‘Pokémon Sword and Shield’ almost catches ’em all

Noah Black plays “Pokémon Sword” on his Nintendo Switch during his downtime between classes. —Photo by Todd Salisbury

Pokémon has been a video game staple since the 90s, and has since continued to provide players with new regions to explore and new Pokémon to catch.

The most recent installments of the franchise, “Pokémon: Sword” and “Pokémon: Shield,” bring a lot of new ideas to the table but also leaves much to be desired.

The games were released on Nov. 15 for the Nintendo Switch.

Being the first mainline Pokémon game on a home console, the transition was filled with ups and downs.

The most widely recognized change is the removal of Pokémon.

Instead of allowing the transfer of all Pokémon to the latest game, only 400 Pokémon, both old and new, exist in “Sword” and “Shield.”

Those not included will not be able to be transferred over, a feature which had been available since Pokémon’s beginning.

This change was stated before release and sparked outrage across social media, leading to the creation of the #BringBackNationalDex hashtag as fans tweeted in protest.

Also removed were Mega Evolution and Z Moves, features that had been in previous games.

The core Pokémon formula hasn’t changed much. It’s still the same fun, turn-based battles between the pocket monsters.

Running through tall grass and encountering trainers and gyms is all within the well-established form.

“Pokémon: Sword” and “Shield” contain the new wild area, a camping feature including a curry-making minigame, and this generation’s gimmick, Dynamaxing.

The Wild Area is a breath of fresh air from the routes of past Pokémon games.

Instead of being constrained to a linear path, the wild area acts as an open world with changing time, dynamic weather and lots of Pokémon.

Despite its semiopen world, the Wild Area has dreadfully little to do besides walk around, catch Pokémon, look for max raid battles, and shake the occasional berry tree.

Online, the Wild Area can suffer from severe framerate drops and lag. It isn’t visually impressive either, especially given the graphical capabilities of the Nintendo Switch.

On the other hand, the Pokémon Camp is delightfully charming. Players can set up camp nearly anywhere, and other players may also join the fun within the Wild Area.

Although rather simple, it still provides a nice break from catching and battles.

It’s always delightful to see your Pokémon run, wiggle and fly around camp, batting at toys and chasing balls that you provide them.

Even when left to their own devices, Pokémon have some charming interactions, like challenging each other to races or passing along a ball.

The real fun of Pokémon Camp comes with the curry-making minigame.

After choosing a main ingredient and some berries, players must fan the flames, stir the pot and put their heart into the curry dish.

Afterwards, players get to admire and taste test their meal. The quality varies based on the ingredients and skill during the minigames.

The main staple of any Pokémon game, however, is the new gimmick it provides that alters the course of battle. In “Pokémon: Sword” and “Shield,” this spot is filled by Dynamax Pokémon.

In certain battles, players are prompted with an extra ability that allows their Pokémon to grow massive, making them temporarily much stronger in battle.

Some Pokémon even get a special form of Dynamaxing, called Gigantimaxing, that gives them a new form and an extra powerful attack.

Players can fight these massive Pokémon as a team in the wild area, allowing for capture and a large cache of helpful items.

Although they appear novel at first, Dynamax battles quickly reveal their overly simple nature. Pokémon trade out their specialized moves for basic but massive scale attacks.

The novelty wears off quickly when it is realized that only a handful of said moves exist and fewer are unique.

Dynamax battles, overall, slow down the pace of gameplay and distract from the more engaging normal battles, despite the epic battle feel it is meant to instill.

In fact, Dynamaxing describes “Pokémon: Sword” and “Shield” in itself quite well.

The games provide a lot of one-time novelty, but fall shallow in detail.