photo of a Pokemon center in Singapore, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
By Kevin Lynch, Staff Writer
Anyone familiar with the Pokémon franchise knows how successful it is. Between merchandise, TV and movies, and video games, it has become the world’s top-grossing media franchise. Becoming popular in the late 1990s after the first three games, the lovable monsters have been featured in over 120 video games, all of which have been smash hits, and mainline titles in particular have always been incredibly popular.
So when a new pair of Pokémon titles, Sword and Shield (these two games are essentially the same, so I’ll refer to them as one) were announced for Nintendo Switch, Nintendo’s hot new console, it seemed to be a recipe for success. But, although the games have sold incredibly well, it seems to be something of a hollow victory.
While the games have introduced many new elements, they reveal how dated the Pokémon formula really is. The core gameplay is fun, of course, but it feels like the new additions aren’t that intriguing.
Being the first time that a mainline Pokemon game has come to a home console, (not a handheld, like the GameBoy) fans were expecting big new things from the new entries.
But, while the games look prettier and can be played on the TV, the major improvements don’t feel like anything that couldn’t have been done in earlier games.
The first new feature ties into the sport-centric culture of the United Kingdom, which Sword and Shield are loosely based on. Dynamax and Gigantamax, which causes a Pokémon to grow huge, and in the case of Gigantamax, change form, can be utilized in select battles in the games and are the “cool new battle element ” as well as the main driving force for the story.
This new feature makes the Pokémon more powerful and adds a hint of strategy, as you’ll want to predict when your foe will Dynamax so that you can counter. But quite honestly, this new addition feels shallow in comparison to the things added in past games. It’s not very interesting, and in this day and age, “big Pokémon” aren’t enough to warrant purchasing this game.
Dynamax is primarily used in gym battles and in the Wild Area, a new region of the map where the player can move the camera freely and move around a vast area filled with Pokémon. It’s a fun new feature with lots of exploration possibilities, but it makes the game’s traditional routes feel too linear and boring in comparison.
The new area allows you to battle and catch tons of wild Pokémon and make your team stronger. However, most Pokémon will be too strong to catch in the first half of the game, so it’s always satisfying to go back and catch that one Pokémon that you couldn’t beat earlier. Dens littered around the area hold wild Dynamax Pokémon that can be beaten with other players from around the world, and it’s good fun and an easy way to get powerful additions to your team.
But the story is where these games truly fall flat. The overall plot is laughably predictable, the characters are incredibly one-dimensional, and most cutscenes tell me what I already know. In one town, I stumbled upon an important story detail before the cutscene that was supposed to reveal it.
This isn’t to say that some characters and plot points weren’t interesting, but the vast majority were so repetitive I felt I didn’t even need to read the text bubbles because it was so arbitrary.
While this is the first Pokémon game I’ve fully completed, I can easily tell what’s been recycled from past games, and this is where the game’s main problems lie.
The game does so little to change or innovate from previous entries that it’s almost annoying. It feels like the developers are only interested in adding in a feature or two in one game, then abandoning them for the next game so that they can move on to the next big thing.
While there’s definitely lots of fun to be had in Pokémon Sword and Shield, it’s failure to provide a compelling story and interesting mechanics means that you might be better off waiting until the inevitable next game.