Pokemon Sword and Shield first impressions: My kingdom for a Bulbasaur

Pokemon Sword and Shield are officially out and, like many Pokemon fans, I spent much of the weekend playing through the opening hours of Pokemon Sword. Though it's going to take more playtime before I'll have a comprehensive opinion on Sword and Shield, I've played it enough to form some early impressions of it. After somewhere around 15 hours of game time, I can indeed confirm that this is a Pokemon game.

The Good

I mean that both in a joking way and in a literal way. After playing Pokemon for the past 20 years, I'm convinced that the core gameplay loop in a Pokemon game is inherently fun. I don't see how Pokemon becomes the best-selling media franchise of all time without a fun gameplay loop. Though Pokemon Sword and Shield don't do a whole lot to change that up (more on that in a bit), it's still fun to dive in, build out a collection of Pokemon, and explore the world.

Speaking of the world, I really like the aesthetic of these Pokemon games. Aside from a few graphics hiccups, I think Sword and Shield look great. The cities in particular – at least the ones I've visited so far – look beautiful, as do locations like the Galar mines. The music is also excellent too, but that's just par for the course for a Pokemon game in my opinion.

My initial reaction is that while Pokemon Sword and Shield look good, Pokemon Let's Go looks better. It's been a while since I've played Pokemon Let's Go, so I'll need to bust it out again as I'm writing my full review and compare the two games side-by-side, but I really loved the aesthetic in Let's Go.

I also think a lot of the new Pokemon look excellent. As with every new batch of Pokemon (even the original 150), there are some misses when it comes to monster design, but I'm tempted to say that this is one of the strongest collections of new Pokemon we've ever had. I tried to limit my exposure to leaks as much as possible in the lead up to release (which is pretty difficult considering my job), so I'm not overly familiar with Sword and Shield's new additions yet, but I like most of what I've seen so far.

The Bad

As a series, Pokemon needs to take risks. It has needed to for quite some time. Pokemon Sword and Shield don't take a lot of risks.

It's true that I haven't made it very far in the games yet, but what I've seen so far tells me that Pokemon Sword and Shield stick to the formula rather faithfully. There are some intriguing additions to Sword and Shield, such as the Wild Area and Dynamaxing, but barring some kind of major shift in the way Sword and Shield play in the later stages, it seems these games play it on the safe side.

That isn't what I was expecting out of Pokemon's console debut. This was a really good chance for Game Freak to reinvent the series and try new, dramatic changes to the core formula. While I think Sword and Shield will be a good jumping off point for newcomers to the series and those who are returning to it for the first time in years, I can't really blame Pokemon fans for wanting more and being disappointed in the fact that Sword and Shield don't really deliver.

In some ways, it feels like Sword and Shield could have used a little more time in the oven. In the opening stages of the game, there are a lot of cutscenes – particularly ones that focus on individual characters – yet there's no voice acting at all in these games. I understand that Pokemon has never really had a lot of voice acting, but if Game Freak is going to make these games more cinematic, then voice acting should have been part of the deal.

Finally, Hop is the worst of these friend-rivals we've had so far. He's worse than Hau from Sun and Moon and he's worse than the group of friends who followed you everywhere in X and Y. I don't know why I hate him so much, but it might have something to do with the fact that he repeats himself every time I see him. I've heard about how he's going to be the Pokemon League Champion so much at this point, and I'm not very far into the game. I get it. I really, really do. Please feel free to talk about literally anything else as soon as possible, Hop.

The Pokedex

Funnily enough, we did see Game Freak take a huge risk with Sword and Shield, but not one that players wanted or expected. Pokemon Sword and Shield arrive with a Pokedex that's been significantly culled, and the blowback Game Freak received for that decision has been ruthless and unrelenting to say the least. It isn't hard to see why, either. With only a total of 400 Pokemon in Sword and Shield, there's a better chance that your favorite got cut than there is that it made it into these games.

For people who have stuck by the Pokemon series for 10, 15, or 20 years, that's an understandably tough pill to swallow. My favorite Pokemon, Bulbasaur, didn't make the cut, while the Charmander line did. I didn't need proof that Charmander was the more popular starter from generation 1, but Game Freak gave it to me anyway.

Having noted that I absolutely understand and sympathize with the people are upset about the slimmer Pokedex, I have to say that at the point I'm at in Sword, it's not having a noticeable effect on the game. Sword and Shield throw so many Pokemon at you in the beginning hours of the game that I'm positive someone who didn't know about the missing Pokemon going in would be none the wiser.

I have to say that I'm also a little excited about what this incomplete Pokedex could mean for me later in the game too. I've always wanted to complete the Pokedex in one of these games, but in recent installments, doing that was a monumental task. With Sword and Shield's smaller Pokedex, that will obviously be more manageable. I really enjoy shiny hunting too, so I'm looking forward to attempting to fill out the Pokedex in this game and obtaining the Shiny Charm – something that I simply didn't have the time for in previous games.

So, at this stage, I'm a little here and there with regards to the Pokedex. It's disappointing knowing that I won't be able to bring over many of the Pokemon I have stored in Pokemon Bank – which is something I wouldn't be able to do even if those Pokemon were in the game because the app that will presumably facilitate that, Pokemon Home, isn't available yet – but at the same time, it does feel a little bit refreshing to know that I actually have to invest in some new Pokemon this time around.


At this point, I'm having fun playing Pokemon Sword and Shield, but I just wish there were more to it. Maybe I'll get my wish as I continue to play, but judging by the way Pokemon has operated over the last 20 years, I don't think that's going to happen. My full review will be coming up soon, so keep an eye out for that.