Pokemon Sword and Shield doesn’t seem like it’ll reinvent the formula the franchise has relied on since 1996. During my hands-on time with the game at this year’s E3, I was tasked with defeating a series of trainers and solving a few puzzles in order to challenge Galar’s water gym leader, Nessa. By the time I left the mock stadium where demos were held, I came away feeling like Sword and Shield won’t offer anything to help it stand out from its predecessors. Its two new monsters and Dynamax feature felt superficial at best.
The layout of the level was fairly generic. A character stood by the entrance and advised me to use grass and electric-type Pokemon against the water-based enemies in the room. As I climbed staircases and pushed colorful levers to stop the waterfalls ahead, schoolgirls would challenge me with the usual Goldeen fodder. At some point I was introduced to a new dark and fairy-type Pokemon named Impidimp, but defeated it in a manner of seconds. The highlight of the trip was discovering that a new corgi Pokemon named Yamper was in my party. For those wondering, its butt is indeed shaped like a heart.
As the last group of waterfalls vanished, I ascended to the top of the stage and entered through a doorway. On the other side, I was greeted by raucous applause from aspiring trainers in the stadium stands and made my way to the center of the field. The gym’s leader, Nessa, waved to her fans as she ambled her way toward me. After some forgettable dialogue, we began our climatic battle. Unsurprisingly, Nessa sent out yet another Goldeen for me to demolish. Following that, she activated the Dynamax ability on her second and final Pokemon, a rock and water-type called Drednaw.
Somewhat unfairly, this forced me to use Dynamax on one of my own monsters lest Drednaw mow down my party with its oversized fangs. I opted to use it on Corviknight, a flying and steel-type Pokemon, just because its design is pretty cool. While witnessing two kaiju duke it out is exciting no matter the context, the phenomenon only lasts three turns. Drednaw shrunk before my Corviknight did, allowing me to eliminate it quickly with special Dynamax moves.
Nessa bestowed me with Galar’s water badge and my time with the game came to a close. As I took off my headphones, I wished that the demo had given me some time to explore the region’s Wild Area or mess around with the game’s Pokedex. To me, the appeal of the series lies in its world and creatures. Instead of alluding to large, open areas or exciting monsters to catch, the brief snippet I experienced confirmed that Sword and Shield won’t offer anything new as far as gameplay is concerned, and that the Dynamax feature is little more than a gimmick (does anyone else remember Mega Evolutions?).
Competitive Pokemon players who are looking for exciting new mechanics to dig their teeth into probably won’t find them here. This being said, those that love the franchise’s world-building elements and creative designs may still have something to look forward to. Sword and Shield releases exclusively for Switch on November 15. Until each releases, I’ll continue to speculate what other adorable dogs will be included in the games.