Pokemon Sword and Shield: Reviews, release date and what you need to know

A truly new Pokemon game finally comes to the Switch.

Daniel Van Boom Senior Writer
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Daniel Van Boom
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Jump back into the world of Pokemon with Pokemon Shield and Sword.


The day is upon us. After months of anticipation, Pokemon Sword and Shield launches on November 15. Known to fans as "Gen 8" for being the eighth generation of games in the main franchise, the Nintendo Switch's Sword and Shield are the first Pokemon games designed for a gaming console. Until now, each new generation of Pokemon game has been released on a handheld, from the original Game Boy to the 3DS

We found out a lot about the games in June, including the aforementioned release date, what Sword and Shield's legendary Pokemon look like and, enraging many fans, the fact that not every Pokemon ever will be in the game

And though that last "feature" will polarize fans, Sword and Shield have thus far received praise from critics. GameSpot awarded Sword and Shield a 9/10 rating, while the games hold a rating on 81 on Metacritic. That aggregate score includes a 9.3 from IGN and an 8.75 from Game Informer

Passing Go

Sword and Shield aren't the first Pokemon games developed specifically for the Switch. They follow Pokemon Let's Go: Pikachu and Let's Go: Eevee, reimagined versions of 1998's well-regarded Pokemon Yellow.

The Let's Go games were fun, but unlike the main-line Pokemon games in a few ways. There were no random encounters, with Pokemon scuttling about in front of you instead of hiding in the tall grass. You couldn't battle wild Pokemon, only other trainer's Pokemon, and instead gained experience by catching Pokemon repeatedly a la Pokemon Go.

Pokemon Sword and Shield retain some elements from Let's Go while reverting to the old style in other ways. There are no random encounters in the new games. Instead, Pokemon will roam the wild and you chose to battle or catch them by running into them. Other times you'll see an exclamation mark in tall grass, denoting a hidden Pokemon, but you can avoid these if you chose to. 

Watch this: Nintendo unveils sleep tracker, Pokemon Go Plus Plus

Another Let's Go feature noticeably absent from the Sword and Shield trailer is rideable Pokemon, which replaced bikes and flight skills (known in the games as HMs). Bikes make a return in this game, and during trailers we see our Pokemon trainer bike across a body of water, suggesting a new bike model will replace the Surf HM. 

Welcome to Galar


The latest game's region is loosely based on the UK.


Sword and Shield take place in a region of the Pokemon world known as Galar. Based on official Nintendo art, Galar looks absolutely huge, and what we've seen in trailers presumably only gives us a taste of what wondrous sights are within.

What we do know, though, is that the region is loosely based on the UK. 

Each of the seven preceding Pokemon regions have been based on actual cities and areas. While Kanto, Johto, Hoenn and Sinnohh (Gen 1 to Gen 4 regions) are all inspired by different parts of Japan, the Pokemon team has looked at international regions to base newer games on. Unova (Pokemon Black and White) had a New York City vibe to it, while Kalos (Pokemon X and Y) took on France and Alola (Pokemon Sun and Moon) was a clear take on Hawaii.

The launch trailer depicts scenes that certainly look British, with fields reminiscent of England's countryside and buildings that look like English manors.

Plus, the northernmost city in the aforementioned region artwork has a clocktower, a ferris wheel and a bisecting, Thames-like river. We're assuming the housing market in the city is appropriately unaffordable.

A new start

Pokemon has changed a lot since 1996's Red and Blue, but one component hasn't: You still choose between a fire-, grass- or water-type starter Pokemon.

Sobble, Scorbunny and Grookey are your three options here. Each was profiled briefly in the Sword and Shield reveal trailer.

Scorbunny is a bipedal white rabbit with red-tipped ears and feet. It harbors the power of fire within, but also looks like it could evolve into a fighting type, like Gen 3's Blaziken. Then there's Sobble, a stealthy water-type Pokemon that has the ability to camouflage itself. The little guy doesn't look very confident in itself, but in the Pokemon universe that often means a fierce evolution looms.

Finally there's the grass-type, which is usually kind of lame. I can't believe I'm saying this, but in Gen 8 the grass-type Pokemon actually looks the coolest. It's Grookey, a green primate fellow who scares off Sobble in the trailer by beating his stick into a rock like a cheeky monkey warrior bashing a war drum.


Scorbunny, the fire type.


Sobble, the water type.


Grookey, the grass type. 


Nintendo has steadily drip-fed us information on other Pokemon since the launch trailer. There are some run-of-the-mill types, like Wooloo, that you don't need to fuss over. But there are also already some standouts, like Corviknight, a raven Pokemon that doubles as a transportation service, Duraludon, steel/dragon-type Pokemon, and Yamper, who appears to be an electric Corgi, if you're into that type of thing.

Then, of course, there are Zacian and Zamazenta, the legendary wolves of Sword and Shield. You can tell which Pokemon is exclusive to which game by the fact that one carries a sword in its mouth and the other is basically half wolf and half shield.






Zacian and Zamazenta, Sword and Shield's legendary wolves. 


Following a feature introduced in Pokemon Sun and Moon, the Gelar region will have it's own variations of generations-old Pokemon. Weezing, for instance, is now a 1920s fat cat, and will be a Fairy/Poison type rather than the usual Poison type. Galarian Zigzagoon and Linoone add Dark typing to the standard version's Normal, and they'll have a new evolutionary stage, Obstagoon, exclusive to Gelar. 

August's trailer also introduced Morpeko, a new form-changing creature who looks a bit like Pikachu. This Pokemon switches between two forms that are apparently related to how hungry it is: "full belly mode" is its happy one, but it also has a "hangry"mode.


Bourgeoisie Weezing. 


Hangry guy. 

The Pokemon Company

At Nintendo Direct the company showed off Polteageist, literally a ghost in a teacup, and Cramorant, a Water/Flying-type Pokemon undoubtedly based on the cormorant seabird species common in the UK. So, in other words, we're getting some extremely British Pokemon. 

#BringBackNationalDex outrage

Though June brought plenty of Pokemon news, not all of it was pleasing to fans. At E3 some fans were crestfallen to hear that Sword and Shield won't include every Pokemon in the franchise's history.

At the beginning of each Pokemon game you're given a Pokedex which contains information on all the Pokemon native to that region. After you beat the main game, you'll usually get upgraded to a National Pokedex, which enables you to use every Pokemon from previous games. At E3 Junichi Musada, Sword and Shield's producer, revealed these games will feature no such upgrade, and that only Pokemon in the Galar Pokedex can be used in the games. 

In other words, players can only use Pokemon that developers decide are native to the world of Sword and Shield. Neither GameFreak, the studio developing the games, or Nintendo have said how many of the 807 existing Pokemon will be included, or how many new ones will be introduced.

Musada told Japanese publication Famitsu the decision to curtail the amount of Pokemon within the game mainly came down to gameplay balance and making each Pokemon feels visually unique. However, many hardcore fans are accusing the team of being too lazy to include all Pokemon, leading to the #BringBackTheNationalDex hashtag. 

"I've read all your comments and appreciate your love and passion for Pokemon," Musada said in a statement addressing the fan outrage. "After so many years of developing the Pokémon video games, this was a very difficult decision for me. I'd like to make one thing clear: even if a specific Pokemon is not available in Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield, that does not mean it will not appear in future games."

"We are pouring our hearts into these games, and we hope you will look forward to joining us on this new journey." You can read the full statement here.

The Wild Area

The Wild Area is one of several features that changes up the traditional Pokemon formula. The Wild Area is a zone featuring oodles of Pokemon, the availability of which depends on what time of day it is, as well as the in-game weather. 

What's perhaps most significant about the Wild Area is that it's introduced very early -- as in, around an hour -- into the game. This gives you access to a wide variety of Pokemon unusually early into your adventure. As mentioned, Pokemon roam around the Wild Area and you'll decide whether to encounter them or not. You'll also find NPC characters here, as well as items. 

"The Wild Area is the show-stopping feature of this generation," wrote GameSpot's Kallie Plagge. "It's all too easy to set out for one destination only to be distracted by a Pokemon you haven't caught yet, an item glittering on the ground in the distance, or even an evolved form of a Pokemon that you didn't realize you could catch in the wild. There's constantly something new to do or discover, and it's there to engage you right out of the gate."

Bigger is better

Pokemon X and Y introduced Mega Evolutions of certain Pokemon, and now Sword and Shield are taking that to another level with two features: Dynamaxing and Gigantamaxing. They don't exactly roll off the tongue, but do look to add an extra layer of depth to combat.

Dynamaxing supersizes your Pokemon, like they just ate a super mushroom from a Super Mario game. Gigantamaxing, meanwhile, not only makes your Pokemon XXL, it also changes their appearance. These features take the place of Mega-Evolutions and Z-moves, which originate from Gen 6 and Gen 7 respectively. 


Regular Alcremie. 


Gigantamax Alcremie. 


Take Alcremie as an example. Alcremie is a whipped-cream Pokemon. Dynamax Alcremie is a very large whipped-cream Pokemon. Gigantamax Alcremie, however, appears atop several pillars of cake, thus making it more fearsome. Dynamax Pokemon are bigger and more powerful than average, while Gigantamax Pokemon are bigger, more powerful and can use a special G-Max Move.

According to Sword and Shield's website, only certain Pokemon with certain attributes will be able to Gigantamax. Dynamaxing is "common to the Pokemon from Galar," which likely means all Pokemon, or at least a lot of them, will be able to eat the proverbial super mushroom. 

You'll mostly encounter Dynamax and Gigantamax Pokemon during Max Raids, in which you and three other trainers (real-life friends or NPCs) take on a super-sized Pokemon. Defeating the Pokemon will score you valuable items, and catching them nets you a Pokemon with perfect stats. 

Exclusive Gyms 

All mainline Pokemon games have had exclusive monsters. Sword and Shield continues this tradition and expands it to gym leaders. The same towns will have different gym leaders depending on which game you're playing. For instance, one town in the game will have Bea, a fighting-type Gym Leader, in Sword, but Allister, a ghost-type Leader, in Shield.

Other known gym leaders are Milo and Nessa, who use grass- and water-type Pokemon, respectively. 

Enlarge Image

Gyms change depending on what game you play.


As with old games, the main story takes you from a small-town kid to regional hero. You'll compete against Gelar's eight gym leaders and eventually enter the Champion's Cup, which is presumably like the Elite 4 from earlier Pokemon titles. The current Champion in Leon, who battles alongside his trust Charizard. (That's so 1998.) 

You'll also regularly run into Leon's brother, Hop, who acts as your Gary Oak-esque rival throughout the game. 

New and old Pokemon will be exclusive to both games, too, as Nintendo have already said that Deino is exclusive to Sword, while you can only find Larvitar in Shield. (Both Pokemon eventually level up to incredibly powerful Pokemon in Hydreigon and Tyrannitar, respectively.)

More rivals more problems

You're not the only one who wants to become Galar's Pokemon Champion, and Hop is not your only competition. In August Nintendo unveiled two more rivals you'll have to deal with: Marnie and Bede.

Bede looks like an ominous dude. He wants to become Champion but also, according to his official bio, "seems to have other objectives as well." Let's keep an eye on him. Demanding more attention is Marnie, another trainer gunning for status of Galar Champion.


Such calm, so style. 

The Pokemon Company

Say hello to Team Yell. 


She has her own fan club, and they're apparently very aggressive. August's trailer shows Team Yell, comprised of Marnie's fans, as a gang of trainers you'll regularly have to battle, similar to Red and Blue's Team Rocket. "She has many passionate fans, thanks to her sense of style and calm, calculated battle strategies," Nintendo says. Cool. 

Pokemon Camp

Introduced at Nintendo Direct in Sept., Sword and Shield will let you set up camp with your Pokemon and hang out at other trainers' camps. 

You'll use time in your own camp to bond with your Pokemon pals, which will help them "improve in battle", and cook Curry on Rice, a staple dish in Gelar. There are over 100 variations of Curry on Rice, presumably giving your Pokemon different status effects. So in addition to catching 'em all, completionists will have to collect ingredients from all around Gelar to cook 'em all. 

There's also a multiplayer element here, as you can bring one of your Pokemon along to a camp area and interact with up to three other players and their Pokemon. In all honesty, this all looked pretty lame -- but the clip showing this feature off noted, "We definitely recommend interacting with another players' Pokemon." So there are probably going to be some in-game incentives for all this malarkey. 


Tyrannitar is unimpressed with Pokemon Camp. 


Everything else

The Game Boy experience: While you can play these games on your TV, they've been designed to cater more to the handheld Switch experience. That's according to Shuntaro Furukawa, president of Nintendo.

"Pokemon Let's Go: Pikachu! and Pokemon Let's Go: Eevee! ... are designed to highlight the fun of Nintendo Switch in TV mode," he said during Nintendo's Q1 2019 fiscal results briefing, while "Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield are being developed to emphasize the fun of playing Nintendo Switch in handheld mode."

Poke Jobs: You'll be able to send your Pokemon away to help out at various workplaces and universities around Gelar. Not only will they become productive members of society, they'll also gain experience and, if you send them away for long enough, earn you rare items. 

Character customization: Previous games have let you alter your outfit, but Sword and Switch expands this greatly to accessories, outerwear, hairstyle and more. 

Tradition is tradition: All the way back to Kanto's Professor Oak, the main character's mentor is always named after greenery of some description, mostly trees. That stays true here: In Sword and Shield it's Professor Magnolia who will give you your Pokedex.

Two types of training: The trailer for Sword and Shield reveals several glimpses of trains. This could just be a background aesthetic ode to Britain, where railway transport was invented, but some fans are speculating these trains could provide either fast transport or a post-game link to another region.

Stuff of legends: Another visual nod to Britain comes in the form of a geoglyph, seen below. It could be a random anthropomorphic shape, but it's unlikely to mean nothing. I'm guessing it has something to do with the legendary Pokemon in Sword and Shield. 

Originally published May 15 and updated regularly to track new information as it's announced by Nintendo.


Whatever that thing depicts, it could probably wield both a sword and a shield. Think about it.


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