Pokemon Sword & Shield: Cop Or Drop? by Ali Woo

The controversial massacre of over 500 Pokémon in the newest addition to the franchise ‘Pokémon Sword & Shield’, better known as ‘Dexit’ by fans (which in honestly is a surprisingly good pun) left many including myself distraught, joining the pact on the internet and with my friends to not buy this game due to this. Yet in the end, most of us still got it and played through it, with a mostly enjoyable experience for them, and a mediocre one for me. How did this happen? Well to explain this one must first gain a better understanding of the development process behind the scenes, starting with Nintendo and Game Freak.

It’s quite safe to say that Nintendo is one of, if not the most, well known video games company in the world, comparable to those like Xbox and Sony which make up the big three in console gaming. Through winning the hearts and wallets of many fans by creating lovable, memorable games such as Mario Bros, Legend Of Zelda, Metroid, and of course the game in question Pokémon, they have been able to expand on their ideas and define the future of gaming science through increasingly innovative consoles, with the latest one being the Nintendo Switch.

Predecessors such as the 3DS, WiiU, and Game Boy have a focus on portability and easy hand-held mobility. The rest such as the Wii, Game Cube, and Super Nintendo have a focus on being able to run demanding games at high frame rates with minimal technology.  The Switch brings the best of both worlds, having the ability to be played on the road as well as in the comforts of home. With an online feature to tie it all off, it stands one of the most complex pieces of technology to date yet at a relatively low price for what it’s worth.

With such a major initiative, it would be easy to see how terrified Game Freak must have been when Nintendo approached them to help create the next instalment in one of the most beloved series in gaming history. Not only that, but to do it on a high-tech piece of machinery with limited time? Dexit had to be an executive decision to meet all the tight constraints the production crew were facing, as coming up with 400 new Pokémon (yes you read that right, FOUR HUNDRED, more than any other generation has ever brought) is difficult in itself, not to mention the approving process and the animation, but to then animate an addition 800 more Pokémon from the dawn of the series? That’s impossible.

With the history lesson out of the way, Sword/Shield has numerous positive traits as well as negative ones, and some that fit in the grey lining between them.

Saving best for last, there are mainly three major issues I see in the game – the writing, the technical execution, and the level design. If you’ve read my other articles.

you can probably tell that the writing is one of the key points that make or break my experience of a game, and this one is definitely broken by it. From the Grass Gym onwards not much focus is placed on the interaction between the player and the story, but rather the story and the NPCs, with the player within the middle of everything. From seeing Hop try to live up to his older brother’s expectations, to seeing Sonia slowly progress into a renown professor, to seeing how Marnie copes with her familial issues, all are well written plot lines… to everybody except you.

“Technical execution” is a fancy word for how the game is presented, focussing particularly on the game models. Popular backlash towards this topic include how the tree textures in the game look like they came from the dawn of time, resembling the models from the N64 (released in 1996) from games like Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. At time of writing people on the internet have already made texture packs that make them look better thousandfold, so if you’re disgusted to the point of dropping the game, taking a look through the forums might be better than flushing $500 HKD down the drain.

Level design is an interesting topic that I believe belongs in the grey lining. Although the routes and cities in the game are a monotonous bore reminiscent of Red/Blue, with towns 75% blocked off and purely for aesthetic, the art design and direction for the environments are shockingly beautiful. From the twilight forest that is Glimwood to the train stations chock-a-block with detail, to the ghosty ruined city of Marnie’s hometown and the MC Tower to “top” is all off (badum tsch) are well conceptualised and carried out.

On a more positive note, though the writing may not have been up to expectations, the change of story from previous Pokémon games from just a kid wanting to “catch ‘em all”, beat up trainers and rise to the top at the age of 10 changes to a competitive publicity-based sporting event like wrestling or LoL matches. Everything that is done by the gym leaders reflects a different aspect of this central theme, like how the final Dragon Gym in Sword poses for the camera and maintains his composure so to look good on TV while duelling it out.

Speaking of the Gym Leaders, the presentation and design of characters and environment within the game are done astoundingly. The establishment of what type of person the Gym Leaders are remind me of the anime My Hero Academia, where a strong sense of their personality can be understood just with a look. The game has taken advantage of a variety of body shapes, facial features, and body language so to better express the trainers as a whole, and have done so to a higher degree than past games.

Last but certainly not least is the core selling point of Sword & Shield, the new Pokémon. Most of them have unique designs that give an interesting take to the actual evolution process of the animals they are based off of, an example being grass starter Grookey transforming from a small monkey to a giant gorilla, or Rookidee going from a little pigeon to the Dark Knight if he were a bird. As with every generation,  new additions never fail to send a small “aww” in our hearts, with Gossifluer, Wooloo, Alcremie, and of course Hattrem. And with the new regional feature of Gigantamaxing your companions, the old adage of the bigger the better finds a home in the game.

Ultimately, through tough times and rough schedules Game Freak and Nintendo have successfully pulled off yet another Pokémon game, so successfully in fact that it has taken the place of Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8, and Mario Odyssey as the #1 fastest selling Switch game ever. If you’re a fan of any of the Pokémon entries and have a Switch and some extra cash, it surely is a game to at least try out, but just remember to keep an open mind the next time you cringe at the tree designs.

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