What are the differences between Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield for Nintendo Switch?

Galar Region
Galar Region (Image credit: iMore / The Pokémon Company)

What are the differences between Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield for Nintendo Switch?

Best answer: There are a handful of exclusive Pokémon and legendaries to each, along with version exclusive gym battles.Ready to fight!: Pokémon Sword (opens in new tab) ($60 at Amazon)Defense is the best offense: Pokémon Shield (opens in new tab) ($60 at Amazon)

Why do Pokémon games release as two separate versions?

Pokémon's tagline may be "catch 'em all," but historically, it was impossible to do so with only one version of the game. Ever since it's inception, Game Freak usually releases two main Pokémon RPGs alongside each other. From Red and Blue, Ruby and Sapphire, Diamond, and Pearl, the series has stuck with these dynamic duos. For the most part, you're getting the same experience. However, each tends to have its own handful of exclusive Pokémon and a unique legendary that can only be caught in that version of the game. In Pokémon Let's Go (opens in new tab) players even had unique starter Pokémon between Eevee and Pikachu. Ruby and Sapphire, in particular, featured two separate villainous teams with Team Magma and Team Aqua, which were the region equivalent of Team Rocket.

What are the differences between them?

There are several Pokémon exclusive to Sword or Shield. You'll need to trade with friends or people online to collect them all. Note, that you need a Nintendo Switch Online membership in order to do online trading. Here's a collection of all of the Pokémon exclusive to either game:

Zacian (Image credit: iMore )

Zamazenta (Image credit: iMore)

Source: iMore / The Pokémon Company

Pokémon exclusive to Sword

  • Seedot
  • Nuzleaf
  • Shiftry
  • Swirlix
  • Slurpuff
  • Scraggy
  • Scrafty
  • Gothita
  • Gothorita
  • Gothitelle
  • Rufflet
  • Braviary
  • Mawile
  • Passimian
  • Turtonator
  • Solrock
  • Galarian Darumaka
  • Galarian Darmanitan
  • Deino
  • Zweilous
  • Hydreigon
  • Jangmo-o
  • Hakamo-o
  • Kommo-o
  • Farfetch'd
  • Sirfetch'd
  • Zacian (Legendary)

Pokémon exclusive to Shield

  • Lotad
  • Lombre
  • Ludicolo
  • Spritzee
  • Aromatisse
  • Croagunk
  • Toxicroak
  • Solosis
  • Duosion
  • Reuniclus
  • Vullaby
  • Mandibuzz
  • Sableye
  • Oranguru
  • Drampa
  • Galarian Corsola
  • Cursola
  • Larvitar
  • Pupitar
  • Tyranitar
  • Goomy
  • Sliggoo
  • Goodra
  • Galarian Ponyta
  • Galarian Rapidash
  • Zamazenta (Legendary)

Version exclusive evolutions

You'll find Applin in both Sword and Shield. However, it will evolve into a different Pokémon depending on which version of the game you have. To be more specific, in Sword, you have to give Applin a Tart Apple to make him evolve, while in Shield, you need to provide him with a Sweet Apple.

Pokémon Sword

  • Applin (Tart Apple) ⟶ Flapple

Pokémon Shield

  • Applin (Sweet Apple) ⟶ Appletun.

Max Raid Battle encounters

Gigantamax Drednaw (Image credit: The Pokémon Company)

Gigantamax Corviknight (Image credit: The Pokémon Company)

Source: The Pokémon Company

During specific periods, players will be more likely to discover rare Gigantamax Pokémon in Max Raid Battles.

From November 15th through early January 2020, Pokémon Shield players are more likely to encounter Gigantamax Corviknight, while Pokémon Sword players will be more likely to encounter Gigantamax Drednaw.

Version exclusive gyms

Pokémon Sword and Shield also have two gyms that are exclusive to either version. Here are the gym exclusives for either game:

Pokémon Sword

  • Bea - Fighting gym leader of Stow-on-Side
    • Hitmontop, level 34 (Fighting)
    • Pangoro, level 34 (Fighting/Dark)
    • Sirfetch'd, level 35 (Fighting)
    • Machamp, level 36 (Fighting
  • Gordie - Rock gym leader in Circhester
    • Barbaracle, level 40 (Water/Rock)
    • Shuckle, level 40 (Rock/Bug)
    • Stonjourner, level 41 (Rock)
    • Coalossal, level 42 (Rock/Fire)

Pokémon Shield

  • Allister - Ghost gym leader of Stow-on-Side
    • Yamask, level 34 (Ground/Ghost)
    • Mimikyu, level 34 (Ghost/Fairy)
    • Cursola, level 35 (Ghost)
    • Gengar, level 35 (Ghost/Poison)
  • Melony - Ice gym leader in Circhester
    • Frosmoth, level 40 (Bug/Ice)
    • Darmanitan, level 40 (Ice)
    • Eiscue, level 41 (Ice)
    • Lapras, level 42 (Water/Ice)

There are plenty of differences between the two versions. You'll definitely want to consider which Pokémon you want to get and which gym leaders you want to battle most. You can always get a version exclusive Pokémon that isn't in your game via trade, whether that be with a friend who owns the other game or someone online. Good luck, fellow Pokémon trainers!

Rebecca Spear
Gaming Editor

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.