If Pokémon Sword and Shield is struggling to take off, it seduces us along the way by the space it leaves for wandering and wandering.
“Pokémon Sword is my favourite sleep game,” a colleague from Humanoid, the media group to which Numerama belongs, told us recently. The recipe, for insomniacs reading these lines, is pretty simple: slip into bed with your Nintendo Switch, launch Pokémon Sword and Shield, press the A Button regularly, and let yourself daydream until your eyelids are heavy and your mind is soothed.
The new Game Freak game was released worldwide on November 15, 2019, and it’s true to say that it’s a clear statement: the new Pokémon is a calm, restful and somewhat repetitive game. But you’ll be surprised to come back to it again and again, thanks to welcome new features and a stimulating overall atmosphere.
Pokémon Sword and Shield // Source : Game Freak / Numerama Screenshot
For those who don’t miss a single game release in the franchise, you’ll find the mechanics they know by heart: you’re a (we’ve chosen a female character, so we’ll use “a”) heroine who wants to be Galar’s best trainer, who is given a Pokémon at the beginning of the game (Team Ouistempo all the way, don’t try to convince us otherwise) and goes on an adventure.
I mean, she’s trying to go on an adventure. Because during the first two hours of the game, we spend more time following the path laid out by the NPCs who are supposed to supervise us than actually making choices. Impossible to go 100 metres without a good man appearing to force us to listen to his advice, to force us to go to this house, and then to this one, and then don’t forget to go to this one, it would be a pity to forget it, because it is next to this house, which you should also visit. It’s at the point where the slightest trip from an arena to a hotel can be made accompanied by a guide, as if one risks getting lost in this relatively compartmentalized world.
At the beginning, it’s our rival (or our best friend, or a bit of both?) Nabil who takes us from one place to another, with an enthusiasm that borders on permanent overexcitement and that will quickly annoy us more than a Rondoudou to whom we would have stolen his microphone. Nabil is certainly endearing, with his unfailing smile, but he’s also… really lame. And little by little, his failures, perhaps supposed to attract compassion, end up irritating us more than anything else.
A battle in Pokémon Sword and Shield // Source : Game Freak / Numerama Screenshot
So Pokémon Sword and Shield is slowly taking off, and it’s only when you get to the Wildlands that you really begin to realize its full potential. The much coveted freedom materializes right up to the display: this brand new area of the map works like an open mini-world, where it is possible to move the camera (Joy-Con on the right) to gain different angles of view, while the rest of the game is fixed on a fixed plane (you can move with the Joy-Con on the left, but the camera follows you automatically without you being able to orientate it).
Wilderness provides the first lesson in humility: sometimes patience is needed to capture the coveted Pokémon. This tall grass-filled area is teeming with Pokémon of various levels, including bugs much stronger than our own level. An Onyx has been wisely positioned at the entrance to the park, and it looks as though most of the players, like us, have headed for the huge Pokémon Rock, eager to add it to their collection. Mistake! The trap is closing. Onyx attacks, and Onyx is very strong. Too strong for our team, which is being decimated… Slowly.
Because when you can’t run away from combat, and you’re forced to send six Pokémon level 10 Pokémon in a row against a level 24 Pokémon, who slaughters them one by one, it gives you plenty of time to think about your life choices. The lesson has been learned: you won’t go near the big Pokémon anymore, even the ones that make you want to be around (yes, even when it’s a very cute Ronflex).
A Ronflex in Pokémon Sword and Shield // Source : Game Freak / Numerama Screenshot
This mechanism may seem frustrating, but it is this kind of episodic difficulties that we tend to appreciate in a game where the progression is generally really facilitated. The saga has been gaining experience faster for several years now, including distributing XP points to all Pokémon in the team, not just those who fight. Likewise, capturing bugs has also brought experience since the sixth generation of Pokémon. Add to this the indications of the degree of effectiveness of each attack according to the type of opponent, and you get a fast, but not very challenging advance.
You’ll find yourself appreciating anything that doesn’t fit into the main narrative arc of Pokémon Sword and Shield and its 8 Arena Champions to beat. It’s fun to miss catching a wild Pokémon that’s a little too surly. Strolling through the tall grasses of the Terres Sauvages and watching the bugs snort, spot us and then run towards us. Discover the riddles of Sally, the strange champion who will give us an advantage in the fight if we guess correctly her favorite color. Explore the dark forest of Lumirinth littered with luminous mushrooms and enjoy the beauty of the fairytale village of Corrifey, with its little tunes from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild (this will be the only time you’ll dare to compare the graphics, as Pokémon is far from having reached the same level of finesse).
Corrifey in Pokémon Sword and Shield // Source : Game Freak / Numerama Screenshot
And then there’s camping.
The first time we joined an NPC’s camp, we wondered if it was a mistake, a leap into an alternative universe on the border between Animal Crossing and a YouTube tutorial. It’s a first-person perspective: now you can see the Pokémon in our team frolic quietly around a camping tent. So, yes, it’s disconcerting. You might even wonder what you’re doing there, watching cute virtual animals pacing around in the wild – and then you shake a first toy… you throw a first PokéBall… and when our Noarfang catches it with his little beak and brings it back very proudly, you can’t repress an impulse of tenderness, certainly perfectly irrational and yet completely unstoppable.
My Noarfang brings back more PokéBall than your Pyroli // Source : Game Freak / Numerama Screenshot
Pokémon Sword and Shield has got it all figured out for its audience of aficionados, who were fed the first Blue and Red cartridges on GameBoy, now almost thirty years old, jaded, urban and connected, eager for nostalgic shots and sensitive to anything cute and can share online. For the past two weeks, half-sincere, half-sarcastic Internet users have been exchanging the funniest videos of their Pokémon in unlikely situations, generating thousands of re-releases and making other millennials in need of entertainment want to fall for Switch. It’s come full circle.
- To read: Pokémon Sword and Shield: Here are the funniest videos of the very cute (and a bit stupid) companions.
Indicative note: 3/5
Pokémon Sword and Shield is an endearing game to which we return regularly. However, behind the “cute” effect that is already a great success with fans of the franchise, the mechanics of the game remain commonplace and the accompaniment a little too present.
- The Wild Lands
- Pre-Arena events
- Nice to fall asleep peacefully.
- Too much accompaniment in the beginning
- Little real trouble
- What’s this rival?