I haven’t been this excited for a Pokémon game since Pokémon Gold and Silver dropped on the GameBoy Color over twenty years ago. The very first gaming system I personally owned – and not just borrowed from my older brother – was a GameBoy I got for Christmas in 1998. That year, I discovered the magic of this franchise with Pokémon Blue. The next year, my fandom was cemented when I got Pokémon Gold.
Unfortunately, I grew out of my love for Pokémon because it always seemed limited by the handheld system it was exclusive to. When would I ever get a truly next-generation Pokémon game on a powerful console? Then when the Switch came out, I thought all my dreams had been realized: finally, I would get a next-gen Pokémon game utilizing all the power of the Nintendo Switch. So how do I feel about the latest GameFreak creation? Here’s my impressions so far after one week with Pokémon Shield.
Hearsay and Heresy, Also Good Pokémon Names
At the time of this writing, I have been playing Pokémon Shield for 28 hours and I’ve managed to attain 5 Gym “badges” and have caught 68 different Pokémon. I had been hearing all sorts of negativity surrounding Pokémon Sword and Shield leading up to its launch. There had been contentions with fans regarding the lack of a National Pokedex, an accumulation of every single Pokémon spanning every game, as well as criticism over the seemingly low-quality graphics present in this generation. To me, I don’t personally care about not having all 890 monsters available in one game. That just seems like an impossibly large number to manage. I’m already overwhelmed that there are 400 alone in this generation, and I didn’t feel like I have been missing out on anything so far.
Regarding graphics, I have had a few technical bumps. The wide-open Wild Area in particular, which has a plethora of Pokémon running around, suffered from frame stutters and occasional freezing but it was nothing that seemed as bad to the extent fans were saying on social media platforms. The game looks uniquely-Pokémon in style, and I don’t expect that overly cartoony art direction to go anywhere anytime soon. Some combat animations do seem stiff and recycled, but there are also stylish new moves that utilize the Pokemon’s design.
For example, my starter Pokemon’s evolved form, Rillaboom, is a giant gorilla-looking drummer holding two sticks. One of moves sees him banging his drums quickly, summing huge vines that erupt from underground and strike the opposing Pokémon. This move was flashy and cool looking which made it stand apart from how he usually attacks, which is hitting both sides of his drums and pointing a stick at the other Pokémon. Sure, it would be nice if all of their moves had unique animations but, honestly, I normally turn off Battle Effects in the Options so I would never see them anyways.
Exploring the Galar Region
One of my favorite aspects about Pokémon games lately is the themed setting it takes place in, like Sun and Moon’s Alola region being a take on Hawaii. This generation, Sword and Shield’s Galar region is based on the United Kingdom, including aspects such as football stadiums (read: Soccer), castles, a miniature Big Ben clocktower, and the famous Cerne Abbas giant. I particularly liked this setting and its influences, especially on Galar region-specific Pokémon. The Galarian Meowth, for instance, shows off an impressively-shaggy beard and is a Steel-type instead of a Normal type. My favorite is hands-down the Galarian form of Weezing: instead of being sickly and purple, Galar region’s Weezing is steel-grey with a long top-hat/chimney that emits smoke and has green clouds on its face that resemble facial hair. The only thing missing is a monocle.
In exploring the Galar region, there are UK influences all over the landscape. The rolling hills, stone walls, and herds of the sheep-Pokémon Wooloo are clear influences of Scottish countryside. As well, the bustling city of Motostoke in Sword and Shield is a very industrial city that feels like a Pokémon version of London. It felt a lot more familiar to me being in these kinds of settings even though I had never been to the UK before, more so than being somewhere like Hawaii. I think that setting this generation in this kind of setting and taking the most popular sport in the UK – football – and mixing it with the most popular sport in Pokémon – trainer battles – was a genius move.
To help with getting around the Galar region, there are a couple new forms of transportation that unlocked early in my playthrough. The train system, which had a station in nearly every town I visited, is a smart way to move in-between towns without having to backtrack through routes and encountering wild Pokémon. I think this became redundant however when I unlocked the Flying Taxi. Both services are free, which I thought was really nice, but the Flying Taxi can be summoned from almost anywhere and can drop you right in front of a Pokémon Center. The train
Dynamaxing and Gigantamax is Dynamite to the Max
The “gimmick” in this new generation is the Dynamax system, which turns normal Pokémon into humongous versions of themselves with new super-powerful moves. I like this version better than the Mega-evolutions that were a part of prior generations. Instead of being limited to only specific Pokémon, and requiring a specific item to be held by that Pokémon in order to Mega-Evolve, the ability to Dynamax is available to every Pokémon – even a Lv. 5 Caterpie! This special ability to Dynamax is only available in the Wild Areas, when you’re fighting against wild Dynamax Pokémon with up to 3 other players, or in Pokémon Gym Battles.
Select Pokémon however can Gigantamax, which is kind of like a Mega-Evolved form of a Dynamax Pokémon. Only a handful of Pokémon can turn Gigantamax when they Dynamax, but it happens automatically. The only benefit to a Gigantamax Pokémon is a slight overall boost to their stats and a really cool new appearance while they are in their Gigantamax form. When I Dynamaxed a Pikachu, for example, it turned into a Gigantamax form of the first-generation “fat” Pikachu, and its tail looked like it was made from pure lightning. Charizard will Gigantamax into a version whose wings appear to be pure-fire, and it has flames emanating from its collarbone. I like that certain Pokémon will take on new forms, and I think that the ability to Dynamax every Pokémon shouldn’t be overlooked. I was ecstatic to see my cute little Wooloo turn into a monster-sized sheep that wouldn’t look out of place in a Godzilla movie.
And Another Thing!
The Wild Area is supposed to be another cool new feature in Sword and Shield. Honestly, I think that this is actually one of the most lackluster and uninteresting areas overall. I feel like I should be happy that there is a kind-of “open-world” property to Pokémon now, but I don’t think it goes far enough with the idea. I hope that in future generations, this idea will be expanded upon. I think a lot of Pokémon fans out there would agree that they’d love to see a completely open-world Pokémon game one day. While I like exploring the Wild Area in search of new Pokémon, I think the draw distance is too limiting and never really made me feel immersed into the world of Pokémon. I’m glad that you can still see Pokémon in the overworld however, and that they’re not all random-battles while treading through tall grass.
Now, a quick take from my wife who played Pokémon Sword and did manage to beat the whole game in under 27 hours. She didn’t have an issue with the graphics, part of the reason why she’s fine with that is because she’s used to the animation look of Pokémon TV shows. She was fine with the amount of Pokémon available as well. Surprised at how powerful Fairy-type Pokémon seemed to be and felt like there were a lot of Gyms whose Pokémon were weak to Fairy moves. Favorite feature is the Wild Area: being able to go out and you can see most of the Pokémon that pop up from the grass, but there can be Pokémon you can’t see so you must startle them first. It’s nice to be able to avoid some, so you can go towards a specific Pokémon and capture that. She wishes that she could buy more of the different types of Pokeballs. And there is a whole aspect of the game with connecting online that she couldn’t experience due to not paying for Nintendo Online. That didn’t interfere with the gameplay too much, but it would have been more fun to have that accessible. She likes that she could still play the game afterwards, but she didn’t feel like there was a lot of endgame content outside of collecting more Pokémon. Didn’t pay attention to the story, but she hated “that Bede guy.”
Overall, I’m really enjoying my time playing Pokémon Shield and I absolutely intend to beat the game. Will I catch all 400 Pokémon? Not even close; I’ll be amazed if I make it to 100. It’s still the same ol’ Pokémon I’ve come to expect, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Unlike Pokémon Sun and Moon, which I spent all of five hours playing, this latest entry has got me hooked like a Magikarp on an Old Rod.