Pokémon: Sword & Shield (2019)

A storybook feel achieved through plush tracking visuals, rich England-themed terrain, Dynamax kaijuism, perfect gym redesign, & best starters + new PKMN since G/S/C, but mixed textures, box legendaries, & no National Dex: an inexcusable omission. 8/10.

Plot Synopsis: Pokémon progresses into its eighth generation and the Galar U.K.-Based Region with Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield on Nintendo Switch. Ishihara previously stated that Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee were intended to be played as home console games, with Sword & Shield as handheld games like previous main series installments.

*Possible spoilers ahead*

Review

Pokémon x Nintendo Switch: The First New Generation On Home Console Is Here

Photo Courtesy Of: The Pokémon Company

Pokémon on the big screen. Fans of Pocket Monsters have been dreaming of the day since we were children back in ’90’s red and blue gameboy-riddled backpack/lunchbox glory. We were given a (phenomenal) taste to tie over in Let’s GO, going back to Kanto roots in an innovative vision of what the future of the series could be, but all eyes were on the release of the first new generation on a home console as powerful in processing as the Nintendo Switch. As new features began to leak via data miners & trailers, hype built to monumental levels from Gigantamax, the new starters, and Galarian forms teased. Then, a trainwreck announcement set the fanbase ablaze with fiery condemnation – the removal of National Dex, and thus a bottleneck for many beloved creatures of generations past unable to join you on this new adventure. I and millions of others felt we got stabbed in the back by our closest friend – that our lifetime of support from the earliest days of the franchise was being told it didn’t matter in a hypocritical betray of the series’ motto and pander to young casual-fans who must not know what a Blastoise or Mewtwo is to be okay with them not being in the game. A coalition of boycotts formed, launch events sabotaged, and all the while: a deafening silence from Game Freak and The Pokémon Company on this bizarre, inexplicable omission and Day-1 fan-shunning. I eventually got to pull the press card and get a play-through – and once I did, things started to change. While the controversy of NatDex still looms large over the game’s head like a Gigantamax cloud holding it back from true greatness, Sw/Sh might be the best Pokémon games since Diamond/Pearl, by its storybook feel achieved through plush tracking visuals, rich English-themed terrain, Dynamax kaijuism, perfect gym redesign, & the best starters and new Pokémon since Gold/Silver/Crystal.

The Best Starters This Millennium

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The Starters. Sw/Sh’s starters are the best starting trio since G/S/C. What?! 20 years? 6 Generations? The best this millennium? Yes. This is the first time I can remember since my childhood actually taking hours to decide and having trouble picking a starter – they’re all SO good. You’ve got the Grass Monkey Grookey, an indescribably adorable lime-hued simian wielding a stick he uses to tap out xylophonic beats enough to make your heart melt, evolving into an absolutely badass-Tribal warrior & Donkey Kong-reminiscent Rillaboom – the first time I think I’ve *EVER* chosen the grass starter on the first play through: alone a massive achievement finally giving the nature type it’s due. Following, you’ve got Bugs Bunny x Roger Rabbit with a fiery runner’s flair Scorbunny, evolving into the arrogant futboler with A Clockwork Orange twinges and U.K. design touches Cinderace it was damn hard to choose against (and instantly warranted a second run-through just to use him as a starter). Finally, you’ve got the shy, introverted blue Water Chameleon Sobble – evolving into a fantastic hipster-looking Drizzile before going a bit wonky with its 007-ic (only questionable final evolution but the shiny version ~saves it) Inteleon. Withstanding, they’re easily the best & most magically-designed starters Pokémon has seen in a long, long time – also given a life-bursting innovative cutscene of them all playing side-by-side and showing off their abilities before you have that Biblical life-changing choice to start your adventure – and what a gloriously-difficult choice it is again.

Corviknight, Orbeetle, Dragapult, Sizzlipede, Hatenna, Impidimp, Boltund, Falinks, Grimmsnarl, Applin, Toxricity, Copperajah, Wooloo… – The Best New PKMN Since G/S/C

Photo Courtesy Of: The Pokémon Company

The magic of Pokémon design is back – and it doesn’t stop at the starters. The new Pokémon are also the best the series has seen since Gold/Silver/Crystal in 1999. It’s no secret that I have not been a fan of the new Pokémon designs since Gen IV. The indescribably lazy designs riddled through Gens 5-6 were enough to make me want to throw up at times (and keep Repels firmly locked and loaded): from Throh/Sawk to Minccino to Unfezant to Alomomola to Durant to Cryogonal to (the infamous) Salazzle to Aromatisse. But here, the magic of TPC-design, inspiration, and life-vibrancy is BACK – with new designs so good, I’ve since had to update my All-Time Pokémon ranking.. several times. You’ve got the Invader Zim-ic evil genius Orbeetle with a humorous meta-evolution arc from innocent nerd Blipbug to sunlight-deprived shut-in Doppler to boot. You’ve got the unspeakably-badass black metal-raven Corviknight feeling straight out the annals of an Edgar Allen Poe poem and good enough to be a pseudo-legendary. You’ve got the Nintendo 64, Super Mario-feeling fire bug combo Sizzlipede and Centiskorch, super-villainous octopus Grapploct, Wonderland-ready Sinistea and Impidimp evolving into a Scooby Doo-caper worthy Grimmsnarl, Buzz Lightyear x Cryptodira Chewtle, unspeakably-adorable (understandably going viral) rolling sheep Wooloo, tar monster Coalossal, army fighting formation Falinks, and Dr. Seuss x Mickey Mouse from Fantasia’s magician-hatted Hatenna for easily the best & most vibrant new slate of Pokémon in decades and multiple entries in CLC’s new Top 25 All-Time Favorite Pokémon Ranking.

A Fan-Favorite Trend From S/M Continued: Redesigned Reboots Of Classics In (Brilliant) Social-Commentative Regional Forms

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A fan-favorite trend from Sun/Moon makes its way into the mix here as well, strengthening the already-mythic canvas of creature design before us: Galarian Forms. The chance to give a new flavor or redeem forgotten side-Pokémon from generations past was a brilliant, series-shaking innovation when it was introduced back in Alola several years ago – from a Western Bandit-version of Rattata to Night-Jewel Thief Meowth to Palm Tree Exeggutor to Fairy Tale Princess Ninetales to the showstopper and one of my Top 5 favorite Pokémon of All-Time: Pancake-Surfer Bro Alolan Raichu iall playing off the game’s Hawaiian island motif spectacularly. That same fervor is expanded to a variety of new critters here, redeeming most of them with as much striking flair as Raichu, the forgotten evolved form of the series’ mascot, was. Amongst the best – and most clever in wry social commentary based on its English region – are Galarian Weezing given an English gentleman’s factory motif down to the monocle and Doug Dimmodome-reminiscent tophat, Ponyta given a fairy tale unicorn look, Mr. M(R)ime given a polish tap-dancer ice-feel & fitting evolution completing a life-story arc, ghost painting Runerigus giving another form of haunted house tricks after the Pharoah’s sarcofagus Cofagrigus, and bridge-troll/viking Perrserker as a phenomenal reinvention of Team Rocket’s mascot yet again after S/M. The showstopper, however, is the creature-redemptive Galarian forms of Zigzagoon & Linoone given a jaw-dropping punk/metal Sex Pistols x KISS look paying homage to the place those mythic bands & music trends became lifestyles – all coalescing into a badass biker gang headbanging Obstagoon: a staple of any in-game team and Sw/Sh’s coup-de-maître regional form.

Kaiju x Pokemon: Dynamax – The Best New Feature Addition Since Mega-Evolution

Photo Courtesy Of: The Pokémon Company

I’ll pitch you an idea: Pokémon battling it out like Ghidorah vs. Mothra, Scylla vs. The MUTO’s, Godzilla vs. Kong on the big screen. That was apparently a sales pitch happening at the multi-billion $ offices of The Pokémon Company years ago – and proto-teased way back in the days of the ’90’s anime series wherein (if you’ll remember) there was an episode where giant shadow pokemon like Alakazam and Gengar battle it out on a remote island as Ash, Misty, Brock, and Pikachu try to solve the mystery. They’ve decided to incorporate it into the game – and the results could not be more glorious. Doubling down on the MONSTER side of Pocket Monsters, this epic showdowns of skyscraper-sized gods on our screens in red-hued apocalyptica madness is one of the most jaw-dropping additions to the game in history – and the best new feature addition to the series since Mega-Evolution.. perhaps EVER. Dynamax alone is unconscionably epic, portraying the Japanese staple of Kaiju in IMAX-worthy visual scale – Gigantamax, however, is the ultimate evolution of a Pokémon: not only growing exponentially in size, but taking on a brand new planetary form that feels like (Mega) Mega-Evolutions and will literally shake your speakers and controllers in power. Pikachu’s ’90’s-Throwback Fat-Pika form, Butterfree’s Splendiferous Winged Mothra-like Form, Gengar’s Funhouse-Gone-Haunted Form, and Snorlax’s Planetary-Bellied are amongst the best in what’s easily my favorite addition to the game of All-Time – that’s equally important in the meta-game and how it changes battle dynamics having to save revives and counter during that three-move arc and made even better by the fact that they’re given fantastic special moves and only attainable by another new Pokémon GO-centric feature making their way into the main series I’ll address later: Raid Battles.

The English-Themed Terrain

From The Towering Medieval City Of Hammerlocke To Wonderland-ic Fairy Tale Forest Glimwood Tangle To Fogset Slumbering Weald: One Of The Best Settings Ever In-Series

Photo Courtesy Of: The Pokémon Company

The setting of Sword/Shield is phenomenal. Taking cues from England – both modern and medieval – Galar is a show-stopping European backdrop as classy and storied as its real-world counterpart. There are several locations in Galar that are amongst the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous in the entire *HISTORY* of Pokémon. The Alice-In-Wonderland drug-trippy neon-hued fairy-riddled forest of the Grimwood Tangle is now in my Top 3 Greatest Pokémon Locations Of All-Time. The Towering Medieval City of Hammerlocke (complete with a moat and dragon gym leader for full effect) is also a Top 10 entry, aided by a stunning variety of diverse world-building. From the fogset mossy firefly-lit Slumbering Weald to red-brick industrial town Motosoke with lifts taking you between the upper and lower districts to the fields of golden barley & Stonehedge homages on Rt. 4 to Grand Canyon-esque desert valleys to rainbow-ored Galar Mine to another classically-Arctic Victory Road to the opening english Tudor & countryside you start your adventure in, the world-building in this free-roam is about as good as can possibly be imagined in this boundary-less imagination world. These settings are brought to life by the spectacular signature visuals of the Switch – and smart technical additions as well.

A Storybook Feel Achieved Through Plush (But Muted) Tracking Visuals & Free-Roam Stylism

Photo Courtesy Of: The Pokémon Company

Sw/Sh is brings its fantastic, All-Time great location settings aforementioned from Motosoke to Hammerlocke to the Glimwood tangle to life in serviceable fashion by way of the milky, vibrancy-fluid visuals calling-card of the Nintendo Switch – best console on the market visually as evidenced by masterpieces Super Mario (Odyssey) and Legend of Zelda (Breath Of The Wild). The game has a storybook motif and feel from the first moment you step outside in the Galar region – aided by a peculiar, idiosyncratic, but downright stunning decision to use smart tracking visuals to pad the free-roam adventure such that you feel like you’re literally walking through a (dreamlike) impressionist or post-impressionistic landscape painting by Monet and Van Gogh. This is equally paralleled by the battle camerawork utilizing high-tech Rotom drone and dynamic cuts from all directions to deliver the most epic, fast-cut, vivacious camerawork in battles (will discuss later) for the ~ultimate battle and gym ocular experience. The textures are pretty shoddy in many regions of the map, especially the wild areas, and the colors are a bit muted – both attributable to a rushed game that didn’t fully code and put icing on its visual cake and a bit of a shame considering the phenomenal design and set pieces intangibles it was given.

Team Yell – An Infusion Of Comedic Relief In Villain Team & Toxic Fandom Analysis

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Team Rocket. Team Magma/Aqua. Team Galactic. Team Plasma. Team Flare. Team Skull. Villain teams have been an iconic part of the game back since ’96 (insert ‘Meowth, That’s Right’). However, they’ve been getting a bit tiresome of late as the generations roll on – a factory villain-of-the-week flavor in need of some zest and revitalization. Team Skull was a breath of fresh air, with a fake-rapper motif that provided some humour and a great boss leader in Guzma amongst the Hawaii thrills – although it didn’t exactly have much to do with its region motif. In comes their follow-up: Team Yell, and (despite a ~lazy name) they’re a fantastic dose of comic relief and even surprises – with a relevant analysis of Toxic Fandom I doubt was a coincidence that followed the NatDex outrage. Their design is absolutely BRILLIANT, playing off the punk rock Brit look melding region lore and even headbanging to a perfect metal guitar solo-shredding soundtrack and perfect accompanying Pokémon like Galarian Zigzagoon – plus bringing Vuvuzelas (the go-to instrument of futbol games) and cheering wildly for their side as is customary in European soccer games as I’ve witnessed firsthand before. They’re given menial tasks like watching over a Silicobra sleeping and watching a Drednaw slowly progress across a Route – while strangely getting so hyped and goofily self-important, it’s a *pleasure* to laugh at them. Also funny are the lines and gags they get themselves into like forgetting their uniform and running late to a battle in their undergarments, or saying quips like ‘I DON’T KNOW WHY I’M YELLIN!’ all convalescing into a smart meta-relevant idea of exploring toxic fandom. We care so much about these games and franchises and ideas and get so passionate about their causes and treatment, we sometimes forget basic decorum or etiquette and behave more like villains than innocent fans – especially this game, while it’s perfectly acceptable to peacefully protest the inarguably-wrong exclusion of National Dex for what feels like lazy or capitalistic reasons, people doing things threatening events & sabotage is unacceptable and the people in most need of TY’s arc.

The Gym Redesign

My Dream Pokémon Experience

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The gym redesign in Sw/Sh is the perfect experience of that Biblical task given to all trainers from their first adventure: collecting badges. First and foremost, it is a life-saver that TPC went back to gyms after the problematic, shaky inclusion of a bizarre Island Challenge from Sun/Moom that turned off life-fans as a massive problem with the game. Thank you for making Pokémon feel like Pokémon again and going back to series canon. Gyms and badges are central to the Pokémon experience – and have been that way since Gen 1 so it’s a relief GF listened to fans and brought back such a beloved core feature here, even innovating it to make it better! Gone is the plowing through weak warm-up challengers before getting to the leader: the only one you wanted to see – here, you’re given spectacular mini-games like herding rolling Wooloo’s, playing pinball, and puzzles of waterfalls that are just as much fun as getting through trainers to face that gym (also made as epic as humanly possible by the English-authentic soccer pitch stadium setting down to futbol crowd control chants and fans, Dynamax kaijuism of mega-monsters battling it out, TV-ready visuals, and stronger Pokémon in the gyms.) The definitive and most epic-feeling Gym experience in the series to-date.

The Soundtrack

Photo Courtesy Of: The Pokémon Company

The orchestral accompaniment in this Galar adventure is also sensational – nostalgic soft soothing flute and woodwind ballads in the start of the hometown story synergize into zesty, energy-dripping anime battlepunk themes in almost a Rock-meets-Disco Funk motif for the battle sequences. These make way to every genre of music imaginable: from cello-juxtaposing Slow Jams to Dubstep to Hip-Hop hi-hat rolls to synthy cascadesto Future Bass to warm pad hits to shredding Heavy Metal guitar solos to rolling xylophone Marimba trills to gnarly harsh buzzsaw synths to Moombahton to crowd control chants in the stadium matches of Gym Battles. Is that enough diversity for you? The display of this full gamut of styles and soundscapes makes for one of the most surprisingly-modern and most complete soundtracks of any Pokémon game you have to give immense credit and praise to for the production team – who clearly did their homework and took full advantage of electronic production’s capabilities and doors opened by softwares like FL Studio and Garageband for Sw/Sh’s scoring.

The Story, Finale Revelation, & A (Crucial) Timely Message On Climate Change

Photo Courtesy Of: The Pokémon Company

The story of Sword/Shield is.. pretty good. The mystery arc begins perhaps the earliest of any series adventure with a first encounter of the legendary before you’ve even had your first gym battle, suckering you into the arc immediately: Who is this legendary Pokémon? What is the Slumbering Weald? Why couldn’t any of your attacks hit it? Etc. The ancient story is progressively unveiled through smart Easter Eggs and planning as well as characterization of personality-bursting new characters like crazy old pink-obsessed lady Opal to smug rich kid Bede to our plucky rival & brotherly-loving Hop (given immaculate character development from fiery self-assured kid to doubtful in the dumps back to self-confident by game’s end) to fiery lionistic prideful Champion Leon (also given nice diversity in different nationalities and cultures beginning to populate the landscape without feeling forced), etc. As the twisty tale unfolds, we aren’t sure if the two legendary heroes that saved the Galar region from The Darkest Day of Dynamax mayhem were real people or Pokémon. The plot twist and revelation of the end of who the real villain is the entire time pulling the strings behind the scenes in classically-Giovanni subversive fashion is a pretty nice surprise and pulled off change-up. Although I wish the big bad was a bit more villainous in the end’s persona (as well as the whole Darkest Day arc explained far more and why people were mistaken for Zacian and Zamazenta in the first place?), their motivations are vitally-important with sweeping implications for our real world setting.

A Resource-Depleted, Desolate Future Ecosystem: Corsola Vs. Galarian Corsola

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The planet is being drained of resources by humans greedy and arrogant enough to even deny the problem’s existence or themselves of any blame/responsibility, (limited) lifeforms dying at rates never-before-seen, climate change decimating our ecosystems with the progressively-hottest years ever recorded in human history, natural disasters increasing in frequency by rising sea levels and temperatures etc. How are we going to support 7,700,000,000+ people and mouths to feed for years, decades, centuries, or even millennia to pass? Passing the buck or writing off the apocalyptia-level doom as ‘not our problem’ and ‘something future generations will fix’ is a rabbit-hole that I’m not sure we want to reach the bottom of likely being irreparable destruction too late to do anything about. TPC cleverly tackles this socially-conscious parable of our modern times through a poké-lens that is sure to get people thinking and viewing the problem in a whole new light – and Sw/Sh’s villain motivations are the best kind: tangible, if even understandable or acceptable in concept (even if they do go about it the wrong way). The game even works in some heartbreaking Easter Eggs whose breathtakingly-grim points linger long on the palate after the game’s credits roll – like Galarian Corsola being a ghost version of the vibrant life-bursting coral Pokémon from G/S/C to mimic the real-life obliteration of our world’s coral reefs (and billions of lifeforms that make them their home).

The (Other) New Features

The Good, The Bad, & The Weird

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There are many new features – some good, some bad, some downright weird or inexplicable – to be found amongst your adventure in the Galar region. As referenced above in how you find and catch Dynamax/Gigantamax Pokémon: the biggest is Max Raid Battles found in Safari Zone-like Wild Areas. Taking cues yet again from the game that changed the world and $30 Billion-worth massive success of Pokémon GO, incorporating Raid Battles into the mix was a smart addition that combines a popular feature from the smartphone game into series canon – even down to getting rewards and raid items like TM’s, Rare Candies, and berries. We’re also given some high-tech new additions like a Rotom Phone and bike able to go from land to water travel seamlessly and Uber-like lightning-fast Corviknight Flying Taxis, alternating between tiptoeing and running seamlessly to avoid wild Pokémon altogether (no more repels needed!). Options like skipping condescendion-riddled Pokémon catching and battling explanations for veterans, battle-specific added commentary from challengers to make them feel more tailored/realistic, non-immediate typing advantages for new Pokémon bringing back an element of challenge to new encounters, Pokémon camps playing up even further the nature adventure theme of the series while also adding mini-games like cooking and fetching, and Move Tutors in EVERY POKÉMON CENTER also providing their services for free (no more fishing for Heart Scales!) are all welcome and brilliant. Finally, the online element – renamed Victory Station – is sensational, randomizing different gym backdrops to give it a livelier feel also bolstered by the use of League Cards and the ability to peek at your opponents Pokémon at the selection screen to at least remove some of the unpredictability. Fans everywhere are still wishing for 6v6 online battles we’ve waited generations for, but these are certainly great steps in the right direction of PVP.

600+ Pokémon Cut, 144 Moves Missing, & Lifetime Favorites Banned From The Adventure

Dexit: A ~Game-Breaking Omission Against The Very Core Of Pokémon Foundationally

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The storm hanging over the game as massive as the red clouds above Dynamaxed Pokémon’s heads: the Removal of National Dex. A Pokémon game missing over half – yes, that’s right: HALF – its roster of beloved creatures people have formed bonds with for decades is like being told you can only have half your sandwich at Subway for full price; like paying a Netflix subscription without access to House Of Cards or Stranger Things; like watching ESPN only cover hockey and lacrosse. I was absolutely devastated & outraged at the announcement: it felt like I was stabbed in the back by a close childhood friend, without even a simulacrum of apologetics or remorse from them either. Many of the most beloved Pokémon of *All-Time* are unconscionably banned from the game, exiled into the stranded island of dust-collecting 3DS’s for the foreseeable future (perhaps forever from what TPC’s announcement sounded like): Blastoise, Venusaur, Pidgeot, Alakazam, Dragonite, Mewtwo, The Legendary Dogs, Typhlosion, Lugia, Ho-Oh, Celebi, Rayquaza, Luxray, Garchomp, Darkrai, Giratina, Lunala, Greninja, & hundreds more. But hey, who needs such foundationally-vital Pokémon as these when you have Grubbin, Seedot, Minccio, Basculin, Scraggy, Barbroach, Salazzle, Wailmer, & Wooper to keep you company!.. 400 is not even that outrageous a number on paper to include if – as their excuse asserted – that’s all they could really fit in the game reworking the models from scratch, but why they wasted so many spots of that 400 on some of the worst Pokémon ever created is beyond exposition and dramatically-worse. Who chose this list of inclusions?

No Blastoise, Venusaur, Mewtwo, Dragonite, Pidgeot, Garchomp, Celebi, Luxray, Rayquaza,…

But Hey, At Least You Have Grubbin, Seedot, Salazzle, & Wooper To Keep You Company!

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What’s more is that the removal of NatDex – hilariously nicknamed Dexit on Reddit playing off the U.K.-theme & politically-disastrous Brexit in real life – goes against the very core foundational tenets of Pokémon. The series motto since 1996 has been ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em ALL‘ – not ‘Some Of ‘Em’ or ‘The Few Corporate Committees Deemed Appropriate’. Pokémon has always been about forming deep connections with your creatural partners across adventures traversing different regions in different parts of the globe over decades. It’s no wonder that a massive social media survey of over 500,000 Pokéfans was recently conducted asking a simple question: ‘What is your favorite Pokémon?’ returned results of almost every Pokémon of All-Time (yes, hundreds and hundreds of them.. all except 4 I believe) getting at least one vote as someone’s favorite of All-Time. That is a testament not only to the design and power of the bonds we form with our pocket monster companions – but the longevity and consistent quality of the series it’s a devastation to 600+ fanbases that their favorite has been terminated perhaps from all upcoming games with no future in sight. While Dexit might not be a problem on your first run-through I (and the vast majority of trainers, I’ll bet) like to only use new Pokémon on to get the full new-Gen experience, it absolutely ruins the post-game, competitive play, and replay value for decades to follow (I still go back & play G/S/C and R/B/E regularly, even ~20 years later) as the first-ever game in series to go against the foundation of Pokémon as a concept.

The Biggest Media Franchise Of All-Time At $100B+ Had No Excuse To Not Push Release Or Add A Later Software Patch To Fix This

We Try To Solve This Bizarre Mystery

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The Dexit paradigm is not only a massive, heretic, hypocritical, & nearly game-breaking flaw – it’s also absolutely bizarre & a twistier mystery than the one Ryan Reynolds took on in theaters as Det. Pikachu a few months ago. The Pokémon Company & Game Freak’s official statement claimed its reasons for Dexit were that it 1) ‘might distract from the new Pokémon’ and 2) ‘required too much work and resources to fit in’ – these were, expectedly & quite laughably, ripped to shreds by the fandom community. 1) I (as well as literally every other Pokémon player I know and have ever met) only use a team of entirely-new Pokémon for our first run-through of a new region. We also catch every new-Gen Pokémon to fill in the regional Dex before simply porting over our life-bonded series favorites for post-game and competitive/online play and to enjoy our surgically-constructed favorite teams in a brand new region, graphics, and adventure. Even if a few people like to just – for some reason – use a team of all-charizards or Gen 1 ‘mons for every new Pokémon adventure that comes (I’d seriously want to meet this person to learn the psychological damage behind such a masochistic obedience & aversion to accepting the slightest change), what is the problem with that? They literally have to face off against every same challenger and gym leader to beat the same game we are, encounter the same wild Pokémon, face the same legendaries, etc. – there is no way for them not to see the new Pokémon and interact with them the same way everyone else is. Appreciation may be in the eye of the beholder, but the distraction ideology makes no sense being unable to avoid the new mons and story in every direction. 2) This one’s a doozy – and absolute dogsh*t so massive it must have come from Zacian or Zamazenta! Pokémon is the biggest franchise in the WORLD – to the tune of $100,000,000,000+ and counting over two decades with no conceivable end in sight.

‘Not Enough Time/Resources’ For A Core Series Feature, But Enough For Thousands Of Clothes, Bags, & Eye Color Combinations No One Needs

Photo Courtesy Of: The Pokémon Company

The inimitable gall to try to claim they didn’t have the time or resources to add in (or simply port over old models already made-up which would’ve even sufficed; also, they sure had enough time to add in thousands of clothes and eye color (yes, eye color) combinations.. hmm) the rest of the National Dex, or at the very least series-favorites, is breathtakingly-contemptuous. If it was more time they needed, push the game back a few months – the fandom is not going anywhere after having been diehards for years or even decades. If it was about money, they need to do some systemic-retconning and business restructuring to figure out how exactly a few million can’t be found in $100 Billion empire. Finally, with modern technology and the software updates and patches available on powerful consoles like the Switch, it would be breathtakingly simple (+ afford those in charge months of more time) to add in NatDex as a software patch later on – you could even sell it at a substantial upcharge for even MORE money than the game’s purchase price and I’m sure fans (myself included) would still buy it by how much we love this franchise and series. We’ve recently started noticing a trend in Pokémon GO & hinted at in Let’s Go growing more apparent by the release – carefully-placed stop-gaps and feature reductions/omissions lifelong fans notice & (rightfully) call out, but young or casual newcomers to the series either don’t know better or write it off as ‘just a part of the game.’ This is a dangerous and slippery-slope it seems TPC & GameFreak seem to be progressively shunning old-timers while going after a target demographic of naïve youngsters who will beg mommy and daddy for the newest game and decades of memorabilia and merchandise to come – while being uninitiated or ignorant enough to let massive omissions like NatDex slide. It seems the franchise is starting to forget or care about who made it the titan it is today – who supported it back when people barely knew what a Pikachu or Charmander was, and allowed it to grow into the 12-digit franchise it is today.

The Legendaries

From Solgaleo & Lunala To.. This?

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Next, Zacian & Zamazenta. The Pokémon Company has had as sensational batting average with legendaries since the worst-ever entries back in literal-monotone generic dragons from BW/BW2. Despite loads of other problems with their respective Gens, X/Y’s Xerneas, Yveltal, & Zygarde and Sun/Moon’s Solgaleo, Lunala, & (Ultra) Necrozma are all staples in the Top 10 Legendaries Ever list – Solgaleo, Xerneas, & Lunala all in CLC’s Top 25 Pokémon Of All-Time Ranking. So how can box legendary design go from such illustrious, game-changing heights that pretty much alone powered their Gens through laundry lists of problems into passability – to being the (sole) bane outside of NatDex plaguing Sw/Sh? It’s absolutely perplexing. When powered up with full regalia and (almost too-literal) sword-and-shield based armor, Zacian and Zamazenta are almost passable – but without them, they are some of the ugliest, most disappointing legendaries in series history. Designed after dogs, they come off as poor ripoffs or parodies of the legendary dog trio back from the far-superior G/S/C, but this time with design quirks that make them look sick or normal – and anything but legendary. Zacian looks like a Ganondorf dog with hooves (yes, hooves – for some reason..) with psychologically-abusive owners braiding its (somehow)-Strawberry Blonde hair into pigtails, carrying a sword like it’s a meaningless stick ready for fetch rather than taking on Mewtwo or Darkrai. Zamazenta looks like an equally-shameless pander to Entei fans or a D-rate knockoff rehashing Shiny Solgaleo’s design arcs but worse in every conceivable aspect – sporting a pony tail (yes, pony tail) while also wearing a freaking dog cone-ish shield like it can’t help but lick at a wound, bite at fleas, or just underwent some surgical procedure: the last possible thing you want to think of when you’re fighting that badass legendary creature after hundreds of hours of work put into beating the game. I have no problem naming them the 2nd worst pair of legendaries after Zekrom and Reshiram – absolutely awful and an inexplicably-bad (lazy) design of your star box-front creature the game is modeled after.

Misc. Flaws – Retconning The Let’s GO Catching System, TR’s, Final Evolutions, Camping, Etc.

Photo Courtesy Of: The Pokémon Company

Miscellaneous flaws in the game somewhat hinder the experience too – albeit not nearly to the extent of its box legendary designs and NatDex omission. I hate the regression back to “TR’s” or breakable TM’s after one use (basically the old system of using TM’s I cannot fathom why they went back on) so that you have to put in dozens of more hours playing or spending money for overpriced Watt-versions if you want to teach even more than one of your Pokémon a standard move like Psychic or Surf in a headache-inducing capitalistic grab – hey, maybe Sw/Sh did learn something from Pokémon GO! Also, I don’t like how they retconned the pokéball throwing interactability from Let’s GO either – wherein you could literally flick your controller at the Pokémon to make catching feel 3D and lifelike, again have no idea why they would regress into a 2D blah motion that makes catching less fun and even borderline burdensome. While I do appreciate them sticking with the above-grass wild Pokémon from Let’s GO giving them life and agency while also making it easier to scope out the ones you want and avoid the ones you don’t, having some of them be surprise ones below grass is another regression that makes it annoying and time-consuming in that many sought-after monsters are in this group and thus you have to encounter 10+ ones you don’t to find that one you do sometimes. Kaiju Dynamax Evolutions over-complicate the canvas with Mega-Evolutions it’s not clear how they’ll resolve in the future – and Mega Evolutions better come back having redeemed or made better every single Pokémon they were designed for, from Beedrill to Shiny Gengar to even legendary Day-1’s like Charizard/Mewtwo X/Y.

The Tournament, Inteleon, & Wild Area Diversity

Photo Courtesy Of: The Pokémon Company

The finale is also problematic in tournament stylism – although a fine idea (Elite Four always was and always will be the most epic final test though), it overstays its welcome with *way* too many battles – mostly of rehashed gym leaders you’ve already beaten or [in Raihan’s case}: just finished beating minutes ago for a cheap extension that takes you out of the finale. Some of the plot points in the story are simply ridiculous or hole-riddled, like Sonia going from clueless intern/assistant to full-blown professor in a matter of days without any sort of education or background beyond being the granddaughter of the real Professor – only missing about 10+ years of postgrad education there, TPC – and the not fully expositioned switch-up of people for Pokémon in the ancient tapestries and statues of Galar’s heroes. There are also no companion Pokémon either – yet again for some bizarre reason after a glorious return in Let’s GO, few cutscenes which could’ve also been more cinematic given the extra juice and boost in processing power, Inteleon an awful final starter evolution, and a Wild Area that’s fantastic in concept but not diverse enough basically being the same throughout with maybe a few droplets of rain or snow as the only thing differentiating polar opposite ends of the map (The Isle Of Armor DLC does improve on this with an English Isle motif, but still needs more work.) Finally, the post-game is weak and where the omission of NatDex and being able to use your All-Time favorites alongside your new creature additions becomes a gaping hole of Grand Canyon-sized vexations – how could they do this?

A ~Game-Saving DLC: Crown Tundra & Isle Of Armor

Photo Courtesy Of: The Pokémon Company

**Update: November 2020** /// The Pokémon Company recently announced a DLC-Expansion Pass to a new island in the game filled with new legendaries, new storylines, and more reimagined Pokémon – and it peaked our interest. Not only does the pass expand the mythology in new and exciting ways, it fixes almost every problem in Sword/Shield: a ~game-saving DLC. Let’s start with the big one [almost 95% of our problem with SS in the first place]: NAT. DEX IS ~BACK!!!! Okay, well, not completely: 120 Pokémon return with the pass.. but almost every one of the major crowd-favorites is back from legendaries to starters to 9/10 of our personal Top 10 PKMN here at CLC. It’s annoying that they were basically locked behind a pay-wall, but hopefully this is a sign that GameFreak and TPC has listened to the fans and decided to fix the game by bringing back our lifelong creature-friends the franchise told us to build bonds with. Beyond that, the DLC also fixes the box legendary problem: the new legendaries are fantastic! From the adorable kung-fu charm of Kubfu & badass Bruce Lee-inspired Urshifu breathing pure Mixed Martial Arts Asian reverence to the humanoid majestic grass/psychic type Calyrex riding a badass ghost/ice-steed Spectrier for a perplexing type-fusion to new Regi’s, the DLC legendaries are [somehow!] better than the regular game legendaries. And that’s not even including the Galarian Bird-Trio: a collection of three of the best legendaries in years that saves the comparatively-basic/boring bird-trio of R/B/Y – a definitive showcase that Pokémon is at the top of its game [when it wants to & isn’t lazy] at creating new iconic creatures. The DLC pass is so good, it eviscerates the third-version of generations-past – *easily* worth the $30 [& more]!

Conclusion

The Best New Pokémon Since G/S/C, Setting Since R/S/E, New Features Since S/M, & Adventure Since D/P.. But An Incomplete Game

Photo Courtesy Of: The Pokémon Company

Overall, Sword & Shield are phenomenal Pokémon games – they might’ve even been up there amongst the best like Gold/Silver/Crystal, Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald, & Red/Blue/Yellow – if it wasn’t for that one *massive*, game-shaking flaw: No NatDex. A storybook feel achieved through plush tracking visuals, rich English-themed terrain, Dynamax kaijuism, perfect gym redesign, & best starters + new PKMN thhis millennium, Sw/Sh boasts the best new Pokémon since G/S/C, setting since R/S/E, new features since S/M, & adventure since D/P.. but something’s missing. Mixed box legendaries, shoddy textures in parts, & the inexplicable, mysterious, laziness-conceivable exclusion of National Dex: a feature core to the foundations of the Pokémon experience that’s always been about ‘catching ’em all’ & forming bonds over decades make Sw/Sh feel like an incomplete game – that was so close to amazing, but sadly falls just short of the finish line. The magic of OG Pokémon is back with the most concrete signs of bonafide life in eons thanks to its stunning new creature designs, world-building, and a magnificent DLC that does fix most of the above problems, but it’s sadly restrained from shining all the way through.

Official CLC Score: 8/10