It’s been more than 20 years since the original Pokémon games graced Game Boys all over the world, thrilling fans with grand adventures alongside creatures with mystical powers. Ever since that original release players have dreamed of bigger and grander stories within the Pokémon universe that go beyond eight gyms and the Elite Four.
While Game Freak and The Pokémon Company have taken strides to see those dreams realized, Pokémon has remained fairly stagnate. Some games have featured multiple regions and twice as many gyms and others have had darker and more engaging storylines, but it’s been a fairly standard process for each release all-in-all. Each new entry has had trickles of new features, but nothing has changed the standard way Pokémon has worked.
“Pokémon Sword and Shield” is a crucial step in realizing a change that the series desperately needs. It brings new features, like the ability to see wild Pokémon roaming freely in some areas, the simplification of Pokémon stats, and the enhancement of the gym experience, into the fold from other Pokémon games.
Unfortunately, “Sword and Shield” only goes so far in trying to push the series further. It still sticks to archaic design choices, like tedious random battles in tall grass and the eight gym structure of the story, for the sake of tradition. I played through one of the Galar regions, (Pokémon’s take on the United Kingdom) gyms during a short session at E3 and while I came away happy I knew the series could do so much more.
I tried out all three of the new starters, solved a simple puzzle, watched Pokémon grow to towering heights with the new dynamaxing feature, and battled my way to victory with a handful of new pocket creatures. There was nothing wrong with “Sword and Shield,” but it was just more of the same. I didn’t get to try out the open areas, which was sad since they are the most ambitious parts of the new game.
Let’s face it, Nintendo has been under fire for not listening to fans for a long time. Their online service is incredibly lackluster and some of their design choices, like the inability to play certain modes whenever you want in Splatoon 2, are behind the times. They’ve started to change though as the Japanese company has listened to feedback and agreed to add online multiplayer to “Super Mario Maker 2” after limiting its availability at first. Young minds at the company have started to prevail, bringing fresh ideas to the forefront in the form of “Breath of the Wild,” “ARMS,” and “Mario Odyssey.” It’s time to bring that same change to Pokémon.
It’s not like Pokémon hasn’t seen new and innovative twists to its design. “Pokémon Colosseum” and “Pokémon XD” featured darker stories, although they didn’t have the full list of features that the series usually boasts due to Game Freak not wanting to have a full-fledged Pokémon game on consoles. Now that Nintendo’s main platform is a console and handheld, they have no reason not to.
Since many critics of Nintendo don’t have hands-on experience developing for portable systems like the DS or 3DS, we’ve never known what was possible in terms of a larger Pokémon RPG. Now that we’re seeing Game Freak develop for the Nintendo Switch we know that they have the processing power and memory to make something bigger and better—this is the system that ran “Xenoblade Chronicles 2” with somewhat ease.
Nintendo has all the tools in place: a powerful console, mechanics championed by the “Pokémon Coliseum Games” and “Let’s Go,” and all the time in the world once “Sword and Shield” is fully released. These new games gave Game Freak a chance to experiment with the new console and see what they could do with a new game. With any luck, we could see something more ambitious next time Pokémon shows up in a Nintendo Direct.