challenges aren't hard
When I was a kid, figuring out how to reach every Gym leader was a challenge. You had to solve the mystery of which buttons to push or what route to take within the gym. I remember getting lost in the caves of previous Pokémon games. However, the map in Sword and Shield feels simplified and caves are no longer something you can get lost in. There are other similar puzzles to solve within Pokémon Sword and Shield, but I found them super easy to figure out.
It might be a little harder for kids, but for adult gamers, these puzzles just feel like a forced scenic route to your final destination.
That all being said, if you're looking for a laid back gaming experience, this might be a positive.
Not all Pokémon are in the game The Dexit issue
It would be an absolute crime if I didn't address "Dexit" in this review, though it really has been talked to death. There are hundreds of creatures that didn't make the cut into Sword and Shield's Pokédex, including my beloved Tyrunt. This is a low hit for many gamers who can't transfer their favorite Pokémon from previous generations. You can only use a Pokémon if it is listed in the Galar Region Pokédex.
Despite only including a fraction of Pokémon currently in existence, when you're running around the Galar region, it doesn't feel like there's a shortage of Pokémon for you to find. Every section is amply stocked with creatures. If you're in the Wild Area, the kind of creatures that spawn are dependent upon where you are on the map and what the weather is like. I often found completely different Pokémon in the same location on two different days. It really helps with replay value, since you'll spend lots of time in the same area and still have the potential to find something new.
Short storyline Way too short
Many gamers have reported being able to finish the main storyline within 12-16 hours. That's really short for a $60 game.
I have a few things to say about this. I spent way longer than that playing the game, but that's because I've been shiny hunting and attempting to get Pokémon with impressive stats instead of simply running through the game and settling for the first Pokémon I come across.
I think what it really boils down to is that casual players or anybody who wants to play for the story won't get a lot of hours out of the game. On the other hand, hard core completionists will get a lot more time out of Sword and Shield because they'll be working on completing the Pokédex and obtaining the best Pokémon they can get their hands on. You'll really just have to determine if that makes it worth it for you or not.
Level-catching limit Removes high-risk, high-reward scenarios
Something I really don't like about Sword and Shield is that it places a level-catching limit on you. In past Pokémon games, if you came across a Pokémon that was way stronger than you, you could battle it and attempt to catch it. This was a risky thing to do since that Pokémon could easily wipe yours out. Even if you caught it, it wouldn't always listen to your commands when you tried battling with it. However, when it did strike, it would land devistating blows to your opponents. This high-risk, high-reward scenario was a known and accepted part of Pokémon.
However, in Sword and Shield, if you run into a Pokémon above your gym level, you can't catch it. The game simply won't even allow you to try. This feels constricting. It's especially annoying when a Pokémon is just one level above your limit.
Playing devil's advocate, this does make it so that you aren't all powerful from the get-go. If you could stock up on ridiculously high-level Pokémon from the beginning of the game, gym and trainer battles might not be challenging at all. Still, I think this whole setup should have been implemented differently.
Pokémon Sword and Shield Bottom Line
There are two ways to look at these games. If you simply evaluate them on their own, they're charming, lighthearted experiences that are super enjoyable. However, if you're comparing them to previous games in the series and expect them to have evolved quite a bit, you will be disappointed. These are not the complex games many were hoping for. The mechanics haven't changed very much from previous games, the puzzles aren't very challenging, and the storyline is relatively short.
However, there are plenty of awesome new Pokémon, the U.K.-inspired world is charming, and the nostalgia is real for any long-time fans. If you're new to the games, or are looking for a casual game to play, this is a super chill generation to start on.
Fight with steel
Welcome to the Galar region
Pokémon Sword features new Gen 8 Pokémon, including an exclusive legendary. A familiar look and feel, brand new gameplay.
Guard and protect
Put up your shield!
Pokémon Shield features new Pokémon to tame and a legendary Pokémon exclusive to this version. There'll be plenty of things for trainers to explore and do that haven't been seen before.
Gaming aficionado Rebecca Spear is iMore's dedicated gaming editor with a focus on Nintendo Switch and iOS gaming. You’ll never catch her without her Switch or her iPad Air handy. If you’ve got a question about Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, or just about any other Nintendo series check out her guides to help you out. Rebecca has written thousands of articles in the last six years including hundreds of extensive gaming guides, previews, and reviews for both Switch and Apple Arcade. She also loves checking out new gaming accessories like iPhone controllers and has her ear to the ground when it comes to covering the next big trend.