The Pokémon world is less welcoming than one might suspect. Not only are little boys kicked out of the house as soon as they reach puberty, but they are pushed out with a single pocket monster in their backpack and a handful of coins in their pockets. To welcome them there is also a land full of rather aggressive and brawling monsters, lurking even in the most remote corners waiting for someone to meet their gaze.
No wonder, then, that kids grow up a little weird and spend their time capturing and collecting the extraordinary creatures that roam their land undisturbed. Not content, they even use them to stage clandestine fights whose purpose is to get the money needed to survive.
Those who make it out alive become so famous and feared that they are considered real celebrities to be invited on television, heroes to ask for help in fixing the disasters that mad scientists or devious patrons invariably unleash. To all this must be added annoying characters who will stubbornly follow these kids throughout their journey, continuing to take loud scoppole, despite the proclamations of greatness.
In short, being a pokémon trainer is not as easy as it might seem at first sight.
Seen with disenchanted eyes, the plot that underlies each episode of the Pokémon series doesn’t make much sense. Indeed, it seems rather uneducating. But it’s been about 25 years that every twelve months we ricaschiamo and we dive body and soul to discover the new adventures that Nintendo and Game Freak have packaged for us. Because these bizarre contradictions are now an integral part of an extremely recognizable universe, managed by very particular rules and habits, which have remained unchanged since the debut on the Game Boy. A hyper-competitive world, but in which one knows how to accept defeat, one does not take advantage of victory and one can be friends with one’s rival.
In Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, the two new video games that kick off the eighth generation of pocket monsters, the immutable traditions of the series collide head-on with the many innovations of recent years, trying to embrace an audience ranging from adults who has been a fan since the days of the Game Boy to the little boy who got close through cartoons or Pokémon Go and Masters. The result is a strange mix that sometimes manages to perfectly blend these many Pokémon souls, clearly highlighting what the future of the brand should be. Sometimes, however, the result is less convincing, especially when Game Freak gives the impression of being still too tied to the schemes and technologies of the past.
During our review it seemed to us that the Japanese team did not have enough time to include everything they wanted within Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield. The fights, for example, are still extremely static, light years away from the spectacular ones seen in anime and video game-inspired movies. The transition to 3DS before and to Switch now – remember that Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are still the second chapter that arrived on the hybrid console after Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee – forced the team to abandon the two-dimensional models and create animations a little more convincing for some of the most spectacular moves. But evidently the conversion work, for some strange reason, is not yet complete.
The three starters are quite nice, too bad the design of the evolutions is not convincing.
During the Dynamax transformation, the specific power of the Galar region that allows pokémon to become gigantic and very powerful for three turns, you can begin to guess where the series can go in the near future. The polygonal models are huge, detailed, exceptionally colorful. Likewise the moves are exaggerated, spectacular and visceral.
But then you select a “Double Kick” or miss a move and all you get is a gasp from the pokémon. There are no signs of the struggle or status effects. Everything is still the same as 20 years ago, there are just more details to see. The same goes for the gameplay: it is always the usual, very deep turn-based system that bases its success on an intricate pattern of strengths and weaknesses. In combat, each pokémon has only four moves to choose from, the result of the selection made by its trainer during its growth. The same pocket monster, in fact, can have a completely different set of moves from a similar one, based on its role within the team or, in Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, depending on its task during the Dynamax Raids.
One of the most interesting novelties of the game, in fact, is the possibility of facing challenges against special Dynamaxati pokémon (or Gigamaxati, that is, that not only get bigger, but also change appearance) in the company of three other players. On these occasions you will have a maximum of 10 turns or four fainting to try to defeat the opponent. The aim is to obtain rare items useful to train your pokémon as well as to capture these special creatures. Some of them, in fact, will be very rare if not absent in Galar and the only way to get them will be during raids.
The Wild Lands are an incredible idea, undeveloped as we would have liked.
Against the strongest monsters, therefore, it will not be enough to simply unleash your most lethal moves, but you will have to be able to keep your companions alive, unless you want to see a premature KO arrive. A sort of specialization of the pokémon in this sense could help during the toughest fights, since one could concentrate on healing and defending the companions. A classic mechanic in canonical RPGs, but quite revolutionary for the series, as it gives an extra layer of depth to the whole system created by Game Freak.
Even in this case, however, we note how the Japanese developer always travels with the handbrake on. The Wild Lands, the open world area where you can find the Raid Dynamax are an extremely interesting find, but which is plagued by some structural and technical problems. First of all, they are so full of pokémon that they look like a sort of supermarket: you arrive in an area, stock up on the many pokémon that jump out of the bushes and move to the next area. Furthermore, after unlocking a bicycle upgrade, the Wild Lands no longer have any secrets to reveal: all areas are easily reachable in a few rides and crossing them from north to south takes only a few minutes. There are currently no weekly activities, special raids or anything else. It’s all dictated by luck.
It is only possible to participate in short bike rides and little else, when instead the potential for a “Destiny” structure, with missions of increasing complexity or marked by a precise editorial choice, were just around the corner and would have been exciting. To this we add some technical problems too, such as slowdowns and wild pop-ups and you get the impression of enormous potential that has been largely wasted.
The battles in the stadiums are spectacular, too bad they are still very static.
Alternatively, it will be possible to use the Y-Comm to participate in raids found by other players. In this case it will be necessary to be fast enough to respond quickly to the call to arms or it will often happen to find the room already closed. There are no matchmaking features that directly queue for the next raid.
In contrast to the Wild Lands there is the “civilized” part of Galar. Structured like classic pokémon games with numbered paths connecting the cities, Galar is clearly inspired by the United Kingdom. Green and well-kept countryside alternate with industrial cities with a Victorian style, full of boutiques where you can change the appearance of the protagonist or buy remedies for your pokémon.
The paths are as usual thematic areas that allow you to capture pokémon of a specific type, while the gyms are the real fulcrum of the story. Each of them, in fact, will ask to pass a specific test, different for each city, before making us fight with its boss. The final clash, then, will be fought inside a stadium packed with spectators and charged with Dynamax energy.
Many of the most loved pokémon are present in the game, too bad the entire pokédex is not present.
The clashes with the gym leaders therefore become a truly exciting moment, which closely resembles some clashes experienced by Ash and company within the anime. During these battles, moreover, you will have the opportunity to Dynamaxare a pokémon for three turns. This new move adds a small tactical element to the match. With only three rounds available, you need to understand when to use Dynamax power to get the most out of it. Always considering that the various gym leaders will always use it with the latest pocket monster.
After the tour of the gyms and the challengers’ tournament you will have the opportunity to challenge the very tamarrissimo champion of Galar and, eventually, take his place. At that point, another tournament will start thanks to which you can test your pokémon before embarking on online competitions against the strongest players on the planet.
The glue to everything is an intelligent rethinking of all the functions necessary to train and manage your team. At any point on the map, for example, you can access your box to replace active pokémon on the fly, stop at the campsite in order to recover some energy, or take a taxi to move to one of the cities already visited. .
Zacian and Zamazenta are the two legendary pokémon that inspired the name of the game.
Furthermore, at the pokémon centers, it will be possible to send your pocket monsters in a plethora of different missions useful to improve some specific statistics, recover objects or simply accumulate experience.
To this we add a truly convincing artistic direction that, net of a small number of films and the absence of any type of dubbing, has created one of the most beautiful and interesting regions in the history of the franchise. The power of Switch has been harnessed to create enchanting landscapes that are lost visibly, even more elaborate pokémon designs and to bring a bright and inspired color palette to the screen.
The design of the new pokémon is generally very good, as well as the Galar variants of the pocket monsters are definitely interesting. Too bad for the absence of the entire Pokédex, but even with these defections it will be difficult to meet the same pokémon twice during the main adventure.
The design is excellent and Galar is a beautiful region to visit.
The game also runs pretty solidly in all situations (Wild Lands excluded) and represents a nice step forward compared to Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s GO Eevee. Too bad, however, that the innovative features of these spin-offs have not been integrated into this chapter (connection with Pokémon Go, motion controls). These were news that helped to welcome those fans from other pokémon experiences and that did not excessively distort the nature of the series.
Ultimately, the real flaw of Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield is not having been ambitious enough. All the innovations introduced, in fact, only let us guess how much unexpressed potential the Game Freak series has. The Wild Lands are an incredible idea that, if properly developed, can create a definitive online experience, in which trainers from all over the world can explore an open and untouched land in search of the rarest pokémon. Dynamax stadiums and fights instead put the emphasis on the competitive side of the game. The clashes between the players are finally spectacular and equipped with a frame to the height. Too bad that not all moves have a specific animation and that the battles are still a little too static.
For the rest, it is a solid episode, pleasant to play, with many new features designed to simplify the life of every coach, so that he can concentrate on breeding better and better pokémon and filling up his own pokédex.
Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, therefore, are not perfect. They are not the best episodes of the series, but they have – hopefully – laid a very solid foundation on which to develop the next 25 years of pocket monsters.