After a slight detour last year, the Pokémon franchise is back on track with a new generation. Pokémon Sword and Shield not only mark the eighth generation of the venerable franchise but are also the first, full-fledged titles on Switch. Fans have been waiting patiently to see how Game Freak would make use of the Switch’s advanced hardware, and at E3 2019, Nintendo fully revealed its vision for the future of Pokémon and it’s looking quite dynamic.
The demo took place entirely within a water-type gym about mid-way through the game. For demo purposes, Nintendo gave us access to all three starters along with Corviknight, Yamper and Impidimp. Meanwhile, all the gym trainers were given access to various types of Pokémon rather than just water types so that we could fully test our party.
Like any good gym, the player has to solve a small puzzle to get to the leader. Considering how many water-type gym leaders there have been over the years, it’s impressive that Game Freak managed to come up with a unique mechanic. In the gym, water pours heavily out of pipes, which block the path to the leader. The trainer must maneuver around them to various valves to turn the pipes on and off.
Of course, it isn’t a gym without trainers. The Pokémon formula that Game Freak has refined over the past twenty years on handhelds is back and improved for Switch. While Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee felt like a half-step between handheld and console, Sword and Shield feels like a proper leap. The gym may have been a small slice of the world, but the intricacies and scale of it felt more substantial than the Let’s Go gyms. The leap in model and texture detail for characters and Pokémon is impressive, especially considering Game Freak’s lack of console development experience. Meanwhile, Pokémon battles felt more alive thanks to enhanced effects and animation work.
Battling remains the same as in previous games. Each Pokémon has four moves with a player selecting a single move every turn. For Sword and Shield, Game Freak opted to toss out Let’s Go’s colorful, yet messy UI in favor of a cleaner one. What Sword and Shield’s UI lacks in color it more than makes up for in providing clear information to the player. It’s simple, easy to navigate and snappy. A new info button allows the player to dive into the stats of their and the opponent’s Pokémon, which is helpful when building a battle strategy.
The demo ended with a final battle against the gym leader, Nessa. It was here that we got a taste of Sword and Shield’s big new battle mechanic, Dynamax. During a match, the player and certain opponents can opt to use Dynamax to grow their Pokémon and unleash devastating moves. The feature, however, can only be used once per match and lasts only three turns. Dynamax feels like a perfect blend of Mega Evolutions and Z-Moves. You get an advanced form like a Mega evolution and powerful attacks like Z-moves all in one. Deciding when and where to use Dynamax is important, especially when going up against more powerful trainers, including Gym Leaders and the Elite Four. As for Mega Evolutions and Z-moves, Game Freak confirmed they aren’t returning.
Pokémon Sword and Shield are shaping up to be a significant milestone for the franchise as it leaps from handheld to console. Nintendo and Game Freak put out a solid demo that showcased the impressive leap in graphics and improvement to gameplay, but they did leave out some of the more critical changes. The vast, open spaces of Galar and Raids weren’t available for testing. It would have been nice to see those spaces for ourselves or even get a look at the main menu. Oddly enough, the demo didn’t feature any menus for healing or repositioning the party.
Pokémon is no stranger to consoles, but those past titles always felt half-baked. Sword and Shield are the next steps in the evolution of the franchise. After pushing handhelds to their breaking point with Sun/Moon/Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon, the leap to the Switch is refreshing. The game looks impressive thanks to its incorporation of high-definition models and textures. Gameplay remains familiar, but the new Dynamax system appears set to add a new layer of depth and strategy that Mega Evolutions and Z-moves never provided. Pokémon Sword and Shield are shaping up to be fun and exciting additions to the Pokémon franchise.
Pokémon Sword and Shield are out November 15 on Nintendo Switch.