I suppose I should start this review by mentioning that it’s basically a review of Pokemon Sword as well as Pokemon Shield, for the two games are virtually identical, in the grand tradition of Pokemon titles, going all the way back to the humble Game Boy. There are many things which go back to the original Blue and Red games, which demonstrates how Game Freak embrace the ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ philosophy. It’s hard to believe the first Pokemon games arrived back in 1996, but the franchise is twenty-four years old this year, and has spawned not only a number of spin-offs, but a hit cartoon show and as we know, the rather fun Detective Pikachu movie.
Continuing to be at the core of Pokemon games is the belief that the experience should be shared. Trading with and battling other players is seen as important, to have the most complete experience (and it’s the only way to catch all 400 Pokemon, as some are exclusive to Sword, others exclusive to Shield). For some players, completing their Pokedex (the game’s internal computer that lists Pokemon) is the most rewarding aspect to the game. For others, levelling up their Pokemon and developing strong teams with which to do battle is where it’s at. Others might be interested in the game’s story and challenge, which is typically similar to previous games – battle gym leaders to collect badges, and earn the right to face the Galar region’s champion.
As is by now normal with these games, you have three starter Pokemon to pick from – fire, grass and water types – and from there, your adventure begins. The game is in many respects quite linear – you have to complete gyms in a certain order, which means going to certain locations in a certain order – but every player will have a different approach to the Wild Area (a huge region for hunting wild Pokemon), and every player will have different teams with different styles.
I’m not telling you which one I picked.
A new feature of Shield and Sword is a system called Dynamaxing. Under certain conditions, you can greatly enlarge your Pokemon, and thus greatly increase their strength.
The Dynamax phenomenon plays a key role in the story, but I’m not going to reveal how. This system is by and large a way of keeping things fresh and new, but Shield and Sword are quite entertaining anyway. The arrival of a mainstream Pokemon RPG on a home console (which the Switch essentially is) has been long overdue, but allows for massively enhanced graphics and animations. It’s still simplified in many ways, but the look is tremendously superior to the appearance of the games on the DS and 3DS.
All in all, Shield is a satisfying experience, a fun game and a good addition to the franchise. 9/10 from me.