It’s really not that hard to write about video games! In particular, it’s possible to crank out reviews about sequels to popular franchises with minimal effort. Basically copy ‘n paste last year’s review into this year’s template. We see it all the time. Take the Pokémon series, for instance. All you really have to do is talk about how the series’ gameplay hasn’t changed substantially and you’re good to go. That’s certainly the case with Pokémon Sword and Shield, arriving less than a year after your last Poké-obsession, Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee.
It’s more Pokémon! It doesn’t innovate, but doesn’t really have to, so it’s more of the same. Seven out of ten. Wait, what do you mean I have to put in a little more effort than that?
In this iteration of the series we follow the adventures of a new trainer from the Galar region, which is based so heavily on England people call televisions “tellies,” talk about how absolutely shattered they are and keep a stiff upper lip at all times. It’s very, very British, at least insofar as I understand what makes something British. Our hero and their friend Hop will journey through Galar as they collect Gym Badges and aim to become the Champion of the region, all the while learning more about local mythology and assembling an ever-more-powerful team of Pokémon.
If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is! Sword and Shield continue doing what you’d expect from the Pokémon series without doing all that much to change things up. That’s completely fine, as it turns out; as has always been the case, innovation for innovation’s sake doesn’t necessarily make for better games. Sometimes doing what’s worked and continues to work is the right choice. That’s certainly the case here, as the basic gameplay loop in Sword and Shield continues to work well: explore the land, battle wild Pokémon and other trainers alike in turn-based combat, collect new team members to ensure you’re ready to deal with a variety of situations, and, eventually, go online with your perfected team to try to become the real-world Champion.
This is all well and good in Sword and Shield. New features in this generation are largely based around enhancing that fundamental experience. For instance, the Wild Area is a giant open-world section of Galar where it’s possible to spend hours exploring and collection new Pokémon. Frankly, the Wild Area is fantastic and could serve as the basis for a Pokémon game in and of itself. Other new features include a camping option where you can spend personal time with your Pokemon.
Generally, though, Pokémon’s eighth generation is a return to form. You’ve got eight gyms, an evil team to battle and a rival that hounds you along the way. It’s the game we all fell in love with as kids. Now it’s on the Switch, where it looks and sounds great. From a presentation perspective, Sword and Shield work like a dream on the hybrid console, with the sole exception being severe framerate issues in the Wild Area if you’re playing online, though that’s kind of understandable given the MMO-lite experience that offers.
That’s not to say this is a perfect game by any means. If you’ve had the misfortune of interacting with certain subsets of the hardcore gaming community, for instance, you might be familiar with “Dexit” – the fact that not every single Pokémon is available in Sword and Shield. There are still hundreds, of course, many of them entirely new, and there’s no chance you’re going to run out of new monsters to catch and train, but it is what it is. The eighth generation’s post-game is also a bit sparse, though you’re still looking at fifty hours or so of gameplay at least.
Even with all that in mind, Pokémon Sword and Shield are an easy recommendation. The Pokémon fundamentals are as effective as ever. Catching ’em all remains as addictive a pursuit as it was back in the 90s. If you’ve got a Switch, this one’s right up there with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Super Mario Odyssey as a must-have. After you’ve already mastered Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee, of course. Gotta catch ’em all over again – and again and again!