Review

Pokemon Sword & Shield Review - Curry Favor

  • First Released Nov 15, 2019
    released
  • NS

More like Gen M8.

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With each new Pokemon game comes a new set of Pokemon, mechanics, and a region to discover, and Sword and Shield are no exception. The vibrant Galar region is a consistent delight to explore, incentivizing and rewarding collecting and battling in equal measure, and grandiose battles add an exciting dimension to the familiar Gym formula to deliver an engaging adventure beginning to end. But most notably, Sword and Shield cut down on the tedious and protracted elements from previous games in favor of amplifying what makes Pokemon great in the first place. This is the most balanced a Pokemon game has felt in a long time, and with that, Sword and Shield mark the best new generation of Pokemon games in years.

The games waste no time in getting you a starter Pokemon and off on your way to becoming the Champion. You can even skip some of the hand-holding you'd get in previous games, including the "how to catch Pokemon" tutorial, which hasn't been done since 2001's Pokemon Crystal; if you simply catch some Pokemon right away, the character who would have taught you acknowledges that you're already good to go instead. You can reach the new Wild Area, an open-world expanse filled with all kinds of Pokemon of all levels, within an hour or so of starting your adventure.

And the Wild Area is the show-stopping feature of this generation. Pokemon roam the fields and lakes, changing with the day's weather. They pop up as you walk by, and you can even identify Pokemon out of your direct line of vision by their cries. It's all too easy to set out for one destination only to be distracted by a Pokemon you haven't caught yet, an item glittering on the ground in the distance, or even an evolved form of a Pokemon that you didn't realize you could catch in the wild. There's constantly something new to do or discover, and it's there to engage you right out of the gate.

Both in the Wild Area and outside of it, the Galar region is stunning. Locales from industrial city centers to rolling hills in shades of green and gold are vivid and beautiful, and small details, like Wooloo playing in a field, add a lot of charm. The United Kingdom-inspired motif includes both crumbling medieval castles and booming football-inspired stadiums, punk musicians and posh snobs--though Galar is still surprising to explore, not adhering so close to theme as to be totally predictable. I even found myself pushing ahead to the next town hoping to find a boutique with new clothes and accessories, on top of everything else waiting to be discovered in each locale, because the UK-inspired plaids and streetwear looks are cute.

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You're given much more freedom to explore than in previous generations. Sword and Shield go even further than Sun and Moon did in banishing HMs for good; you can fast travel to locations you've visited before from anywhere outside starting quite early in the game, and you have a bike that can later convert to a water vehicle to replace Surf. All other roadblocks, like trees in your path you need to Cut or large stones you need to move with Strength, are relics of the past. There are still hooligans that will artificially block your path at certain points in the story, but the actual hurdles to movement are completely gone.

Random encounters are also gone, and instead, you see Pokemon roaming all of Galar--even in the traditional routes and caves--which helps distinguish one area from the next. There are some Pokemon that remain hidden in the tall grass, denoted by an exclamation point, but you have to run toward the rustling grass to actually initiate the fight, so you're never caught totally by surprise. Some Pokemon can only be found this way; this further encourages you to explore each locale thoroughly while making return trips painless, free of constant interruptions by wild Pokemon or stopping to use Repels to keep them away.

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For wild Pokemon, battles are true to the established formula, but for big battles, Sword and Shield strip out Mega Evolution and Z-moves in favor of a new battle mechanic, Dynamaxing, which is sort of a combination of the two and can only be activated in certain locations. A Dynamaxed Pokemon grows to a massive size and is stronger overall, and its moves convert to superpowered ones based on type. It's much more bombastic than Mega Evolution or even Z-moves, but functionally, it's simpler--and that's refreshing. After years of using both Mega Evolution and Z-moves in high-level battles, Dynamaxing is a welcome reset that also feels like a natural evolution of the increasingly high-octane battle mechanics of recent games. Any Pokemon can Dynamax, too; you're just limited by location rather than an item, so it's a more flexible way to battle that works for relaxed and competitive battles alike.

Dynamaxing is a fixture of the new Max Raids, in which you and three other people or NPCs take on a giant Pokemon at certain locations in the Wild Area. Raid Pokemon can vary from run-of-the-mill, easy-to-catch Pokemon to ones that are incredibly hard to find in the wild, but regardless, the rewards are fantastic; completing a raid, even if the Pokemon escapes and you fail to catch it, nets you tons of rare and important items. Plus, the Pokemon you get from raids are guaranteed to have some perfect stats, so even duplicate Pokemon are worth catching again.

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At the lower levels, the raids are pretty easy, and you'll likely have no trouble taking them on with only NPCs in tow. But the four- and five-star raids are challenging to the point where I couldn't even complete some of them without the help of other human players. This is a welcome level of difficulty in the post-game, and communicating locally to get a raid group together is seamless--all you have to do is put out a call for raid partners (or people to trade or battle with in general), and nearby players will get a notification and have the option to join you from the social menu. It's a great alternative to traditional competitive play after you've beaten the game, and while it does feed into competitive battling in both the item rewards and the caliber of Pokemon you're catching, it's satisfying just to overcome the challenge with friends.

The new Pokemon themselves are fantastic as a set. Quite a few of them seem geared for competitive play, with abilities and moves that inspire interesting strategies. Galarian Weezing, for example, has an ability that neutralizes opponents' abilities; because many battle strategies involve use of abilities like Intimidate or Sand Stream to set up the battlefield to your advantage, Weezing could be a serious threat. There are also the aesthetically-inclined Pokemon, like the incredibly goth Corviknight or the adorable electric corgi Yamper, to inspire collectors. Throughout my journey, I was consistently delighted to discover each new Gen 8 Pokemon and the Galarian forms of older ones.

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The starters, sadly, are among the worst of the new Pokemon; while they're cute at first, their final evolutions are all not great. Each fits the British theme in a clever way and has a unique move to go with it, but on a purely visual level, all three are awkward with no clear winner among them. I still feel guilty confining my starter to the Pokemon Box, but it at least freed up a spot in my party to try out the new Pokemon I do like.

The Pokedex features a healthy mix of old Pokemon from each previous generation as well. There are certainly surprising omissions, but like with the new Pokemon, the list includes both fun Pokemon and competitive ones, plus an even spread of types. Sword and Shield might not have every Pokemon in existence, but what's here is balanced exquisitely for battle, cuteness factor, and type. And because there are items that give Pokemon experience points now--and because you can access your Pokemon boxes almost anywhere--you can easily change up your team on the fly without having to stop and grind just to get a new Pokemon caught up in level. I experimented with different Pokemon more during Shield's main story than I ever did in a previous Pokemon game, and it made me appreciate the Gen 8 Pokemon even more.

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It also makes for a more digestible experience. The Wild Area is expansive, and because the available Pokemon change with the weather, it can look very different from one day to the next. There are enough Pokemon to keep things dynamic and surprising as you explore each day, but with some consistency across each biome so you know at least what kinds of Pokemon to expect. Even after 55 hours, there are still Pokemon I have no idea how to find, and uncovering the Wild Area's secrets bit by bit has been a treat.

If anything, the constant draw of the Wild Area made the pacing of the story a bit choppy. I wandered and explored for five hours before challenging my first Gym, then defeated the next two in quick succession before breaking again to revisit the Wild Area. That said, I also was never too over- or underpowered for each Gym, and I was eager to explore in between them regardless. You can also do more in the Wild Area than just battle and catch Pokemon--you can camp out and make curry with your Pokemon, and that ended up being a lovely distraction. Making curry and playing with my Pokemon was a great way to break up longer excursions, plus a convenient way to heal everybody at once, and it's really just an adorable way to spend a few minutes.

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The Gyms themselves are a refinement on the longstanding formula in which you would have to go through a maze or solve a little puzzle to reach the Gym Leader. Similarly, each has a Gym Challenge, but they vary from herding Wooloo to competing with NPC trainers to catch a Pokemon, and this keeps things from getting stale. Dynamaxing combines with anime-style drama to make the Gym battles themselves appropriately exciting, too, as your opponents tend to put on quite the show when they enter the stadium. While the Gym and other story battles are largely pretty simple, some of the later ones do take more thought (and a few revives, in my case).

For competitive battles, small but significant quality-of-life tweaks greatly reduce the remaining barriers to entry. There are now items that allow you to change a Pokemon's nature, which was the main missing piece in getting Pokemon battle-ready without hours and hours of tedious breeding and soft-resetting. You can also leave two Pokemon of the same species in the Daycare together, and one can pass Egg Moves to the other, meaning you don't have to re-breed a Pokemon just because you forgot to put one Egg Move on it or changed your strategy a bit. The post-game Battle Tower also includes rental teams right off the bat to introduce you to some basic strategies, which also means you can start climbing the ranks without scrambling to prepare a slipshod team of your own first. All of this gets you battling at a competitive level much more quickly than was possible before, which is the whole point.

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In collecting, battling, and exploring, Sword and Shield cut out the bloat and focus on what makes these pillars of the Pokemon games so captivating in the first place. You're not held back by overly complicated back-end systems or hoops to jump through; from the outset, you can start wandering the Galar region, seeing its new Pokemon, and trying out its new battle strategies with very little in your way. This leaves you free to enjoy what Pokemon is all about, and that makes for an incredibly strong showing for the series' proper debut on Switch.

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Now Playing: Pokemon Sword And Shield Video Review

Back To Top
The Good
You're given the freedom to explore the vibrant Galar region from the outset, and each new discovery is delightful
The new Pokemon are great as a whole, and the Pokedex at large strikes an excellent balance of cute, cool-looking, and battle-ready monsters
Dynamaxing is a refreshing replacement for Mega Evolution and Z-moves and makes for bombastic battles
Raids are consistently rewarding and provide a welcome challenge as you progress
The last big barriers to entry for competitive play are eliminated with quality-of-life tweaks
The Bad
The starters' evolutions are among the weakest designs of the bunch
9
Superb
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Kallie finished Pokemon Shield's main story in 40 hours, spending plenty of time exploring the Wild Area. She then spent another 15 hours doing post-game activities, including more raids. Alcremie is one of her favorite new Pokemon. Copies of Sword and Shield were provided by Nintendo.
246 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

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sakaiXx

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Edited By sakaiXx

meh, just another yearly games. Same level of excitement as seeing Fifa or Call of Duty, Non.

11 • 
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cejay0813

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@sakaixx: except people are still not calling the Pokemon series out on its bs.... there was a time where it seemed COD games were immune to anything other than an 8 or above... Now the game that imo does the most right gets rated a 6 by gamespot. Of course reviewer is entitled to their opinion but its just interesting... From what I've seen, this seems to be the same game as any other Pokemon especially the last, yet a 9.

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briguyb13

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Edited By briguyb13

@sakaixx: Salty Sony Pony.

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alastor529

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Edited By alastor529

@briguyb13: you say that like its the Sony fans that are mad at gamefreak lmao
its the Nintendo fans

7 • 
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sakaiXx

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@briguyb13: aww.

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ballaShotCaller

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So people complain about them reusing assets for a sequel that is very different and is a standalone product yet they never wanted to complain about the recycled Wii U games on Switch with a tiny bit of added content selling for launch price or more than that. Mmmkay.

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jadedjarl

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@ballashotcaller: There are so many games that re-use old assets and never get called out for it. On top of everything else wrong with it, Fallout 76 shares a lot of visual similarities with Fallout 4. Re-used assets are a big part of how so-called AAA games maintain annual development schedules.

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RogerioFM

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@ballashotcaller:

The difference is that before they haven't lied about creating content from scratch then reusing the same assets.

6 • 
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Poodger

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I am not a pokemon fan, but I was ready to buy this. Ready, after having never played a pokemon game since the red/blue days. A very highly upvoted reddit post caught my attention though, highlighting all the confirmed problems with the game, with evidence for each claim.

This review seems highly suspect to me. Not because it was reviewed well in the end, but because it doesn't even address ONE of these things. If these things were discussed openly in the review, but the reviewer still settled on a good score, I might be a bit more ready to believe this game is worth buying. From where I sit though, something smells fishy here.

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NinnyMugginz

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Edited By NinnyMugginz

@Poodger: How old are you? Do you not remember the era of games when ALL games had glitches and were buggy to some extent? That still exists to some regard. Yeah perfection is never possible, little nitpicks should not drop the score of a game drastically. If the reviewer thinks the game overall is a 9, then it's a 9. Minor setbacks shouldn't and don't change that.

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Poodger

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Edited By Poodger

@ninnymugginz: 30 years old. Glitches and bugs are not what I refer to here, but rather a lack of content and difficulty. A game that amounts to an on-rails experience that is way too short with little endgame content, and a lackluster story.

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NinnyMugginz

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@Poodger: Okay lol but you haven’t even played the game, your other comments are “gathered from reviews”. The majority of people reviewing and raging haven’t played the game either. I’m about 5 hours in and it’s pretty obvious a bunch of adult babies are flipping out over nothing.

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Poodger

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@ninnymugginz: Video games aren't important enough to me to throw money at them to decide on my own if they are good or not. As a frugal consumer that safeguards my time and money on items that are worth said time and money, I will not jump into games on faith alone. Reviews and rage are incredible tools for filtering games that have been shoddily made.

There are now a plethora of user reviews (and gameplay videos) of this game with it being beaten casually in under 20 hours, end game content included in that time. The world has been described as empty feeling, there is no challenge to the game, the story is lackluster, and the visuals seem like a mobile game that has been slightly improved upon.

Everything about this game screams "rushed product, but hey, they will buy it anyway!"

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NinnyMugginz

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@Poodger: It's unfortunate for you then to miss out on a fairly beautiful and well made game because you're taking faith in angry, immature review bombers. Rage is a very poor tool to distinguish if a game will be good or not, especially these days with the entitlement of gamers. I'm at the 20 hour mark and have only cleared the 3rd gym. And is casual, taking my time, gameplay. Any story driven game can be rushed in under 20 hours if you skip the entirety of what the game has to offer and just dive through the story only line.

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hochstreck

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@Poodger: Maybe - just maybe - the things overely nitpicky people deem oh-so important on a personal level, aren't relevant at all, seen objectively.

A game has to be seen as a whole. And maybe - just maybe - this game does so many things right and combines them in an astute and effective manner, its minor flaws can be overlooked big time.


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Poodger

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@hochstreck: From everything I have ascertained about the game via user reviews and reddit posts, the game has pretty severe problems, not minor ones.

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G-Corleone

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@hochstreck: a la Death Stranding? :)

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sakaiXx

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@Poodger: metacritics overall score is 81.

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Terrorantula

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So weird how every review on Metacritic that is positive all same several things that are worded exactly the same.... "best in the series so far" I've seen that loads, did Nintendo give out phrases to use?

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Himiko

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@Terrorantula: Ever consider that it could be the truth? You haven't even played the game for crying out loud.

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Muddrox

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@himiko: Yeah for real. Everyone has to be a conspiracy theorist.

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hochstreck

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@muddrox: Being sceptical about everything to end in itself, doesn't make you a wise person either.

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Muddrox

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@hochstreck: I agree but it seems like the gaming community constantly bandwagons conspiracy theories leveled against other people who share a different opinion than their own.

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Terrorantula

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Every few years they say "this is the best Pokemon ever", I play it and then just go back and replay the original lol. I just cannot stand what new Pokemon is :/ I also hate the graphics, I find it such a shame this is all they've managed to do to Pokemon on modern hardware. I want them to make a Ni No Kuni level of game, or give it to Obsidian to make a full on RPG in the style of Path of Exile or something.

And they keep trimming that fat, you're left with no challenge, and it all feels on rails.

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drankin06

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Guess this game has less water than the other.

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BtotheOtotheJtotheF

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so starter evolutions are the only flaw? someone gimme a dose of salt, one grain pls

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cboye18

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Edited By cboye18

No more water 9/10.

Honestly, as a (former) die-hard Pokemon fan since Red/Blue/Yellow, I'd recommend playing Pokemon Uranium or Reborn instead. GameFreak has been very lazy for over a decade now and have diluted the franchise to the point that I can't enjoy them anymore.

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ArchoNils2

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Edited By ArchoNils2

@cboye18: The sad truth is there are a lot of devs that would love to make an entry for this game while it is rotting in Gamefreaks hands. Can you imagine how great a new title would end up being in the hand of somebody that cares? There are so many fantastic fan games. Imagine having people like this AND the money of a AAA game...

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NinnyMugginz

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@ArchoNils2: But it's getting decent reviews lol..... xD

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Gelugon_baat

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@cboye18: You should have burned out a lot earlier. ;P

Pokemon is to Ninty like Call of Duty is to Activision.

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Thelostscribe

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I don't really have any opinion on the game play or anything, never played a traditional Pokemon game, but I will say, Pokemon Sun and Moon really seemed to have better quality graphics than this game comparatively. This franchise is a multi million selling franchise and it looks like Skyward Sword on the Wii. Dull water colors, smudgy textures and stiff animations.

I know not to expect AAA quality, Pokemon games have always had a simple style, but this seems very lower effort with so many Pokemon missing. I'm sure it will do great regardless.

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Pokemon Sword / Shield More Info

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  • First Released Nov 15, 2019
    released
    • Nintendo Switch
    Pokemon Sword / Shield
    6
    Average Rating33 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Pokemon Sword / Shield
    Developed by:
    Game Freak
    Published by:
    Nintendo, The Pokemon Company
    Genre(s):
    Management, Role-Playing
    Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
    Everyone
    Comic Mischief, Mild Cartoon Violence