Addressing three major criticisms of Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield

Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield have been met with a critical reception from fans since their release on Nov. 15. Among the issues compiled in a Reddit thread posted by user Terotu with over 50,000 upvotes, Reddit’s version of “likes,” are cut Pokemon, shoddy textures and incredibly easy battles. After 30 hours of game-time, these criticisms are warranted.

Pokemon Sword and Shield faced criticism from long-time fans after their release on Nov. 15. Photo courtesy of Kamil S. via Unsplash.

Like every Pokemon game before them, Sword and Shield begin with the player character, a teen, setting off on an adventure with their friend and rival Hop to become the Pokemon Champion of their region. Both games are essentially the same except with some version-exclusive Pokemon and a unique gym. The main new hook of Sword and Shield is a large, open area with Pokemon roaming around called the Wild Area. There is also a new battle mechanic called Dynamaxing that super-sizes Pokemon. Unfortunately, both of these features are marred by the following three criticisms. 

  • Where did my favorite Pokemon go?

For the first time, a new Pokemon game doesn’t include every Pokemon. There are a total of 890 Pokemon, including the new additions in Sword and Shield. Only 400 of those Pokemon are obtainable in the new games. With such a large chunk of Pokemon missing, many gamers’ favorites have disappeared. 

I found myself in the same situation with my favorite starter Pokemon, Squirtle, being unavailable in Sword and Shield’s new Galar Region. However, after going through the full 890 Pokemon and comparing them, it’s clear that there’s been some artistic overlap. There are multiple Pokemon with very similar theming. For example, Squirtle and Sobble are both water-types and look like a combination of a squirrel and another animal. 

I can’t think of another game that has over 400 unique characters. It’s unrealistic to expect the developers at Game Freak to keep piling on dozens of new Pokemon to every new sequel until the game bursts into flames. Removing Pokemon that have been in the newest games for over 20 years and replacing them with new additions can refresh the game. The new Pokemon will also fit the theme of the new region better. 

  • Those trees look ancient!

Some of Sword and Shield’s textures look very muddy and low resolution. The trees look especially appalling. The bark, if you can even call it that, looks like wet cardboard shaped into something resembling a tree. Hills and rocks along the edges of paths and routes have the same problem. They have almost no surface details that would indicate it was a rock aside from being the same general shape.

Some of the Pokemon animations for moves in battle are hilariously stiff. For a move called “double kick,” the Pokemon is lifted into the air a few inches like a marionette puppet before dropping to the ground. Not all moves look like “double kick,” but the majority do. Signature moves, each of which can only be learned by a specific Pokemon, look great and provide a stark contrast to the under-animated moves. 

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If I had to guess why Sword and Shield don’t live up to players’ expectations for what a next-generation Pokemon game should look like, I would assume it’s because the Nintendo Switch just isn’t capable of powering such a detailed game. However, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Dragon Quest XI’s vast open worlds contradict that assumption. The only other possible explanations I can think of are that the developers were not given enough time to create something better, or that there are still too many pokemon eating up the hardware’s resources. 

  • Pokemon is for kids.

Pokemon games are rated “E for everyone” by the Entertainment Software Rating Board. However, building a team of six Pokemon and battling other trainers to become the champion is still engaging, even to a 22-year-old college student like me. 

Pokemon games haven’t fundamentally changed since Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue came out in 1998. Even when I was 10 years old, I could easily beat anything the game threw at me. Just because the game is marketed toward children, doesn’t mean that it can’t be challenging. 

Adding “easy,” “medium” and “hard” settings, which adjusted how intelligent the non-player character trainers were during battles, would go a long way to solving that problem. Since more non-player character trainers only have a few Pokemon, another improvement would be to increase how many Pokemon they have on their team. Other Nintendo games, such as Super Mario Odyssey, have proven that it’s possible to make a game that is approachable for a younger audience, while still having enough complexity to appeal to adults. 

These were just a few of the litany of problems with Sword and Shield. There are other systemic issues with Pokemon as a whole, such as archaic combat and bland story and dialogue, but that would take another 800 words to get into. I really hope this is only the first stumbling step to creating something bigger and better that will finally satisfy longtime fans who dream of an open-world Pokemon game.