When I was a kid playing Pokemon Blue I would dream of a world where you could see Pokemon out in the wild. They’d run around and you could chase after them or just watch them play and be themselves. The ultimate Pokemon game would be so interactive, fun, mysterious and exciting, and look beautiful. It would carry all the great design strengths of the main Pokemon series, and even offer new Pokemon itself in a new land. The ultimate Pokemon game. Back then people dreamed about what the first console Pokemon would be like. Now developers Game Freak have been dragged kicking and screaming to a powerful piece of hardware, finally, and what do we have? The ultimate Pokemon game? Could we finally be at that point? With the amount of fun I’m having right now with Pokemon Shield, I’m going to say yes. They did it. I don’t believe a perfect game will (or should) ever exist, but I believe this could be the best Pokemon game yet.
I just need a moment. I walked behind this house to grab a Poke Ball, but the water stopped me in my tracks. It’s rippling with a calm sense of beauty. It knows it’s in a console Pokemon game. I thought back to the first time I saw my own sprite looking back at me in Pokemon Sapphire’s water. That was really cool at the time. Now we’re in a Pokemon world where you can actually see the world around you. Pokemon Shield looks absolutely amazing, and I don’t care what it is lacking in textures or polygon count. The game has a very expressive art style and it feels alive. The graphics are remarkably clean and polished, but don’t push above their weight. This creates a very consistent immersion to drag you into this unique world. The Pokemon and people shine through beautifully and expressively with colourful personalities. It obviously doesn’t have detail on the level of Red Dead Redemption 2, but that would be weird anyway. It’s a Pokemon game and you’re doing Pokemon stuff. I am also a big fan of the clean, modestly-sized text font.
The game has a new way of catching Pokemon with expansive “wild areas” populated with dozens and dozens of different Pokemon. Walking through these vast areas is very exciting and this is what I always wanted the gameplay to be. It’s the series “Breath of the Wild” moment, except with Pokemon things around instead. The first time I walked out into the wild area and started rotating the camera I got butterflies. Then I got Butterfree.
The wild areas are so big that the weather changes several times before you get to the end, with the zone split up in “sectors”. You can still rush through it pretty fast if you want to, but there’s so much to do here. Pokemon of all different types and levels roam about. I think they found the perfect balance by keeping the old feeling while introducing new freedom. There’s still that feeling of risk when you run through tall grass since Pokemon run towards you, and can corner you. There’s also a feeling of danger because you can run into Pokemon significantly higher leveled than your own. You have to be a bit careful who you run into. Grookey… NO!
They outdid themselves with the graphics in every sense. The framerate was a big surprise for me, it runs completely smooth no matter what you’re doing. Ever since this series went 3D on 3DS it has had a jumpy framerate both in battle and outside and they’ve finally smoothed that out. Let’s Go had a very clean and smooth graphical presentation too, but now we’re seeing it in a much bigger main entry. If there’s any graphical flaws it’s a bit of pop-in where objects in the distance don’t show up right away. It’s kinda weird and scary seeing an Onix suddenly appear in front of you. It’s not too common overall though. There’s also an odd moment where the music disappears in the game for a second when I hit the screenshot button. Not a big deal at all, but I’ve never seen a Switch game do that before. Perhaps it’s related to the game’s unique wireless mode.
This is the first game I’ve ever seen put my docked Switch into local wireless mode and take it offline. There isn’t even an option to play Switch offline in docked in the system settings, but Pokemon found a way to do it. It doesn’t really affect anything, positive or negative, just unusual. They’ve made their own online system with “Y-Comm” that does all the online sharing and communication within the game. It’s pretty amazing seeing people’s progress constantly update on the left with stamps. Someone just caught a Machop! Someone’s starter just evolved! Someone’s starting a raid battle! The Pokemon world has never felt this alive.
They could have easily phoned this game in as a simple “console Pokemon” beginning and done everything the same with new graphics, but I think they already got that out of their system with Pokemon Let’s Go. Thankfully Sword & Shield features a lot of new gameplay mechanics. You can now send your Pokemon on Poke Jobs, accessed by Rotom in any Pokemon Center. This is very similar to the Mercs mode seen in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 where you would send blades out on timed missions. It’s a good fit for Pokemon because it’s a system that allows you to utilize party members who aren’t doing anything else. Now all the Pokemon sitting in your boxes can still have some fun. It’s a nice wholesome feeling when they all come back from a job with more EXP and an item or two. It feels like you’re getting stuff done just while taking your adventure as slow as you like.
You can even set up camp! Another cute gameplay addition. Here you can make food and play with your Pokemon and unwind together. The wild areas are so big that it makes the camp quite useful to restore health and take a breather. Seeing my angsty teenage drummer Thwackey pop a smile for just a second at camp was a nice moment. What a good boy. Actually, that’s a lie. This is someone else’s camp I walked into, and Thwackey is running amok. What a cheeky boy.
The British setting is something I’m somewhat familiar with already, but inside the Pokemon world it takes on a whole new meaning. We have a new type of slang basically, but nothing as exaggerated as Dragon Quest’s old-traditional English. Just a right old chinwag. It leaks into every aspect of the game, with town names like Postwick and music with bagpipes. It gives the Galar region a pretty strong identity within the Pokemon universe. I was very happy to see the correct spelling of Mum as well, speaking as an Australian who’s often had to read game text in US English.
Pokemon Shield (and probably Sword, too!) is an absolute joy and I’ve spent so much time hunting wild Pokemon and just exploring what’s new. I’ve put 20 hours in and only have 3 badges, that’s just a testament to how much stuff there is to do and how fun it is. There’s also a raid mode I might talk about more in a future writeup, but you can join friends if you’re fast enough to respond in the social feed. There’s so much more I haven’t even seen but I was just dying to do this writeup to convince anyone on the fence to get it. It’s the best Pokemon in a long time if not ever. So far it has very good presentation and a surprisingly good user interface. I have loved every Pokemon generation, but for me the past few generations have all had a couple of problems with the interface. X and Y had very sloppy menus, and Sun and Moon in particular had a quite linear boring structure and way too much text. In the Galar region it feels like you can breathe and be yourself. This game strikes a nice balance between all the things that make Pokemon great, and is fun in so many ways.
Pokemon continues to bring wholesome, positive vibes to the table with Sword & Shield. I’m just happy to be here.