‘Pokemon Sword and Shield’ review: Nintendo plays it safe

Tribune News Service

Incremental updates such as the Wild Area and Dynamax battles, add a bit of polish to the popular monster battle franchise

Tribune News Service |

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'Pokemon Sword and Shield' adds a few new features such as Dynamax battles.

Pokemon Sword and Shield is the latest entry in the popular monster battle franchise. It is set in Galar, a fictional society where Pokemon battles are the equivalent of football matches and the mania for the magical pastime fuels the national economy.

Players take on the role of a Pokemon trainer who is joined by a childhood friend and rival, Hop. Together, they take on the Gym Challenge, in which aspiring trainers battle eight leaders around the country. After choosing from one of three starter Pokemon – Sobble, Scorbunny and Grookey – players set off to catch wild Pokemon, filling out their Pokedex, and assembling their own team.

There is a variety of locations to explore and each has a creative theme. For example, Glimwood Tangle has a spooky forest vibe, while Spikemuth is a derelict city district that features edgy punk rockers. The graphics are beautiful and show off the power of the Nintendo Switch hardware.

In addition to towns and regions, there is a new location called the Wild Area. This is an attempt at an open-world area in Sword and Shield, and it’s the only place where many of the rare species can be found. The type of Pokemon that come out at a certain time also depends on different conditions, such as the weather. This adds a layer of strategic planning to how players can spend their resources.

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There is also another new twist to battles called Dynamax. Available in Stadiums and certain dens in the Wild Area, this ability makes a Pokemon enormous and powerful for three turns. It turns a match into a battle like one would see in a Godzilla movie.

Because it can only be used once per battle, players have to use it at the right time. Even more interesting, though, is how Dynamax battles are incorporated into raid-like confrontations when up to four players can take on one super-powered Dynamax Pokemon. It creates a team element as the group has to work together to beat a powerful foe. The reward is a Pokemon with a hidden ability or even more powerful form called Gigantamax.

Sword and Shield doesn’t make any dramatic changes to the established formula, but it is still a fun foray into the Pokemon world.