Pokémon Sword & Shield review for Nintendo Switch

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Game Freak
Medium: Cartridge
Players: 1-4
Online: Yes

Pokémon Sword & Shield marks the first time a mainline Pokémon game has started life on a home console, with previous entries being focused on handheld devices like Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, DS, 3DS, and so on. While it’s not the first Pokémon Switch release this generation, it’s still a noteworthy entry for Pokémon fans and brings with it a few new bells and whistles for the long-running franchise.

I wouldn’t argue that I’m the world’s # 1 Pokémon fan, but I’ve certainly enjoyed the series across the past couple of decades. The last full release I played was Pokémon X/Y on the 3DS, so it had been a little while for me. That said, Pokémon Sword & Shield are easy enough to pick up, even for complete newcomers, so I never felt that there was any sort of significant learning curve to overcome. The core mechanic of catching, leveling up, and evolving Pokémon has mostly remained unchanged, and anyone with a basic understanding of RPG mechanics will feel right at home here. 

Pokémon Sword & Shield takes place in the Galar region of the Pokémon universe, a British style locale with a fairly large overworld to explore, new Pokémon to uncover, and a brand new Wild Area to keep you entertained for hours. It also features giant Pokémon, a first for the series, that become available to you via the new Dynamax feature. Giant Pokémon are basically exactly that, your standard Pokémon swelled up to a massive size, with more HP and harder hits under a three-turn limit. It’s a neat idea that doesn’t end up being all that important overall really, but visually it’s an entertaining feature. However, there’s also Gigantamax Pokémon, which is essentially the same thing but with better stats, a more unique visual look, and they’re generally harder to obtain overall. 

Adopting a mechanic from the recent Pokémon: Let’s Go series, the Pokémon you catch in the wild will now be visible on-screen before you encounter them. So no more random encounters, and it allows you to be a bit more selective when it comes to the fights you engage in. As you advance through the story, moving along the routes, caves, and towns throughout, you’ll catch Pokémon, battle against NPC opponents, and obtain badges by defeating Gym Leaders. All of this is pretty standard fare for Pokémon games, and again, remains pretty much identical to previous releases in the series. 

I will say that I found the story elements to be a little bland this time out. Most of the supporting cast feels pulled from every previous character archetype in the series, and the overall mystery that surrounds Dynamaxing Pokémon and why that’s a thing in the Galar region specifically isn’t all that engaging. It does make the moment to moment story beats a little boring, so if you’re coming to this game for any reason other than Pokémon collecting, it’s something to keep in mind. 

Thankfully, the collecting aspect is still the biggest focus. Yes, I’m aware that the Pokédex is truncated here, but there’s still a hefty number of Pokémon to catch along with their ever-elusive shiny variants. There are also new 4 player raids, leading to more opportunities to obtain rare Gigantamax Pokémon with your friends. And, of course, there’s all the standard trading and competitive multiplayer features you’ve come to expect out of the series. It’s also a pretty good looking Pokémon game overall, I really dug the character animations, Pokémon designs, and the various towns available. Some of the outdoor texture stuff does get a little rough, but arguably Pokémon has never looked this good before. 

Overall, I think Pokémon Sword & Shield is a great entry in the franchise, only brought down by its lackluster storyline. It’s certainly new player friendly, but also has enough going for it that long-time Pokémon fans will likely enjoy the new features too. If you have a Switch, and you’re even remotely interested in the series, I’d suggest checking it out. 

Note: Nintendo provided us with a Pokemon Sword Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: A-