I finally get it.
Despite being an ultra weeb with an apartment drowning in Naruto, Dragon Ball, Gundam and Boku No Hero anime decor, I never truly understood the craze over Pokémon. Sure, Pikachu is arguably cuter than Baby Yoda and most of the bizarre lil’ animal and dino variants are easy on the eyes, but just what the hell is it? I always found those Pokémon Go idiots throwing their life away literally (some were hit by cars in the pitch black, fell off cliffs and toppled over bridges in pursuit of these these little digital rascals) to be the most ridiculous people to ever walk the face of this godhatesgeeks forsaken earth.
But I finally get it. I really do. Pokémon Sword and Shield (I bought Shield, ’cause Rise of the Shield Hero and.. Cap) is — believe it or not — my first formal introduction into the video game world of Pokémon. You can thank Ryan Reynolds (in the terrific Detective Pikachu), my fun watching Mewtoo Strikes Back Evolution, and the Poké-heavy roster and aesthetics in Super Smash Ultimate for finally opening my eyes to this ungodly popular universe. You can also thank Game Freak and The Pokémon Company for finally giving fans a Poké game on consoles, albeit technically, since I’m pretty sure this was the game in mind when Nintendo went ahead and shipped out the Switch Lite. I never had a 3DS or 2DS and never played the Gameboy’s Red & Blue (I know, shame on me, but I was graduating high school), so that might explain it. Here’s a list of version exclusive Pokémon:
- Galarian Ponyta
Hell, I’ve still yet to play Pokémon Shield in docked mode and I’m OK with that. The music is cool, at times hypnotic — especially during late game Gym battles when the techno beats really start to kick in; yet, much like Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (a game I was on my way in finally finishing until this lil’ badboy came out and disrupted those plans), I like that I can use Sword/Shield‘s gameplay time to catch up with my backlog of podcasts. Much like Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the turn-based, pick your random encounter combat allows for much relaxation. The battles here are a lot like an NFL game; particular Pokémon do better against others (Steel > Fairy, etc.) and it’s learning, finding the right match-ups, and — most important of all — knowing when exactly to call the right plays and utilize the correct powers that will, ultimately, be “super effective”.
This, of course, can lead to a grind in your search for the right stable of heroes; yet, thankfully, the deep concept of Pokémon is in how rewarding it is to find the rarest and most legendary of monsters, to breed them as loving pets, and keep them as one big happy and honorable collective. When you’re not out whipping past Gym Leaders on your way to stardom, the open world “Wild Area” in the Galar region offers a surplus of Pokémon to capture, cherish and kick-ass with. But expect to get your head knocked for a bit. You can cut through much of the grind via picking up a plethora of unique items and upgrades and by sending your adorables to Poké Jobs, where they’ll earn XP for helping out the world or taking classes; it’s sort of reminscent of the training course sections found in the campaign in the new Smash. Send your spirits and watch them glisten.
Just when I found the RPG to be too easy this side of the Wild, almost to the point of referring to the rest of the journey as “Little Tikes” difficulty, enter Gym Leader #4: the Shield-only, ghastly Allister over at the Stow-On-Side and his stable of ghouls, which you need matching Ghost and Dark powers to take down. Ugh. Gym Leader #5 was certainly no pushover either, as the elder flirt Opal’s fairy types don’t play well with Psychic, Steel or Poison, none of which I had equipped on my roster. It was then and there that I realized there’s more to the fight in Pokémon S&S than power, strength and level. It was time to collect.
In between Gym Leader battles you can take routes filled with new challenges, but I recommend taking a stroll back to the Wild Area every now and then to co-op (via computer or human) battle those new, Godzilla-sized Dynamax threats to boost your XP and collect new heavies. The majority of my roster — I’m very bad at collecting, mind you, but I’m learning! — come from these Max Raids. Be warned however: the shit ain’t easy. Depending on the star level of the battle, the Dynamax Raid Bosses, with their ability to nullify stats, block attacks persistently and attack sometimes up to 3-4 times in a row will certainly put a hurtin’ on you. You can Dynamax during these fights, too, but only for three sequences so CHOOSE WHEN WISELY.
Thankfully, getting around the Galar region is simple. You can trek mountains in your bicycle and fast travel through the Corviknight Cab service. Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee‘s visible encounters are here, and you’ll only be “surprised” by monsters hiding in a bush (exclamation point warning and all!!!) or soaring at you in the Wild Area at a world of light. You can easily avoid most random Pokémon whenever you choose to do so. The Wild Area, while a little bare at the moment, not in terms of Pokémon (despite the controversial cries for a “crippled” Pokédex), but the overall look. There’s a lake, some shrubs, some rocks, a few islands, a beach area and.. not much else. It could use some more life to it other than the life it inhabits. At least the climate changes on the fly and it’s fun and rather funny — and sooo Southern California — to go from snowy mountaintops to sunny sandy cliffs just seconds away.
But the towns you explore in the Gym Leading sections are vast, dense and full of flair. You can spend quite a bit of time learning about the current happenings and the history of the regions from NPC’s and everyone is so nice and generous and will keep giving you stuff. Then there’s traders, barbershops to get that quick line up or your hair did, Poké Marts (sorry, but I can’t help but think about Apu the Blueberry Squishee Kwik-E-Mart guy from The Simpsons) to equip Potions and.. Balls, and, best of all, gettin’ all hipsterfied from the botiques. Game Freak certainly doesn’t play when it comes to fashion, and gettin’ mah dude all decked out in faded cotton tops, skinny jeans or my Go Blue plaid pants, and designer frames is nearly as much fun as the Gym battles themselves. Just a shame you can only wear the generic base battle uniform for all Gym Challenges, despite the option to drop 18K for Team Uniforms. Yup–you can’t rock different gym uniforms during gym battles. Really dumb.
But I suppose if my only chief gripe in the game is a cosmetic one that should speak volumes on how good Pokémon Sword and Shield really is. I’m just glad I finished my frontrunner for GOTY in Fire Emblem in time, cause lord knows I’m already addicted to this. And that’s having played 22-hours without a single online connection or local co-op. Of course Pokémon was made with friends in mind, and it’s easy to connect with the Y-Comm in the press of that button; in addition to joining a Max Raid, pairing up with other players allow you to trade League Cards and Surprises, and broadcast feelers to co-op battle some Poké’s.
On the visual end, Pokémon Sword and Shield is a solid looking RPG with intensely vibrant fight sequences. Many of the more bizarre super power attacks really pop off the screen! While I can’t speak for most — or any — vets of the series, the monster designs are cute, creative, and charming (perhaps the whole point of playing this in the first place?). Some areas in the Galar region are nifty, with secret passages, plenty of loot, full of monsters and funny yet repetitive-appearing trainers (there are quintuplets everywhere!), but these characters are nearly crippled by stiff facial animations and, like most JRPG’s and or Legend of Zelda, zero chatter. Can we at least get some Japanese voiceovers? Towns and kingdoms are wondrous, not as dense of Xenoblade or anything, but nearly as immense in scope.
While I might be more two-thirds through with only two Gym Leaders left to dethrone, I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to discovering, battling, collecting, training and feeding curry to a wonderful assortment of critters, especially that of the rare and legendary. My Pokédex is bare and there’s no doubt that’s a wonderful problem I aim to solve on-the-go all winter long. 4.25-4.5/5 Bibles.