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How Pokemon Sword and Shield made new Pokemon worth caring about again

Commentary: Useless Pokemon have been cut, and several new additions are fantastic.

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Corviknight, a badass new flying Pokemon.

Nintendo

What do Game of Thrones, Captain Marvel, and Pokemon Sword and Shield have in common? 

Volatile fans. 

Earlier this year disgruntled Free Folk demanded the final season of Thrones be remade to their liking. Captain Marvel was review bombed on Rotten Tomatoes after prickly viewers were upset by comments Brie Larson made. Finally, even months before it had the best US launch of any game in the series, a large minority of players harboured a burning hate for Pokemon Sword and Shield.

What had these Poketrainers apoplectic? Sword and Shield are the first games in the series not to feature every Pokemon. Traditionally, after beating a Pokemon game's final bosses -- think the Elite 4 -- you'd get a National Pokedex that would allow you to capture, trade and use any Pokemon from preceding games. 

That's not the case in Pokemon Sword and Shield. These games restrict you to 400 Pokemon, less than half of the 890 species that have been introduced across all eight generations of Pokemon games. That's right. Only 400.

After beating Pokemon Sword and Shield and becoming the Gelar region's champion, I am here to tell you shocking news: Sword and Shield are the best Pokemon games in nearly two decades partially because there are "only" 400 Pokemon. For the first time since Pokemon Gold and Silver, new Pokemon are the most fun thing about a new Pokemon game. 

Hear me out. 

When Pokemon Red and Blue came out there were "just" 151 Pokemon. Catching 'em all was an effort but doable for enterprising completionists. Then Gold and Silver, the best Pokemon games of all time, came along. An absorbable amount of new creatures were introduced, you could now breed Pokemon and get de-evolved critters like Pichu, and existing favorites got inspired new evolution forms. 

The Pokemon formula was fleshed out in a way that was exciting, not overwhelming. But since then Pokemon games have become overwhelming. From 2000 through to 2018, from Gold and Silver to Ultra Sun and Moon, we went from 251 to 807.This is fantastic news for avid Poketrainers who are keen to catch 'em all no matter the cost. But it hampers the fun for other players.

There are two key trade-offs for the ever expanding list of Pokemon. First, the prospect of capturing every single creature becomes a turnoff. As a goal, it's impossibly daunting. Second, the Pokemon designs become less spirited. The more existing Pokemon there are, the harder it is to design news ones that stick out in a good way and the easier it is to design ones that stick out in a bad way. 

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A gym leader threw this bad boy at me and I knew I had to have one.

Nintendo
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Toxtricity, a dope electric lizard that gives off stoner vibes, is another strong addition. This is one of two Toxtricity forms. 

Nintendo

Case in point: Recent generations have seen dodgy new families of Pokemon that range from swords with eyes to ice cream with eyes to keys with eyes. The upside is the occasional valuable addition and that new rosters of Pokemon make competitive play deeper. But rarely are new Pokemon arresting enough to trade out an old favourite for. 

Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised to realise that the team I won the Champion's Cup with were almost all Pokemon new to Sword and Shield. Only one, Gengar, was from a previous game. 

This wasn't out of a preplanned "out with the old, in with the new" mission. This just happened the old fashioned way: An opposing trainer or gym leader throws out a sweet-looking Pokemon, and I think, "what is that? I want that." Or I encounter a baby Pokemon in the wild and get a hunch: This will evolve into something sick

The former was the case for Coalossal, a lumbering beast of rocks and molten coal: The fire gym leader used it against me, and I knew I had to have one. The latter is how I found Toxtricity, a super-chill, borderline stoner-looking electric lizard. I found his first form, Toxel, and knew the little guy had something special in him.

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Click for more Boom With a View.

All of this is a level of intrigue and experimentation which just didn't happen for me in previous games. 

Many hardcore fans have been vociferous in venting their frustration with the curtailed selection of Pokemon. A #BringBackTheNationalDex social media campaign was started, in which some participants politely voiced disappointment -- and others sent death threats to Sword and Shield's developers. The game's Metacritic score is 80, but thanks to angered fans, its user score sits at 46. 

If you're a hardcore Pokemon fan, who relishes spending hundreds and hundreds of hours catching every Pokemon, or in having the widest possible range of Pokemon available for competitive play, I understand your frustration. It does suck for you, I concede. And there are certainly some Pokemon I miss having around, like Alakazam and Dragonite, so I understand if some fans are crestfallen about their favorite Pokemon being absent. 

But Nintendo has a huge audience to cater to. Sword and Shield sold over 6 million units in their first week alone. What does the average gamer get when Nintendo adds in the best new Pokemon designs in over a decade and takes out the most useless ones? The refresh Pokemon has needed for years. 

Originally published Dec. 9.
Update, Dec. 10: Adds first week sales figures. 
Update, Dec. 12: Adds note on Sword and Shield enjoying best US launch of any Pokemon game.