Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Pokemon Sword and Shield Review (Nintendo Switch)



















The Pokemon series has been around since I was a kid. At this point in it's life, it's a household name with kids either playing the handheld games or taking their Pokemon cards to school and battling against friends. To say it's a juggernaut of an IP is an understatement. With all of the releases over the years though, one thing has never happened - we never got a true Pokemon game on a home console that connects to the TV. That all changed with Pokemon Sword and Shield this year. With the upgrade to the big screen, is there enough here to warrant a purchase and does it retain the same charm parents and children love? Let's find out.



Story

I hesitated to put my typical story section in this review because, well, it's a Pokemon game. You know what you're getting out of the bag. A young child comes of age and is gifted a Pokemon to go into the world and become a Pokemon master. He or she will do this by defeating the numerous gym leaders at each town all the while collecting and training numerous species of Pokemon along the way. The story never is the main focus on a Pokemon game, but rather just an instrument to further appreciate the journey. You'll enjoy moving from one town to the next, helping people, and defeating gym leaders, but you'll really fall in love with the gameplay of battling and collecting the Pokemon you meet.


The starting Pokemon



Gameplay

The core gameplay hasn't changed much from previous titles. You're still fighting Pokemon with your own Pokemon, throwing out Poke balls when they get to low health, and collecting your favorites to train and battle with the further you progress in the story. What has changed though, and made all the difference for me, is the little quality of life improvements. Pokemon games have always been a blast to play and you don't want to change the core, but three things stuck out to me that really made this iteration the best yet; no random battles, XP items, and easy access to Poke balls.

These three things sound like such small incremental improvements, and on paper they are. It's when you see it in action that it really shines. First, the no random battles. This is a game changer for a Pokemon game. Gone are the days of running in circles to find enemies to attack. You'll see every Pokemon as you travel the world and if you want to fight it, just run over to it. You'll also occasionally see the grass moving which could be a rarer Pokemon. Just like the other Pokemon wandering around, you can confront or avoid - the choice is yours. This simple change improved my playing experience exponentially. One thing I could never stand when playing the older games was needing to get somewhere fast but hitting a ton of random battles along the way. Of course, there were items you could use to avoid this, but it just wasn't a mechanic that I was very fond of.

The second quality of life improvement is that Poke balls are available with a button press on the main battle screen. Previously you would need to go into your menu, select the ball you want, then throw it out. The fact that items and Poke balls are both available with a button press is a huge time saver that made collecting the Pokemon you come across that much easier.

Finally, XP items can be found that will boost your Pokemon's level without needing to battle. Sure, all Pokemon in your party gain experience with collecting and battle others, but the XP items will boost them up immediately and help you build the perfect party.

A new feature in this iteration is something called "Gigantamax." It's basically exactly what it sounds like. During some battles, you can make your Pokemon grow extremely large and get extra health and increased damage dealing abilities. It's more of a new feature than an improvement over anything and it's fine. It's not a game selling mechanic, just something cool your Pokemon can do. If you encounter these battles in the wild, you can also team up with other trainers playing online but my ability to do so around release was limited. I couldn't find anyone to join up with so I just used the AI companions the game gives you. That feature worked fine and I was able to find some neat Pokemon using these battles in the overworld. 


Gigantamax Pikachu in action


Graphics

With the upgrade to the big screen the game definitely got a fresh coat of paint. Colors are vibrant, textures look nice, and the game plays well on both the big screen and on the handheld. You can't go wrong with either option. During my playtime I didn't see much slowdown or framerate drops with the game sticking pretty religiously to 30 FPS. 


For Kids?

A resounding yes. This is the perfect game to get your kids to play. There is no blood, no guts, no cursing, etc. One thing the kids will need to be able to do is read though as there isn't any spoken words in the game. Instead, everything is done through chat bubbles and character expressions. If your kid can't read, this is a good candidate for parent/kid co-op play where you read the objectives and they perform the task. Just like in the past, if you can get past any illusions of morality (it really is animal fighting...) then you'll be fine. The Pokemon series is made for kids first and foremost and while it can (and should) be enjoyed by adults, this is a kid's game at heart.


Seeing Pokemon as you travel is a game changer!

Conclusion

The latest iteration of Pokemon, Sword and Shield, is the game fans have been asking for on home consoles. Pokemon is fun to play on the go, but it's nice to have a fully featured, high resolution game we can play from the couch. Collecting Pokemon, beating gym leaders, and trading with other players has never been more fun or looked better. If you or your kids enjoyed the game in the past, you'll love this iteration. It's Pokemon perfected with quality of life improvements added to an already winning formula. Pokemon Sword and Shield comes highly recommend from Father Nerds Best.


Nintendo provided me with a review copy of Pokemon Sword and Shield but all thoughts and opinions in this review are my own.

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