When the Nintendo Switch was first revealed as a home console-handheld hybrid device, it was inevitable that Pokemon would make the jump from the 3DS to the Nintendo Switch. Many expected this game to release in 2018, but instead we got spin-off titles while the core titles were given extra time. Speculation was rampant for the past year as to what a core title on Switch could look like, what it would play like. After all, the Switch has a lot more power than the 3DS did so the team at Game Freak could do a lot more with it. Now, after a long wait, we finally have our answer, or at least part of the answer.
Two days ago, Game Freak and the Pokemon Company unveiled the Generation 8 Pokemon titles Sword & Shield, which are set in the Galar region and quite obviously based on the United Kingdom. Coming from someone whose been playing Pokemon games for a long time I was stunned at how beautiful the world looks. Some improvements could be made, sure, but it’s the first core title on Switch and a different team from Let’s Go so they don’t have the experience with making HD games to really get the most out of the Switch just yet. The winding roads, gorgeous scenery and effects, it definitely looks like a region I want to explore.
But see, here’s the thing... it’s a bit too familiar. I’m part of the group that was hoping the team at Game Freak would experiment more and not stick to the same tried and true formula. Obviously some things are better left untouched, like the turn-based combat or the main conceit of battling and catching Pokemon. But would it have killed them to ditch the cinematic camera and just give us a third person camera that we can rotate and use to look wherever we want? Judging by this first trailer they opted not to do that. Likewise, Let’s Go introduced the idea of seeing Pokemon on the map, removing the random encounters of old and allowing you to decide if you want to engage or not. It was a very welcome change and made the world feel more alive. Now, however, we’ve got back to the random tall grass encounters. No wild Pokemon are visible, it’s just emptiness everywhere until you enter the tall grass and suddenly a Pokemon jumps out to battle.
Pokemon Sword & Shield is more of the same through and through. It takes steps forward with the visuals, but otherwise it’s basically Sun & Moon HD. The fact that it already feels like I’ve been there and done that is what makes me kind of 50/50 on this game. I’m going to buy it, I’m going to play it, I’ll probably really enjoy it, but it won’t feel like the brand new experience it could have been.
Throughout the Direct and even in previous interviews, members of the team at Game Freak and from the Pokemon Company expressed that they were going to try new things and take risks, but this trailer really didn’t show any of that. If the goal was to show players that this is the core title they really wanted, then they succeeded because it was Pokemon to its core. But if they were trying to show how different Sword & Shield are compared to X&Y, ORAS, or S&M then I feel they failed at that. Perhaps they’re saving that for later reveals, and if they can show me anything that makes a substantial difference I’ll be a lot more excited for these games than I currently am, but something tells me they decided that playing it very safe was the smart thing to do. If this really is just yet another traditional Pokemon experience, perhaps Generation 9 in 2 to 3 years will be the game that finally shakes things up and really shows what Pokemon on Switch can be.