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Hands on with Pokémon Sword and Shield

Written by Aveyn_Knight

During Hyper Japan 2019, between 12th to 14th July at the London Olympia, Nintendo brought along several brand new Nintendo Switch games to play, including one for Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield. Since we’re big Pokémon fans, obviously we were very excited to give the demo a try.

Just in case you haven’t heard the news, Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are the latest mainline games in the series, releasing worldwide on 15th November 2019. The games take place in the Galar region, which seems to be heavily inspired by the UK.

Like Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu & Let’s Go Eevee from last year, they’re Pokémon games that you can play on the TV or just about anywhere. But this time, they mark the start of a new generation, which means a lot of new Pokémon species and gameplay features!

The demo itself was restricted to the Water-type gym (it was the same demo from Japan Expo, etc.), so sadly we couldn’t run around the cities or explore the Wild Area, catching new Pokémon. Instead, the focus was on battling, puzzle-solving and just soaking in the atmosphere (pun not intended).

For the record, the in-game menu was not accessible for the demo, so we couldn’t swap out our Pokémon, let alone dig deep through all the menus. Also, we couldn’t use items, but this won’t be the same in the full game. When we needed to heal, we could speak to the referee standing by the entrance.

The queue to play Sword and Shield was pretty long!

Since it’s a water gym, it’s no surprise there’s a lot of H2O inside. You and the trainers are standing on elevated platforms above a large body of water, with various pipes in the ceiling gushing out impassable streams of water. Dotted around are different coloured Poké Ball shaped switches, which can turn on or turn off pipes that have the same colour.

To reach the end of the gym, you’ll obviously have to use the switches in a logical manner. It probably won’t tax your brain too much, but it’s a nice way of keeping your brain on its toes. Although we should mention that the last part of the gym, right before the final door, did stump more than a few event-goers!

Besides the puzzle element, there were three trainers you could battle in the gym. Two of them were mandatory, while the last one could be skipped if you’re sneaky enough. Apparently the trainers aren’t reflective of the main game. This was clear as the first one had a Vulpix–a Fire Pokémon in a water gym!? Not only that, but all Pokémon were set to Level 50, so we couldn’t really guess when you enter this gym.

At your disposal were the three starters, the Water-type Sobble, the Fire-type Scorbunny and the Grass-type Grookey. Plus three more new Pokémon: the Normal-type Wooloo, the Steel and Flying-type Corviknight and the Electric-type Yamper. Sobble seemed to be a strong special attacker, Scorbunny was pretty quick and had many physical moves, while Corviknight was bulky and had overall high stats.

Pretty much everyone seemed to leave the demo feeling pleased!

The Pokémon battles played out as one would expect. You still have access to up to four moves and there’s the type match ups, like Water beats Fire, etc. At this early stage, there wasn’t much difference compared to other recent games, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Presumably there will be more new moves and abilities revealed further down the line.

One thing we did appreciate was the ability to press the X button to check the status of your Pokémon or your opponent’s Pokémon during a battle. This also lets you check your opponent’s type, which is useful if you’ve forgotten or simply don’t know. Plus it shows the remaining turns for weather and terrain effects–useful for competitive players.

We mentioned Vulpix, but the other two trainers had a Gossifleur and an Impidimp. The former is a new Grass-type that can evolve into Eldegoss. The one we fought was packing a meaty Leaf Storm and Hyper Voice. Meanwhile, Impidimp is a Dark and Fairy-type, a pretty unique combination, only weak to Poison, Steel and Fairy. It knew Assurance, Play Rough and Sucker Punch. But it was fairly fragile.

After reaching the end of the gym, that’s when you have the opportunity to take on the head honcho–the gym leader. Nessa is the Water-type gym leader, an athletic-looking young woman who seems to be pretty popular online. Gym leader battles now take place in the gym stadium, a gigantic crowd-filled arena reminiscent of a football stadium. During your gym challenge, you even wear sports clothes!

Nessa starts out by sending out Goldeen, which is not the most intimidating Pokémon. That said, it was amusing to see so many players send out Yamper, only for Goldeen to Waterfall it into submission. The poor corgi was pretty slow and not very good at taking hits. Goldeen was also able to do so decent damage to Grookey with Horn Attack, but nothing too dangerous by itself.

For her grand finale, Nessa sends out Drednaw, a new Water and Rock-type. This is also where the new Dynamax mechanic comes into play. At her first opportunity, Nessa uses Dynamax to make Drednaw grow massively in size, enhancing its stats and empowering all of its moves. Although it’s a pretty strong Pokémon in its own right, it becomes a much bigger threat (literally) when it’s Dynamaxed.

Luckily, you can fight fire with fire, as you’re equipped with a Dynamax Band, which lets you Dynamax any of your Pokémon. However, you can only use Dynamax once per battle and its effects last for three turns (or until the Pokémon is knocked out or switched out). These rules also apply to your opponent. Therefore, like Mega Evolution and Z-Moves, timing is key. By the way, Dynamax is only possible in large open spaces, like gym stadiums.

Although Dynamax seems like a gimmick, it’s actually a lot more versatile than you might think. It sort of behaves like a mix of Mega Evolution and Z-Moves. Like Mega Evolution, it makes Pokémon stronger, but all Pokémon can use it. While Dynamaxed, Pokémon moves become special “Max Moves”, which are very similar to Z-Moves, but you can use these three times and not once like a Z-Move.

Like Z-Moves, there’s only one Max Move for each type, but the move’s power changes depending on the original move’s power. Additionally, every Max Move has a special effect on top of dealing damage. From the demo, Water, Fire and Rock Max Moves add Rain, Harsh Sun and Sandstorm. Normal reduced the foe’s Speed, Steel increased Defence, Flying increased Speed. Electric and Grass added Electric and Grass Terrain.

The most popular Pokémon to Dynamax was Grookey, but people tried them all. Even Scorbunny.

Thanks to these additional effects, the battle outcome can be very different depending on which Max Move you use. There will probably be a lot of weather wars with the Water, Fire and Rock ones… Also, there are different Max Moves for status moves. Like Normal status moves become Max Guard, which seems to be a stronger version of Protect.

Once Nessa was defeated, you’re awarded a gym badge. This time, the badge fits inside a golden ring. We’re guessing once you have all the badges, it will create some kind of circle shape. Then the demo came to end. All in all, it took about 10-15 minutes to clear the gym. Perhaps it’ll be longer in the full game, if there are more trainers, with more Pokémon in their teams.

Although we only got to see a small slice of the game, we were really impressed. The gameplay is great as always, but the graphics and music are really nice as well. There’s been some Internet outcry about the game not looking amazing, but the gym was really well designed, with fantastic-looking water (especially the water from the pipes, which reflected things in front and distorted things behind).

The real issue is that not every Pokémon can be transferred to Sword and Shield; like the Let’s Go games, you can only send over Pokémon found in the regional–in this case, Galar–Pokédex. It’s a bit disappointing, but we’re confident there will be plenty of Pokémon in Galar so you won’t really notice. That or maybe Game Freak will give in and eventually patch in all the missing Pokémon. We can only hope!

In any case, from what we played–and everything we’ve seen so far–Pokémon Sword and Shield are shaping up to be an adventure to look forward to. If you’re interested, we’re planning to share some tips for the game, after it has launched. Until then, happy catching!