A Community Divided
It’s been a week since the release of Pokémon Sword and Shield. The newest installment in the long-standing Pokémon series, and the first main installment for the Nintendo Switch. Typically, a new Pokémon game release is one that is met with praise and celebration. However, Sword and Shield was instead met with overwhelming controversy.
As reviews came in for Sword and Shield, it was clear that there was a division amongst its fans and critics, and we’re not talking between the two-game versions. At the time of writing, Pokémon Sword and Shield is currently sitting at a Metacritic score of 81 and a user score of 4.1, respectively. Regardless of achieving an average score of 81 amongst critics, it is still the lowest-rated Pokémon game since Black and White.
IGN’s video review, in particular, was bombarded with thousands of dislikes from fans as the review site gave it an “AMAZING” score of 9.3/10. The reviewer, and longtime fan, Casey DeFreitas stated, “Pokémon Sword and “Pokémon Shield are closer to my dream Pokémon RPGs than anything that’s come before.” Just before naming a laundry list of things that she’d like to see improved such as, “better cutscenes, companion Pokémon, the complete Pokedex, and a more visually interesting Wild Area.”
But as critics praised the newest iteration in the series, fans began pointing out its glaring issues. Issues that critics neither mentioned or even addressed in their reviews. From reused assets and animations, level-capping Pokémon in the Wild Area, to various development bugs.
Dexit and The Snap
The biggest controversy of all, though, are the changes made to the National Dex. Now dubbed “Dexit” by Pokémon fans, Sword and Shield made major cuts to the amount of Pokémon featured in-game. Fewer than 50% of legacy Pokémon made the cut and appear in Sword and Shield. In fact, the only legacy starter Pokémon that did make the cut is Charmander. No Froakie. No Fennekin. No Squirtle.
In an interview with Polygon, Director Junichi Masuda stated the following when asked about legacy Pokemon, “at some point, we need to be able to prioritize new gameplay ideas. We need to be able to find a way to balance the right number of Pokémon and still introduce new ways for players to enjoy the game, new gameplay ideas keep the series fresh and enjoyable into the future.” He also told USGamer that now that the game was being made for the Nintendo Switch, the number of Pokémon would be too overwhelming. Instead, they would be focusing on creating it with much higher fidelity and with higher quality animations. I’ve almost completed the game, and I’m still waiting to see what gameplay features and animations Mr. Masuda is referring to.
Take a trip down the rabbit hole and search the hashtag #GameFreakLiedtoUs on Twitter. You’ll see exactly what fans think about what really happened with the production of Sword and Shield. But enough about that.
As I stare at my Litten plush, another Dexit-ed Pokémon, I suddenly understand fan frustrations. I sympathize and feel their loss. Imagine being a longtime fan of the series, investing hundreds of hours in the various games, collecting your favorite Pokémon, leveling them up, only to suddenly be Thanos’d out of existence. BLIP! Why didn’t my favorite Pokémon make the cut to Sword and Shield? What’s the point of catching them all when you can’t? Pokémasters need answers.
But Is It Any Good?
Many of my friends have asked me: is Pokémon Sword and Shield any good? To which I replied, Yes and no. After spending 30+ gameplay hours, I found that Sword and Shield is just more of the same if you are familiar with the Pokémon fandom.
Is it fun? Yes, but it’s not reinventing the wheel in any way. The quality of life improvements are great, and I’ve enjoyed my time exploring the Galar region and seeing all the newly added Pokémon, but it feels stagnant.
The controls are stiff, the battle animations feel dated, and the newly added Wild Area, although exciting at first, quickly wears off its charm. There’s just not enough new features and content to set Sword and Shield apart from previous renditions of the series. The missing features and lost Pokémon make it feel less like a finished game and more like it was originally meant to be on the 3DS rather than the Nintendo Switch.
Would I recommend it to friends? Yes, but probably more for my own selfish needs of wanting people to play with.
Going forward for Game Freak
I would like to see Game Freak take a risk and create something new and refreshing with the series. Instead of giving us new Pokémon, a new region, and a safe place to play, I’d like to see a battle system that adds some flash and flare as our favorite monsters battle it out on screen. A world overhaul like we did with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Where Pokémon roam a vast and endless world. I can go on adventures with my Pokémon and friends as we try and solve mysteries, puzzles, and locate hidden legendary Pokémon in secret locations. And lastly, it’s almost 2020, can we please get some voice acting?
Regardless of the controversy, Pokémon Sword and Shield have become Nintendo’s fastest-selling Switch game ever, selling more than 6 million copies over its launch weekend. No matter what side of the fence you’re on, Nintendo has stated that Pokémon Sword and Shield is currently the highest-grossing launch of any Pokémon game.