Game: Pokémon Sword
System: Nintendo Switch
Developers|Publishers: GameFreak | Nintendo
Price: US $59.99 | AU $79.95|Ca $ 83.99 | £49.99 | €59.99
Age Rating: EU 7+ | AU PG | US E
Release Date: 15th November 2019
No review code used, I purchased the game myself.
In the Galar region, the gym challenge is something that can only be entered by endorsed trainers. Thankfully your friend Hop is the little brother of the reigning champion. So you both set across your journey to overtake him.
Back to Battle
Gameplay is back to that of a normal Pokémon game. That being, a turn based rpg where you have a party of six, with only one out at a time, and they can only have four moves total. Type advantages being a fundamental aspect.
Thankfully, unlike Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee, you catch Pokemon the normal way. By battling their health down, before throwing a Pokeball. In a combination between new and old, you will see wild Pokémon pop out of the grass, but some will stay hidden. Item pickups appear in the form of Pokeballs and some sparklies that will re-appear over time. Unfortunately there are no plans to add the National Dex to the game, cutting the number of Pokémon that can be in the game by about half. This also includes quite a number of moves due to them being specific to cut Pokémon or for balancing.
Unlike the Alolan trials we now have gyms back, although they have challenges before you face the leader. Some have different gimmicks, like herding Wooloo. Most come across as a regular gym. Since many in previous games had small puzzles to navigate.
Cutting out Z-Moves and Mega Evolutions we now have Dynamaxing. This is available to any Pokémon in certain story fights, online battles and raids. It enlargens the Pokémon and increases their max HP for three turns. Their moves will be turned into MAX moves based on type, and usually change the field condition. Thankfully even if you have three grass moves, one may have more attack due to what the original one is. While meant to be a strategic change, all the story NPCs wait until the last Pokémon to use it. Often you’ll usually save it for when your opponent activates it.
Gigantamax forms are special appearances for just over twenty Pokémon when they dynamax, this also gives them a special move. Making it rather odd that they cut Z-Moves and Mega Evolutions from the game only to practically make them again.
Breath of the Wild Area
One of the biggest touted features is the Wild Area. In place of a few different routes, there is a large open area full of wild Pokémon. Making it like a big safari zone with less restrictions. Stronger Pokémon are also present, so you might need to use a Pokedoll for once in your life. For some reason they decided to add a level catching restriction. In previous games Pokemon above certain levels wouldn’t obey you all the time until you had a certain gym badge. That still exists in this game but they also made it so you wouldn’t be able to catch Pokémon over certain levels.
Personally I was very worried about this, but only had it as a problem once. Probably, because outside of needing to travel through it, I avoided the wild area until I beat the game. Once you’ve finished the game, the Pokémon will all be leveled up so you can still make use of the area.
There are various sections of the Wild Area, each with different Pokémon appearing in them. The weather changes in each area, which affects the field conditions and Pokémon appearances. So a lot of Pokémonn in this game are found only in the Wild Area. When you connect online you can also see other players running around. Though you can’t directly interact with the people you see, your game does lag quite a bit.
One of the activities you can do in the wild area are bike rallies. In which you race against the clock, and avoid pop in Pokémon to get to a goal.
Not just in the Wild Area, but most places in the game you can set up camp. This is this game’s version of Pokémon Amie. You can talk to your party Pokemon, or play with toys. They got rid of petting which is a shame.
In here you can also cook curry, taking the place of things like Poffin making. Using a key ingredient, and berries you find a mini-game where you fan the flames, stir and pour your heart in to make a dish of curry. Depending on the ingredients and how well you performed you will be ranked. Different ranks heal your Pokémon more and give higher experience. There are a significant amount of different curries you can make. It’s very convenient as it can revive fainted Pokémon, making it useful to save normal items during a long journey. When online others may visit your camp and help you cook, though I’ve never had anyone visit me.
Box Pokémon are made useful through Pokémon jobs, where you send a group of requested type of Pokémon off for up to a whole day. When they return successfully they gain a nice chunk of experience.
In the Wild Area you will see Pokémon dens, which give you Watts, a separate type of currency. If a wishing stone is thrown into these dens a dynamax Pokémon will appear. If playing with local connections or online, four players (if not replaced by NPCs) try to weaken a tough Pokémon. These raid Pokémon get additional turns, and often put up shields that have to be broken. Once beaten you can attempt to catch them. You will also get some other rewards like TMs.
These raids are where you can find the special Gigantimax Pokémon, as not just any Butterfree can gigantimax. It can also be a good way to find Pokemon you’re having trouble with by popping into someone else’s raid. Online events will run which will make these forms more likely to appear during certain periods.
Online features include the Wild Area, raids, camping and battles. You can participate in ranked or casual matches in either singles or doubles. I certainly don’t miss the four-for-all from the previous game. The Pokémon Company will also be running online competitions you can participate in.
When playing online stamps will appear. These show a variety of things like people’s recent catches, those who are looking for raid participants and people wanting to swap cards. It’s a bit frustrating as I really don’t care what strangers are surprise trading and it would often show locked stamps or ones I couldn’t otherwise join. These stamps can’t be refreshed very often and I initially had lots of trouble trying to join other people’s raids.
The wonder trade system exists but with a different name. The regular trading system in this game has to be one of the worst decisions. There is no GTS so be prepared for your social media DMs to be full of people asking for particular Pokémon. Instead you can only trade either at random or by using a four digit code. Which is only about 10,000 combinations in a game that has probably sold millions. I’ve already come across others trying to trade with the same code I am. The link code is somewhat useful if you’re trading with people you’re talking to over the internet. Yet it makes absolutely no sense why I can’t directly send trade requests to friends.
While you can see friends stamps, again they don’t refresh often making it hard to join them in raids. You can set a code before starting a raid, but having something like a party option would be much better.
Pokémon Sword (and Shield) have nice customisation options. Like the previous 3DS games, you can buy clothes, new hair styles and make-up. Instead of trainer cards there are now league cards (like sports trading cards). These allow you to change poses and backgrounds, while your game play information will appear on the back. With a code you can share them with other people but every time you update your card the code changes.
Other new additions are quality of life changes such as having a portable box, autosave and the ability to use items to change stat growth. I especially appreciate having two nurseries, and missing the catch tutorial because I had already caught some.
Bark Worse Than It’s Bite
The graphics are okay at best. Most models look really nice and a lot of character designs are great. Although some Pokémon like Weezing and Torkoal have very cartoon-y looking smoke. Especially when Gigantimax Pokémon have smoke that looks much more fitting. I think a lot of the new Pokémon look bad but that’s a personal issue. Many of the towns have nice unique designs.
Unfortunately textures across the world look bland, especially in the Wild Area. Half of the battles take place in representations of the area you’re in, with different ones for various parts of the Wild Area. Whilst most indoor battles exist in some kind of background-less void, with normal gym trainers having a different colour and a floor rug. It seems like most all battle animations are lifted from the 3DS games, which is disappointing. Especially due to the cuts they made in this game. The UI is a little bland, more noticeable in the Pokedex.
The music is mostly good, I especially liked the Gym Leader’s theme. I wouldn’t have considered lack of voice acting to be an issue but with all the cutscenes and mid battle dialogue with your rivals it looks pretty weird without it.
The story is pretty weak which wouldn’t be a problem if the game didn’t insist of plenty of cutscenes regarding it. Along with tying with Team Flare for worst Pokemon team.
I had very few technical issues, other than pop-in and some very small visual glitches. People I know have had the game crash on them, although they didn’t have the wiping issue which is due to a particular kind of SD card. The game did also seem to delay a bit in battles.
I found the game to be easier than normal. As not until the very end did trainers have a full party of Pokémon. Instead of the Elite Four you have a tournament, which sounds interesting, except you get free full heals in-between them all.
Once you become Champion there is a bit more story before you unlock the post game. That being a Battle Tower which does not have multi battles. Other than that you can continue to play in raids and online battles.
Cutting out the time I spent mucking around it took me twenty hours to beat the full story. It would be a lot less if you turn off battle animations. Pokémon Sword (and Shield) has nice quality of life changes along with really odd design decisions, such as level catching restrictions and removing the GTS.
Final Verdict: I like it, but the new features (only a couple of which are really new) aren’t enough to make it stand out from recent games.
An honest and fair review. Pokemon, despite controversies, is still the same basic formula since day one. For better or worse, it means we can keep picking it up for fun, even if as you noted, they would remove features that were fun from previous entries. I hope future games in the series take this to heart.
I poked around a bit (pun intended) with Pokémon X, but that was the extent of my experience until getting Pokémon Sword. While I can appreciate that this game may seem like “the same old same old” to veteran players of the series, I’m loving it! I think that it has been simplified somewhat for newer players such as myself – without knowing what other games in the series were like, I feel this is a great introduction to the Pokémon world.