The next generation of Pokémon has landed on Switch, marking the very first time we’re exploring a new region in a console game! The region, Galar, is based on the UK, and is full of exciting new Pokémon to discover.
Of course, the general formula remains the same; catching, training, and battling with your little guys, aiming to gather eight badges in order to take on the champion. The gyms now have “gym missions”, which are basically either mini tasks or puzzles you have to complete before you can take on the gym leader. The gyms have always had a puzzle you have to complete before reaching the leader, so this isn’t a revolutionary concept, although they’re definitely a lot more fun now.
We also need to talk about the dialogue and world-building in Galar. The writing is brilliantly inspired by UK dialects and accents; I’ve never felt so at home when playing a Pokémon game! I definitely recommend talking to all the NPCs, as they definitely say some really funny stuff sometimes. Speaking of which, the characters in this game are really fun. Hop, your rival, initially seems to fall into the generic “friendly rival” trope that the more recent games have seen quite frequently. However, his development over the game actually feels realistic, and his relationship with his brother, the champion, makes for some really interesting interactions.
As for the new Pokémon, they are fantastic. The lack of advertisement prior to release has left the game full of amazing surprises in terms of the brilliant variety of new Pokémon to discover; I really recommend going in as blind as you can for the best experience. The new species are great; there’s literally an apple pie dragon. An apple pie dragon! If that doesn’t sell you on this game I don’t know what will. The Galarian forms of older Pokémon also feel very fresh; they feel more like completely new species rather than the same ones with a different typing. There are also regional evolutions for some, which are amazing. The last time we saw new evolutions for older Pokémon was all the way back in Diamond, Pearl and Platinum, and it’s something that I hope they keep on doing in the future.
Of course, I have to mention the fact that the National Dex has been removed from these games. This basically means that not all Pokémon are available in the game, and while there’s never been a game you can catch every single one in, you also won’t be able to transfer the missing ones over from previous games. Obviously, this is disappointing, but Galar’s Regional Dex is still pretty big, clocking in at 400 Pokémon.
The new gimmick introduced in Sword and Shield is Dynamaxing, which, simply put, is making your Pokémon really big for three turns. That’s it. Of course, they get much more powerful when you do this, and gain access to “Max Moves”, which are, as you’d expect, very strong. More interestingly however is Gigantamaxing, which is Dynamaxing with a twist. Gigantamax Pokémon take on different new forms, rather than just being the same but bigger, and also gain access to a unique “G-Max Move”, which is a lot more exciting.
Returning from Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee is wild Pokémon being visible on the overworld, which I definitely feel makes the game feel a lot more lively and immersive. However, not all Pokémon can be found just by looking; random encounters are back from the previous games, meaning you still have that exciting element of chance, not knowing what you’re going to find.
Arguably the main new feature in these games is the Wild Area; a huge, open-world space in the centre of the map, with constantly changing weather and different environments, from a dusty desert, to vast, open lakes. Depending on the weather, different Pokémon will appear, meaning every exploration will be a bit different, and it really makes the world feel much more thriving.
The Pokémon in the Wild Area vary vastly in level, with some being really powerful. To stop people from using this to catch super strong Pokémon early in game, there are limits placed on the highest level of Pokémon you can catch, based on how many gym badges you have. You can fight them regardless of how many badges you have, but the EXP you earn is also limited so that you can’t get over-levelled too easily (although it’d still be quite easy if you wanted to). Thankfully, the Pokémon that are too high a level to be caught can’t appear shiny (very rare, alternately coloured Pokémon), which is a huge relief. More on shiny Pokémon later!
The Wild Area is also home to Max Raid Battles, where you can fight Dynamaxed and Gigantamaxed Pokémon with three friends or CPUs, in hopes of catching them, and earning other rewards like rare items and berries. These battles are lots of fun, and can be quite a challenge too. Only one person can Dynamax per battle, and still only for three turns (the enemy Pokémon remains huge throughout), so you have to select the right Pokémon and the right time to go big. However, as there is quite a big element of cooperation, communication is key, and therefore these battles are best enjoyed with friends you can talk to, rather than with random people online who might have a different strategy in mind to you.
All multiplayer in Sword and Shield is handled by a new system called the Y-COMM, and to put it simply, it’s not great. First of all, the Global Trade System has been completely removed, which is a great loss for people aiming to complete their Pokédex, or getting access to Pokémon from different language games. You can still random battle people online, as well as your friends. You send out requests for battles or trades, which appear in the form as “stamps” down the left hand side of other players’ screens. These stamps also appear when your friends or nearby players catch or evolve any of their Pokémon too. The unfortunate catch is that there is currently no way to disable this. These stamps can get very annoying, especially if you don’t want to be spoiled on the Pokémon in the game you’ve not seen yet, as your only way to protect yourself is to turn off your Switch internet and block anyone nearby who starts appearing (which I had to do to someone somewhere in my flat, sorry random person).
By far the cutest new feature is Pokémon Camp, where you can set up a tent and play with your team. This is a great way to get more attached to your Pokémon and see them up close, which is always really nice. You can also watch them interact with each other which is really sweet, and makes them feel a bit more real. Unfortunately, you can no longer pet them like you could in the 3DS games, which feels like a real shame considering the Joy-Con compatibility, but it’s still a great time. There’s also a curry cooking mini-game, which is simple, but is actually quite rewarding as you have a “Curry Dex”, which keeps track of all the different kinds of curry you’ve made. Forget the National Dex, we’ve gotta cook ‘em all! You can also camp with your friends, and see both your Pokémon interact, as well as cook together.
Finally, I also thought I’d mention shiny hunting in this game, although at the time of writing there’s still quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding it. Unlike Let’s Go, Pokémon no longer show as shiny on the overworld, you have to encounter them. It’s a bit of a shame, as it was very useful to know if you had a shiny without having to go through hundreds of encounters. It’s thought there isn’t a “chaining” method unlike previous games. Instead, the game keeps track of how many of a particular Pokémon you’ve knocked out in total, at any time (you can view this in your Pokédex). The higher this number gets (capping at 500), the higher your chances for finding that particular Pokémon as a shiny. If we’re understanding this correctly, you can earn permanent shiny buffs for every individual Pokémon, which will probably mean shinies will take longer to find initially, but once you’ve got those rates up, you’ll be able to see the fruit of your labour forever. Bring on the sparkles!
Overall, Sword and Shield are fantastic additions to the series, and you definitely shouldn’t miss them. The dialogue is fantastic, the Pokémon are some of my favourite additions to the series ever, and as Pokémon’s first new generation on a console, it looks absolutely beautiful.