Pokémon Sword and Shield Preview

Sword And Shield Preview.png

The new Dynamax feature packs a punch, but it’s by no means a guaranteed victory. Read on for our Sword & Shield preview, and check out all of our other Gamescom coverage.

Taking on Nessa was fun, but Dynamaxing didn’t really ramp up the tension.

Taking on Nessa was fun, but Dynamaxing didn’t really ramp up the tension.

Pokémon’s eighth generation sees the core games make their way onto home consoles for the first time. In a bid to change things up, the franchise has introduced a new Dynamax feature (and controversially omitted a bunch of ‘mons too), but the impact on battle is mostly superficial.

During our demo at Gamescom in Germany, we worked our way through the new water gym of the Galar region. Although initially pretty - similar in style to the Let’s Go games - I was struck upon closer examination at just how bland the gym was. To be fair, this could well be down to the fact that gym appeared to be an enclosed dome of some description, but I was still a little disappointed to be presented with such an uninteresting locale. The world looks much more interesting in trailers after all.

Puzzle wise it’s still not the most challenging of conundrums to figure out. I basically had to run around various paths turning different columns of water on and off in order to open up the path forward. Naturally, the different sections of walkway were populated with other trainers keen to stop me reaching the leader. It was interesting to see that these guys will lock eyes with you from any angle now, so your opportunities for sneaking past them are much more limited.

Dynamax, Drive-ins and Dives

The battles themselves are just as straightforward as they’ve always been. True, I’d been graced with level 50 Pokémon for this demo, so that probably made things a little easier, but it’s safe to say that as long as you stick to the tried and tested training formula, you shouldn’t have any issues taking down rival trainers.

It was only once I reached the end and walked out into an arena that things got a little more interesting. Facing off against Nessa offered a little more of a challenge, though that may have been because I was playing a German language demo and ended up at a type disadvantage on a couple of rounds.

At the start of the battle though, my Dynamax wrist strap flashed and I was able to sample the series’ latest gimmick. After bringing out the electric corgi Yamper, I went for it. This may have been overkill for the Goldeen that I was currently facing off against, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a giant corgi on the battlefield. Turns out this was both adorable and terrifying.

Needless to say the Goldeen didn’t last long, and Nessa’s Dreadnaw made short shrift of my Yamper too. Bringing out my Grookey to tackle the now Dynamaxed Dreadnaw was when things got interesting. Despite the turtle towering over my tiny green chimp - armed only with a stick - I was still able to inflict considerable damage on the Dreadnaw despite the size advantage. I’m unsure if Dynamaxing increases defense stats, or merely furnishes you with more powerful attacks, but my Grookey was still able to inflict some serious damage - and withstand a couple of Dynamax attacks too - before his HP was depleted.

With the battle completed I have to confess I was left kind of underwhelmed. Dynamaxing certainly looks impressive, and the attack animations are a shower of lights and colour when your chosen ‘mon is towering over you. But the effect it has on battle isn’t a total game-changer, and with a strong enough team there’ll be no need to fear an opponents Dynamaxed Pokémon. That kinda dilutes the intimidation of it all.

The rampant familiarity of  Sword and Shield  left us kind of underwhelmed.

The rampant familiarity of Sword and Shield left us kind of underwhelmed.

Out With The New, In With The Old

My overarching feeling as I walked away from the demo station is that this is just another Pokémon game. The gyms and battles all work in exactly the same way, and the bland nature of this particular gym probably wasn’t the best way to showcase this new region.

Dynamaxing may be the new gimmick, but it feels exactly like that - a gimmick. It doesn’t particularly change up the gameplay in any way, and from what we’ve seen so far it’s the only major addition (though functionally it’s practically identical to Mega Evolutions anyway).

All of this means I’m worried Sword and Shield are going to be a missed opportunity. They’ll undoubtedly sell like hotcakes, and probably shift a fair few Switch Lites while they’re at it, but it feels very safe and very familiar. The first generation of Pokémon on a much more powerful home console represented a real opportunity to do something new and interesting. From what we’ve seen so far, it doesn’t look like that’s happening.

It could be the case that the story will indeed mix things up. Plus, to be fair, the badge I got at the end of the battle wasn’t a single badge but seemed to form part of a larger medallion. This could play a significant role in Sword and Shield’s lore, we’ll have to wait and see. But overall, the game currently feels like another iteration of the same kind of experience we’ve been playing for the last 20 years.

For more Gamescom coverage, check out my VLOG from the show floor to see Pokémon Sword and Shield in action, and have a read of why Luigi’s Mansion 3 was the best game I played at this year’s event.

Phil is the co-founder and editor of Nintendo Village, and also writes, hosts and produces P Myth Gaming. He has been a Nintendo fanboy for as long as he can remember and owns every home console bar the Virtual Boy (one day... one day...). His favourite game is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.