Pokemon Sword

The last six hours of Pokemon Sword are great, so why are the preceding eighteen hours so dull?

Pokemon Sword is an accessible, often beautiful, slog. For context, I haven't played a Pokemon game since Pokemon Platinum in 2008 and my strongest memories date back even further. The quality of life improvements made to Pokemon games in the past decade are wonderful, from little things like healing Pokemon after story beats, to one handed mode, these improvements made the act of playing Pokemon Sword feel great. The Pokemon are the cutest they have ever been thanks to updated graphics on Switch hardware.

Despite all this, the story is boring. The problem stems from the main thrust of Sword, the idea that gym battles are a big, spectator sports event. Two flaws run counter to this main conceit, one, the Pokemon games are historically easy, aka I am a grown-ass woman that knows how type advantage works. Two, these ground shaking arena events do not look cool. The discourse around Pokemon's difficulty is long and storied, the fact of the matter is there can be no tension in a blowout, and by merit of revolving around a single type, Pokemon gyms encourage you to have a blowout. In regards to the visuals of the battles, I still feel like I'm playing a game from 2008. Given a conceit of dynamaxed titans duking it out for the world to see, seeing Pokemon remain largely static with moves that are little more than shaking in place does little for my enthusiasm. Regrettably, it feels like these lukewarm gym battles are the only thing to do for the majority of Pokemon Sword. Whereas in older Pokemon games you might explore a power plant or a slowpoke mine or a gambling den in the course of moving to the next town, Pokemon Sword rarely diverges from the course of moving from gym to gym racking up badges. The game goes so far as to introduce mysteries only to have Professor Sonia or Champion Leon say, "I'll investigate this, your gym challenge is more important."

All of this being said, the last few hours of the game, starting around the championship arc and extending through the second "The End" screen, are shonen as hell and really enjoyable. Teaming up with Hop and various story NPCs to take down Pokemon in raid battles is cool. Doing double battles with Hop is cool. But, you only get a couple of these throughout the entire game. The developers couldn't even commit to having all of the final raid battles be team based, you still do 3 or 4 alone. And again, these raid battles are largely the player having perfect insight into the best Pokemon and move to bring to the fight, but for my money having three NPCs there elevates the action.

All in all I've come away from Pokemon Sword with a lukewarm impression. I will likely not be checking out the Isle of Armor DLC, despite the fact that it adds a new bear. In conclusion, I caught about 50 of 'em and called it a day.