Title: Pokémon Shield
Developer: GAME FREAK
Genre: RPG, Adventure
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: PEGI 7
Release Date: 15/11/2019
Price: £49.99 – Rapid Reviews was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
Many moons ago, when I was a young boy, I went to visit my family in the Netherlands. My nephew had a Gameboy colour – one of the consoles I skipped for some reason – and in it, he had Pokémon Yellow. I don’t remember much about our yearly holidays to visit family, but that one remains firmly set in my memories. I put so much time into playing that game.
Now, I was only 14 and hadn’t really followed Pokémon too closely until that point, but the game captured me and while I didn’t actually catch ‘em all, it certainly caught me.
Fast forward a few more years than I would care to mention and Pokémon is still a dominant force. I missed a few games while I was not really gaming but with Let’s Go and Let’s Go Eevee last year, my appetite was whet for more.
Even now, I am not the hardcore Pokémon fan who knows all the names and knows exactly which move bests which move, but I am a fan and the call of Pokémon Sword and Shield was always going to be too strong to resist.
So how was my trip to Galar? Did it recapture those hours of my youth or did it leave me feeling disappointed? Keep reading this Rapid Review to find out.
Welcome to Galar
There was a lot of noise created during the build-up to the launch of both titles surrounding the inclusion, or rather the exclusion of certain Pokémon. Not all 807 Pokémon are available to catch in the game. I have no problem with this and echo the sentiments made by our own Pete Beckett (co-host of the Rapid Review Radio Podcast) when he said that Galar is a region and if we are to suspend our belief and agree that Pokémon are real creatures, it makes sense that a certain region will have a sub-set of Pokémon available to catch. There are 400 different Pokémon in the Sword and Shield games, some of which are exclusive to one or the other title. That’s a lot of fun and a lot of catching to be done.
I’ve put 40+ hours into the game and while I completed the story I have not caught enough of the Pokémon to be able to say, I’m done playing. Even now I have new runs I want to do, with different deck configurations.
Galar is a Beautiful Region
I really enjoyed the look and feel of Pokémon Shield. It had depth but retained that cartoonish appeal that just fits the theme of the series. I mean, you are walking around catching monsters with small balls. If that doesn’t suit a real cartoon-based aesthetic, then I don’t know what does.
For those that don’t know, the game is composed of two core areas. One is the more traditional ‘routes’ that you need to follow defeating gyms and gym leaders along the way. The other is the wild area, which is a free-roaming area inhabited by all manner of Pokémon, people and hidden treasures.
Each route had a distinct look and feel to it, from the Galar mines to the artic like ice route. Similarly, the Pokémon you were likely to find there adjusted. My personal favourite was the fairy route. It had a magical and captivating appeal. I was sad it was ultimately such a short route during the initial playthrough. I’m definitely going back to spend more time there, if not just to get some good screenshots.
The Sound of Youth
It might just be me, but I think the Pokémon games could really benefit from having at least some voice acting. I don’t mind reading the subtitles, far from it, but I just think that from an audio perspective the game was a little weak.
I’ve said in previous reviews that music is the one area I often pay the least attention to in a game, especially if I am drawn into the story and the gameplay. The music goes a long way to making that happen, but I rarely process it as an individual component. Something I need to work on for future reviews. Sure, there were some nice tunes but overall, the audio side fell flat for me.
I would have liked some more distinct sound effects during battles and when camping (more on that later) and maybe even a few more imaginative noises and communications from some of the Pokémon. I can’t recall which ones, but there were a few I took camping for a while that all sounded the same, and it sounded like they had just recorded a chair scraping across the floor and ran with it.
Three Core Gameplay Elements that Live in Harmony
The core component of the gameplay in Sword and Shield are the gyms, and your quest to become the national champion. Of course, the current champion happens to be the brother of your best friend, who also just so happens to be your biggest rival in this game.
I enjoyed the routes, and they play out exactly as you would expect. You move along a relatively linear path. You mean trainers, find pokéballs and hidden treasures and battle anybody you see along the way. It’s the tried and tested approach and it works well. The visibility of the Pokémon as they walked around was nice, but there were also unseen encounters too. They were far less frequent but kept that little bit of mystery.
The end of each phase of the game was a gym battle. This was a two-stage affair involving a challenge that needed to be completed and then the battle with the relevant gym leader. I was playing Shield so I had the pleasure of meeting Melony during my playthrough.
The battles were as you would expect in a Pokémon game, but one issue that really got me frustrated was that the attack animations stopped once your starter Pokémon hit its final evolution. I have no idea why, but that loss of animation hurt the battles in my view. While they were not groundbreaking or necessarily overly varied, they did at least make the fights a little more interesting, and not just watching two figures standing still randomly losing XP to moves you couldn’t see. I am sure there was a reason for it, but looking back, I am sure people will realize it was the wrong decision.
Where the Wild Things Are
The secondary elements of the game were exploring the wild area. This is a split location that runs through the centre of the Galar region. Here you have free reign to run or bike your way around the world, encountering wild Pokémon of all types. This included an additional bonus of high-level encounters. These Pokémon were at the upper end or sometimes just beyond your catchable level and offer stiff competition and good XP rewards.
I would say that the majority of my time in the game has been spent wandering this area, collecting Pokémon, chatting with the NPCs and buying rewards from them and doing Dynamax raids. Dynamax raids are a fun addition to the wild area and can reap large rewards, including different candies and other game-enhancing benefits.
I played a lot offline so I haven’t yet really experienced the online wild area where you meet so many more trainers, but that is certainly one of the next things on my to-do list in this game. A colleague and I are planning on meeting up and doing a few raids together over the Christmas break.
Curries, Camping, and Playing Fetch
The third element of the game was one I was excited to see but ultimately left a little disappointed by. Camping and cooking.
To break it down, I enjoyed cooking. It was silly and fun, and I’ve never played a game so obsessed with curry before. I will admit I never paid much attention to what I made. I thought about the berries I used, but once it was cooked I kind of forgot what combinations I had used. Shaking the trees was another part of the game that was fun at first but didn’t really give any true feeling of satisfaction.
The health boost was fun and at times came in handy especially early on. Camping, on the other hand, was a strange and stale experience. I was expecting something in the third person still and more interaction with your Pokémon. The static first-person view was irritating and the brief conversations you had felt stale as they were not tailored in any way to the situation or the Pokémon you were talking to. Yes, the occasional bit of nervousness would erupt when a new face joined the group, but it wasn’t enough to sell me on this part of the game. As a result, I camped as little as often.
I would like to see them keep this element in future instalments, but it would need work to make it a worthwhile part of the game.
Gym Battles on the Big Stage
The gym battles also need a moment for themselves. I really liked the stadium battles and the crazy professional sport feels. The uniforms were fun and being able to choose a number was a small detail that I enjoyed. I went for 619 because if you’re going to be the GOAT you need to rep the GOAT.
Dynamaxing was an interesting experience but at the same time, there was little to differentiate it from a standard battle. They were just giants, and knowing that the AI would only ever Dynamax on the last round of the game made it all a little predictable and, as a result, boring.
Buying, Selling, and Babysitting
As you walk around the region, especially in the wild area, you will come across two different forms of ‘collectables’, and I say that with a heavy twist on the word. You will find items lying around many of which can be used directly, such as potions, lures and different types of pokéballs, but also many other items that have different effects on the game. Items that could be used in cooking or sold at various stores in the different towns you visit. NPCs also regularly appear offering to sell you items in exchange for energy, which you collect from the multiple different raid spots. My advice would be to always buy, or always pay the brothers to dig for you – you will know who I mean when you meet them – because the benefit always far outweighed the cost.
Collecting these items and selling them in town is a great way to supplement your income, the rest of which comes from winning battles. The money earned can be used to buy heals, potions, balls or any number of boosters.
Breeding is another interesting part of the game. As everybody knows, Pokémon are not mammals. They lay eggs. All of them, from Snorlax to Magicarp. By dropping a male and a female Pokémon off at one of the nurseries dotted around the region you could find yourself playing house to your very own unhatched pokébaby. Much like in Let’s Go, you need to walk in order to hatch your egg. The difference here is that the mileage is based on in-game travels. All you need to do is put the egg in your party and after a relatively short period of time, it will hatch revealing your new body.
I only hatched a couple of eggs during my playthrough but want to go and play around with different combinations and just see what happens.
Galar is a Great Place to Visit
Depending on what you think of Pokémon, you might spend more and more time in Galar, determined to explore every inch and to capture and trade your way to a full Pokédex. You might want to do new runs from the ground up assembling different teams to do so, or setting yourself different challenges, such as only using the first deck of Pokémon you catch. There is no end of the different possibilities, and I have no doubt that plenty of people will be doing just that. I certainly haven’t finished exploring and have some ideas of teams I would want to put together.
For others, I can see and understand why the game would be finished by the time they have their hand raised in the final battle. After all, being the grand champion is a high honour, so why not retire while you are on top.
I’ve not said anything about the post-game content battle tower. This is because I have yet to really get involved in it and feel this review should be for the game that most people will play and that ends more or less, with the culmination of the main story.
Pokémon Shield (and Sword) are very fun games. If you are a Pokémon fan you will have a blast. If you are new to the franchise, you will have a blast, and no doubt get swept up into the lore and the history of the world.
It’s not a perfect game, there are some flaws and issues that I think could have been addressed and maybe even should have been caught during quality tests. The lack of attack animations was a big one and the lack of a free camera when in the cities or walking the routes was very irritating. Especially when in the wild area you had full camera control. It made the restrictions elsewhere all the more obvious and all the more annoying.
Still, I played it almost non-stop for 42 hours and still want to go back and catch more. It’s a quality Pokémon game and will be played for years to come.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Pokémon Shield from the Nintendo eShop on the following link, https://www.nintendo.co.uk/Games/Nintendo-Switch/Pokemon-Shield-1522110.html