Since its release in late 2019, Pokémon Sword and Shield have been subject to plenty of online criticism. From complaints about a shortage of available Pokémon to accusations of lazy graphics and animations, the most recent main series entry in the Pokémon series was far from universally loved.
Still, despite its flaws, the eighth generation games take a few major steps forward that often go unappreciated. Here are just a few of the many things that Sword and Shield got right.
The Gym Challenge
Pokémon Sun and Moon saw a departure from one of the series’ most iconic and beloved features: the gym challenge. Ever since Generation I, the primary goal of Pokémon games had been to travel the region and defeat eight Gym Leaders who specialize in a specific type of Pokémon. Sun and Moon replaced this with the Island Challenge, presumably as a way to keep the concept fresh and exciting.
Sword and Shield not only returns to the traditional Gym Challenge formula, but also adds to it. The Galar region has eight Gym Leaders, with their own specialized type, but it also reinvents the challenge as a high-energy sporting event with thousands of fans and spectators. This makes it the perfect blend of everything that made the old formula great and an exhilarating twist that revitalizes the challenge. Players can move through the gyms, completing unique and interesting challenges along the way. Then, they can take on the strongest trainers in the region in a massive stadium filled with roaring fans.
The Introduction Of Mints
One feature that was particularly great for competitive players was the addition of Mints, a new type of item that eliminated the need to keep catching and breeding Pokémon to get the most beneficial nature. These Mints, available in the post-game Battle Tower, allow trainers to change how a Pokémon’s nature impacts their stats, a feat that was previously impossible.
Mints mean that catching Shinies, Legendaries and Mythicals no longer has the added stress of making sure that the raised and lowered stats are optimized for the specific Pokémon. Previously, if a trainer wanted a Legendary with a beneficial nature they needed to catch it, check its stats and try again if they weren’t any good. Shinies were even worse — a subpar nature simply meant that your one-in-4096 or one-in-8192 Pokémon just wasn’t that strong. Depending on the method used, there was often nothing players could do about it.
With Mints, these hassles became a thing of the past. Players can now catch any rare or powerful Pokémon they want and, assuming they don’t mind grinding out a few battles in the Battle Tower, purchase a Mint to make their new partner a bit closer to perfect.
Hop’s Developing Teams
While Hop isn’t exactly the most popular rival in the franchise, he does something interesting no other rival has done before: he changes strategies after losing. A common trope of Pokémon‘s rivals is their resolve to get stronger. This manifests in many different ways, from frustration over being weak to playful competitiveness and over-confident one-liners. However, Hop differs from his predecessors in that his version of getting stronger isn’t simply gaining a few levels between encounters.
After Hop is defeated and humiliated by Bede, he gives a fairly standard speech about becoming a better Pokémon trainer. However, where Hop’s behavior stands out is that he completely reinvents his team for the next time you face him, replacing all but one of his Pokémon and approaching battles with a new strategy.
The next few times players face off against Hop, he incorporates new Pokémon into his team before settling into a final lineup featuring the best aspects of his previous ones. Not only does this make rival battles infinitely more exciting because players can’t predict what Hop will use each time, but it also makes the character feel more realistic. He may be easier to beat than some earlier rivals, but it really feels like he’s growing as a trainer alongside the player.
Online Play Improvements
One of Sword and Shield‘s biggest selling points is its extensive online play options. Partially due to the Nintendo Switch’s online capabilities, these games improve players’ ability to match up and play with trainers all around the world. While previous Pokémon games had online interactivity, Sword and Shield polishes and expands on what was already available while adding new features.
For example, Wonder Trading is easier than ever before because it can now be run in the background. It is no longer necessary to sit in the online hub-world and wait for the matchmaking process to complete; now trading, battling and other interactions can queue up while one continues playing.
Additionally, the introduction of Max Raid Battles provides a new form of online interactivity. Trainers can use this feature to team up and battle together in the hopes of defeating and capturing rare or powerful Pokémon. While it has its flaws, this online system is definitely a step in the right direction.
The Wild Area
Perhaps the most universally beloved feature of Pokémon Sword and Shield is the Wild Area. This part of the game is a culmination of fans’ wishes and requests from the past decade. While it may fall short of the “Pokémon meets Breath of the Wild” dream many fans have been hoping for, the Wild Area offers a look into what an open-world Pokémon adventure may look like.
In both the Wild Area and the game’s routes, Pokémon can be seen in the overworld, a feature fans appreciated when it was introduced in the Let’s Go! games. Not only does this make hunting for specific Pokémon significantly easier, but it also makes the Galar region more immersive. Seeing different Pokémon walking around and interacting with the environment really helps to make the world come alive.
Additionally, the Wild Area has several biomes with unique Pokémon and items. There are also various weather patterns that change the areas to include new Pokémon, meaning that the Wild Area has even more content than the massive map indicates. If there’s anything that absolutely needs to be carried on from Sword and Shield into future generations, it is this new approach to crafting the world of Pokémon.