When Pokémon created an unprecedented craze in the Western world at the end of the 1990s, many assumed that this would be short-lived. Anyone visiting a random schoolyard today would almost say that time has stood still ever since. Pokémon is alive and kicking and in 2019 just as relevant as twenty years ago.

Due to this popularity and the unprecedented success of the Nintendo Switch, it was a matter of time until we were able to welcome a new Pokémon game to this versatile gaming console. After previews in the form of Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee, Pokémon Sword and Shield’s job is to provide today’s Nintendo hardware with a full-fledged Pokémon adventure. That adventure is one that has certainly been inspired by the success of Pokémon Go and the earlier Switch titles, but with all the familiar elements of the past.

The core of the series is therefore unchanged in Pokémon Sword and Shield, as a brand new Pokémon trainer you set out to add as many cool creatures as possible to your collection and to raise them in an attempt to make it as a Pokémon master together. To achieve that title, you must become a Pokémon League champion and for that you must first defeat eight particularly talented gym leaders. This storyline is as old as the series itself. During your journey through the new Galar region, however, this journey to the championship title is more central than before.

That also provides a particularly pleasantly streamlined experience. With a single goal in mind, there is suddenly noticeably more room for free exploration and discovering the many Pokémon that can be found all over the world. Many small improvements have also been added to ensure that your adventure is not unnecessarily interrupted, unless you choose to do so yourself. For example, no special skills are needed to bypass annoying roadblocks. In any Pokémon center you can rename your Pokémon, have attacks forgotten or remember them without any further conditions. You don’t have to go there this time to change team members. Now you can exchange your Pokémon at any time from the main menu. The same goes for the return trip to previously visited areas.

This time it is also made easier for players to grow and train Pokémon. Many of the more profound elements that were previously hidden behind unclear game mechanics are now much more accessible. Most players will hardly notice this, but for fans of the competitive element of Pokémon it is a relief that aspects such as abilities, natures and individual values ​​are now extremely easy to adjust.

All these small improvements greatly benefit the experience, but are subordinate to the magic of the game world and the fantastic monsters that can be found in it. The feeling of being allowed to discover a big world, where new, unknown creatures are appearing in every forest and on every plain, is timeless. Pokémon Sword and Shield are doing well in this regard. The Galar region is an area whose design and folklore are clearly based on the United Kingdom. This means that during your journey you will travel through industrial areas, grassy plains full of Wooloo’s and rolling hilly landscapes that are each depicted in an impressive and completely characteristic way.

The Pokémon that populate this idyllic island are also inspired by nature or legends that we associate with our overseas neighbors. Consider, for example, the aforementioned Wooloo, an endearing little sheep, or perhaps even rather Yamper, who resembles a Welsh corgi. With matching curiosity, these creatures roam the lawns of Galar, where players can see them walking from afar. By incorporating Pokémon into the game in this way, they feel much more like an organic part of the game world.

In addition to normal flora and fauna, there are also Pokémon that are based on unicorns, goblins and other supernatural beings. The vast majority of these new designs have been very successful. Both the pokémon and the Galar region themselves are the undisputed stars of the games. With so many great designs, it is almost impossible to limit yourself to only six pokémon, especially when the excellent balance with which new faces and old acquaintances are spread throughout the game world ensures that each route or new area offers something new and unexpected.

Despite the fact that it is full of well-known Pokémon, there is still a reasonable chance that your personal favorites are missing. In Galar there is apparently no room for more than eight hundred different creatures, leaving a large part of the well-known Pokédex unfilled at the end of the game. While playing this is no problem, there are still so many different Pokémon in it and it is nice that this way the new creatures also get the chance to shine. It is also not exactly a new development, in earlier game worlds of the series, the set of native Pokémon was always limited. Only after completing the storyline did you unlock the ability to expand your Pokédex, often by transferring Pokémon from previous games.

But it is precisely because of the lack of that last possibility that many fans have been put in a stir before the release of the game. Game Freak has already announced that even at a later stage transferring Pokémon from other games will not be possible that the available Pokédex is actually limited to what you can bump into during your adventure. That is quite a damper for a game from 2019, of which you can expect that there are numerous possibilities to meet this need.

Game Freak knows how to deliver a great Pokémon adventure with Pokémon Sword and Shield, but fails to introduce substantial innovations. The games may come out on the Switch, but they still feel a bit like glorified 3DS titles. Pokémon, for example, still have half-hearted combat animations, and cities are often somewhat empty and quiet. One of the most important new game additions, the Dynamax system, also makes little impression. Pokémon can only activate Dynamax in certain battles, after which they become huge and much more powerful. Although this only takes three turns, the increase in strength is absolutely significant. By ignoring it you shoot yourself in the foot. That is interesting for fights, but does not appeal to the imagination. Pokémon, with a few specific exceptions, only become very large and that is especially drowsy. After the introduction of Mega evolutions and Z-Moves, this really feels like a disappointment.

The Wild Area is a lot more successful in that regard. The area functions as a kind of freely accessible Safari Zone where there is much to explore and all kinds of rare and constantly changing pokémon. The feeling of freedom and the ability to keep coming back here and finding something new is a welcome refreshment. However, the Wild Area is still relatively small and not very varied visually, which makes it seem like it’s just an experiment to add a real open world to a Pokémon game. Everything goes with baby steps within the Pokémon franchise. Game Freak clearly considers the series not yet completely ready for an actual open world, but perhaps the Wild Area is a nice pass for the future.

If the developers had paid just a little more attention to finishing their new ideas, then Pokémon Sword and Shield could have been one of the ultimate Pokémon games. That, incidentally, says more about the quality of the series in general, because, after all, it is still a very entertaining game. Fortunately, the technical imperfections and the lack of genuine innovation hardly disturb. After all, Pokémon is ultimately about collecting cool, sweet, tough or kiddy little monsters that know how to steal our hearts.

Pokémon Sword and Shield will be available on Nintendo Switch from 15 November. Pokémon Shield was played for this review.



– Fairly limited Pokédex.
– Not technically impressive.
– Dynamax is a moderate and somewhat boring feature.

+ Galar region is beautifully designed.
+ Cool new Pokémon designs.
+ Sharp focus in storyline