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So here it is! Pokemon Sword and Shield is the newest mainline Pokemon game from Game Freak and Nintendo. With a new region, new Pokemon and new mechanics, how well does the first non spin off Pokemon title on the switch hold up? We’ll be covering the first hour or so of gameplay to give you an idea of what to expect.
The game starts out with a quick cut scene featuring the current League chairman introducing the league Champion Leon for an exhibition match. He is accompanied by his Charizard and as the match begins, he shows off the newest Battle mechanic, Dynamaxing. By doing so, his Charizard begins to grow enormous, much to the awe of the crowd. Just before the match really gets underway, we are treated to the game logo and shown that the player is watching the match from home.
While the basic gameplay remains pretty standard, there are plenty of brand new touches that managed to impress me right off the bat. From how the world and characters around you look, to the new music and audio flare, mid battle cut scenes and musical changes depending on how you decide to approach the current situation. Numerous things jumped out at me in ways I didn’t expect, but fit right at home in a Pokemon game. (Sadly, I’ve yet to hear the Toby Fox battle theme.)
Out of the three starter Pokemon available, I chose Scorbunny for my journey. As I started exploring the new region of Galar, I notice some updated versions of features from the previous Switch games, Let’s Go Pikachu/Evee. Similar to Pokemon Let’s Go, you’ll find some Pokemon roaming around the over world. Some will chase after you, some will avoid you. It all depends on how you choose to approach. Battles are pretty run of the mill for the first half hour. The battle and over world menu UI are pretty minimalist and easy to read. Again, much like the Let’s Go games. During my first few battles, the game seems to toss experience at me. Before I even got my Pokedex, my Scorbunny was already a high level 9. While at first this made me worry about becoming over leveled too early in the game, things quickly slowed down and it seemed more like the game was giving me the chance to beef up my party before stuff really got underway. Team leveling makes it’s return along with gaining experience from catching new Pokemon. Another feature shown in Let’s play. It’s great to see the experimental mechanics from those titles improved and carried over into Sword and Shield.
It will be a surprisingly long time before you get to the first gym battle against Milo, the grass type leader. You have to go one a pretty substantial journey to even get registered for the Gym challenge and then journey some more to finally get to Milo’s gym. Once you finally arrive, you’ll be put through an interactive trial that sees the player herding a group of 20 Wooloo. A bit more hands on that the usual trial and error puzzles of old as it finds you actively pushing them around rather than just pushing a button or standing on a warp pad. Afterward, you finally get to battle Milo and have your first hands on experience with Dynamaxing.
I was curious to see how this would work considering past gimmicks like Z moves, which added a powerful 5th move to a Pokemon’s set, and Mega Evolving which greatly boosted stats and abilities. From what I’ve experienced, Dynamax is kind of a streamlined mix of the two. When a Pokemon grows using Dynamax, the form boosts all of their stats and changes their move set to Max Moves. Max moves are based on type, like Max Flare for Fire and Max Strike for Normal. They do more damage than typical moves and come with their own special effects, but don’t seem too overpowered in battle. It also helps that Dynamaxing only lasts for 3 turns and can only be used once per battle. This makes the gimmick both fun and balanced to use.
Speaking of Dynamxing, you can find dens in the middle of the vast landscape to initiate Max Raids. In Max Raids you can go solo or team up with online players/cpu players against one Dynamaxed Pokemon. These battles can range from relatively easy, to pretty satisfyingly difficult depending on the den’s rating. You try and choose the best moves you believe will not only do the most damage, but ensure that you and your team all make it out of the battle without being KO’d. If your whole party gets KO’d or the battle goes over a certain amount of turns, you lose. However, should you manage to defeat the Dynamaxed Pokemon, you and your team get to choose to capture the Pokemon. Doing Max raids also get you a whole slew of items, including, but not limited to berries and TMs.
With all the new styles of battling, I’m excited to see where this game goes next as I play more.
In addition to battling, things like Pokemon centers are more streamlined than before. Now not only including Pokemarts, but also nickname changers and move tutors should you happen to be indecisive on your Pokemon’s set up. I only just started getting into character customization, but the game gives you plenty of chances to experiment early on and find your style in the Boutiques/Salons.
The newest and most interesting addition to exploration so far is Camping. Kind of like having a mobile version of the Secret Bases from past games, Camping lets you set up a tent in a wild area for you and you Pokemon to rest. You can make curry, hang out with your Pokemon and customize you camp area with different accessories. Just another step closer to Nintendo making straight up Pokemon Nintendogs.
All in all, this first hour or so of Pokemon Sword and Shield shows a lot of what the game has to offer. While it has a bit of a slow start, it manages to gently guide the player into what they will experience in this new region bit by bit. Showing off not only new graphics and Pokemon, but greatly improved gameplay from previous games.
As it stands, I’d give the game a solid 8 out of 10. I’ll have to see what the rest of the game has to offer before determining to see if it can keep up the same pace. Should it manage to, Pokemon Sword and Shield might be in my top 5 games of this year.