Pokémon Sword & Shield Top Ten! [Straight Outta Kanto]

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Alola, PokéNerds! Welcome to this week’s Straight Outta Kanto blog post. Straight Outta Kanto is Ireland’s number one spot for Nerd Culture, Nostalgia, Nightmares and… more!

We hope you all found last week’s blog post about handy convention tips and tricks useful and can’t wait to see you all at our “Horror in Pokémon” panel at Akumakon 2020 this coming weekend!

It’s been a jellies-shakingly exciting time here at the S.O.K HQ. Producing, recording and editing our very first and very own Straight Outta Kanto Podcast Radio Show – launching Tuesday 14th of January over on the Nerd To Know Media site on iTunes, Spotify etc. This will be a weekly magazine show all about nerdly news, nostalgia nods, spooky spots, hard-hitting petty fandom grievances and and weird things we’ve learned about Japan during the week. So do keep a cheeky ear out for that…!

It’s also been an emotional roller-coaster here because of last week’s Pokémon Direct announcement. Not only are we getting a *drum roll* brand new Sword and Shield Expansion Pass “Isle of Armor” and “Crown Tundra” we are also getting… *inhale* A BRAND NEW POKÉMON MYSTERY DUNGEON GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAME!!! “Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX” will be released March 6th 2020.

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No, it’s not a Gen 4 remake announcement. And YES. We would have preferred a Pokémon Ranger instalment. BUT. Taking everything into consideration, a new Mystery Dungeon and extra content that will hopefully complete an incomplete game, things are certainly looking up.

There’s once again been tremendous controversy over these new Expansion Passes. Paying $30 for access to content that should have already been included in the games? It sounds dreadfully mercenary. It does. Yet. It’ll be cheaper than a new third Galar game (such as Red/Blue then Yellow, Gold/Silver then Crystal etc.) but it will be interesting to see whether or not Game Freak keep up this trend of pay-to-play or if this will be a once off. The great Sword/Shield divide sadly continues to tear the PokéCommunity apart.

However. I’m willing to give Game Freak the benefit of the doubt. This opinion in the past has had me scorned, ridiculed and called a “shill” by the Pokémon community at large, but Pokémon has been there for me these last 22 years. I will weather this storm. My loyalties aren’t so easily cast aside.

To counter all this anti-Game Freak and Sword and Shield hate, let’s celebrate the positive aspects of the game with a little… “Sword and Shield Top Ten!”

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10. No HMs:

Let us raise a salute to the many fallen Bidoof of past Gens. In Galar we are living in a free world where unsuspecting Normal types are no longer taken under our dirty wing for the sole purpose of corrupting their youth and innocence. As our HM (Hidden Machine) slaves.

This frees up our teams meaning we can focus on building a full team of six with four fully functioning moves, thus improving competitive battling and game play. It also improves game play by making the Corviknight Taxi Service a fun new function. Plus, we get to ride our bikes on water now. Which is very, very cool. (In your face, Professor Oak…!)

9. CURRY!!!

In recent Pokémon games there’s been a non-essential function that allows a more pastoral and nurturing interaction with your ‘mon. Camping is Sword and Shield’s function. It allows you to heal the health of your Pokémon without items/Nurse Joy, raises EXP points and can boost friendship – which is essential for certain evolutions and can be handy in battle. Wild Pokémon can also wander in to your camp and join your team, which is very sweet. (And incidentally pretty much how Mr. Mime wandered in to the life of Delia Ketchum.) You also get to make… curry! And have a “Curry Dex” – which is a hilarious little side game and challenge.

8. Jedward of the PokéWorld:

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Swordward and Shielbert (or make that “Shillbert…) are the two post-game villains and I love them. They are as camp as Christmas, slightly incestuous, have bizarre hair and are double-entendre dropping weirdos with delusions of grandeur. Standard Pokémon character design, basically. They also remind me horrendously of notorious X-Factor twins: Jedward.

7. Challenging Gyms:

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The inclusion of formal Gym Missions as well as an increased difficulty from the Gym Leaders themselves – higher levels, harder stats and more challenging move sets – meant more engaging game play. Each gym required more time investment and a more tactical approach to battling. Type-Advantages will always be a thing, but the Galar Gym Leaders weren’t going to let you get away with that old trick so easily…

6. Greater Game Differences:

It’s only been in later years that the differences between the two Pokémon games has become more pronounced. Initially the difference was slight Pokédex variations (to encourage trading), Legendary ‘mon, and a corresponding different hue tinting the exact same game. Later games increased the differences between the games, Black and White being the prime example with Black City/White Forest. In Galar, not only do you get the different Pokémon variations, you also get different physical Gym Leaders depending on what version you have. This leads to a richer and more varied fan experience.

5. You Came To the Wrong Neighbourhood:

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I think the Wild Area is fantastic. The variety of wild Pokémon, the camping, the PokéDens for Watts and Dynamax Raid battles, the Rotom Challenge, CURRY and, of course, being chased around in the open by wild Pokémon! This last point in particular I find encourages a more realistic trainer experience for the player. I think being chased out of a patch of grass by EIGHT Stufful guarding a flipping berry tree is an enormously realistic situation an actual Pokémon trainer could find themselves in…

4. Challenging Evolutions:

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Don’t get me started.

Just get Googling.

Game Freak certainly aren’t spoon feeding you the new Pokémon Evolutions for certain ‘mon anyway, that’s for sure. No one can accuse them of being too lazy in that regard…

3. Responsible Adult:

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The number one thing for me with any new Pokémon game is the story. I love a good over-the-top villain (or two) and some end-of-the-world drama. But that’s just me.

I struggled with the story for Sword and Shield. It had no real evil team, per say, and there wasn’t really anything majorly apocalyptic, nothing spectacular, anyway. Any of the main “action” was mostly managed in the background by Champion Leon and other appropriately aged and experienced adults.

While I would have liked a more hands on Dooms-day journey in the game, it’s actually a more fitting and realistic scenario to have the Champion take care of things without handing it all over to a ten year old. The focus for your character is the Gym League, the actual core purpose of the games.

2. Galar Pokémon Designs:

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The Galarian forms, evolutions and the new Galar Region ‘mon are fantastic. Charming, adorable, surprising and endearing. You look into the eyes of a Snom and tell me otherwise. I DARE YOU.

1. THE SATISFACTION OF DESTROYING “HAU 2” :

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While I appreciate that the Rival set-up for Gen 8 is pretty much the exact same Rival set-up as every other game (bar Gen 2) … Come on.

There’s just something extra, extra satisfying about literally not only tearing down Hop’s dream every step of the way but also fulfilling his exact destiny right before his very eyes.

His one sole purpose in life was to knock his brother off the top spot as Champion. That’s a hardcore family odyssey right there and what did you do!? What did you do you smug bastard!? You DESTROYED Hop and everything he ever knew and loved and lived for. This rivalry was almost as grotty feeling as defeating Little Orphan Wally in Gen 3.

Grotty. But oh so satisfying. Because he was so bloody annoying. And a carbon copy model of Hau. Hop was basically just born to be hated from the get-go.

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There we have it, nerdlings! Keep watching the skeys! I mean, skies!

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Pokémon Sword and Shield: A Brief Discussion [Straight Outta Kanto]

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Pokémon Sword and Shield: A Brief Discussion

Alola, PokéNerds! Welcome to Straight Outta Kanto, your brand new Irish blog for nostalgia, nerd culture, nonsense and… more!

November 15th 2019, the release date for the single most divisive and controversial Pokémon RPG in the franchise’s 23 year history: Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield.

In spite of the constant pleas from the “#BoycottGameFreak” crowd for PokéFans across the globe to refrain from buying the games, at 8:55am there are queues outside the shut doors of my local GameStop, and others. This is a sight I have never seen in all my many, many years of Pokémon release day turn-outs.

The air is filled with nervous anticipation and there is an awkward, almost embarrassed banter among the members of the queue. It’s apparent that despite all the screamingly negative press, reviews and wild rumours and conspiracy theories, we’re all people who are hoping against hope that the rumours… are just that.

There was an unprecedented tension and furore about the game’s many restricted or deleted functions, cut-backs, and backwards changes not in keeping with the forward march of gaming’s progress.

These changes were especially unwelcome given the fact that the Nintendo Switch is a high-powered console with a tremendous capacity for larger, more impressive creative gaming outputs. That, plus the fact that 2018’s Let’s Go! Pikachu/Eevee games were so poor. So very poor.

I have not yet 100% completed the post-game story (and YES, there IS a post-game story) so I will only give a light over-all treatment of the main game in today’s review and leave the more in-depth essay for another time.

I will also endeavour to remain as spoiler free as possible for anyone waiting to play the games at Christmas time or for those like me who work full-time and have restricted time for gaming.

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The game starts out standard enough for a Pokémon RPG – you are a young trainer living with your single mom in a small town, have a local neighbourhood friend-turned-rival and there is a benevolent elderly Pokémon professor who is willing to enable your journey across the region.

The region in Sword/Shield ‘Galar‘ is based on the United Kingdom. The rural town of Postwick has a charming English country-side feel to it and the attention to detail in the names and visuals of each town big or small through-out the game is endearing and thoughtful.

A lot of research into the United Kingdom has evidently been undertaken – more so than the France inspired Kalos region of New York influenced Castelia City, Unova.

However, despite the routes, towns and villages being picturesque and visually pleasing – they are mostly empty or have the bare minimum of houses/shops/facilities, less than previous games. This, coupled with the sheer vastness of the areas you traverse, often feels like one is playing a game on a large desolate movie set surrounded by a façade.

The lack of dungeons/caves/forests, which caused concern amongst fans pre-game-release, only serves to further highlight the barren emptiness of the Galar region.

The soundtrack on the other-hand is engaging and enjoyable. Only time will tell if it will stand as a true Classic Pokémon Soundtrack, but it’s certainly making a solid case.

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There is still the traditional format of collecting the eight gym badges, but gone is the Elite 4. However, the Champion remains and his title is most definitely up for grabs.

Tweaks made to the Pokémon League make it one of the strongest, most positive aspects of Sword/Shield. No more is the Gym Challenge a solo, private journey – it’s treated in Galar as a formal televised sporting event in full-on “football” stadiums. I’m not a sports fan in real-life, but the uniforms, battle graphics, intense soundtrack and crowd audio effects make for the most thrilling and stimulating Gym Battles out of the entire Pokémon franchise.

‘Dynamax’ – Gen 8’s new battle gimmick is actually GOOD! I never cared for Mega Evolutions or Z-Moves, but the sparse way Dyanamxing is parcelled out through-out the game stops it being over-used and keeps it relatively fresh.

The inclusion of the ‘Wild Area’ is also a most welcome addition – it gives you a taste of what life alongside Pokémon would really be like. (Just stay away from hordes of angry Bewear…!) The new Pokémon designs for the starters, the region in general and the new typed-existing Pokémon are refreshing but comfortingly familiar.

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The story over-all, sadly, is the weakest out of all eight generations. I genuinely can’t determine whether ‘Team Yell‘ (a mixture of punk-meets-football hooligan) are actually a wildly scathing and ironic take on the stereotypical politeness of the British or just lazy, lazy writing. The worst that Team Yell does is occasionally cause some mild inconvenience that’s more of a nuisance than anything remotely malevolent. At least Team Skull were charismatic with an epic theme tune… 

The actual ‘villain’ reveal is… so… weak. And confusing. But not confusing in a “complicated in-depth plot way”, confusing in a “but nothing’s happened and they didn’t really do anything so what exactly is happening and how did we get here?” way. The lore that surrounds Galar and Dynamaxing is vague, scrappy and unfinished. I would have liked a more defined history and plot. And stronger character development.

The game also feels and looks RUSHED three-quarters of the way through and suffers for it, I fear.

The lack of legendaries/mythicals etc. in Galar is actually welcome for me as there has been a saturation of them in previous regions to the point where there were so many legendaries they didn’t feel very legendary…! However, we have one of the most evile looking surprise legendary Pokémon and the main legendary dogs Zacian and Zamazenta are standard non-threatening legendaries doggos, so I’m fine with them.

Over all the game feels more like a series of visually pleasing and enjoyable mini-games rather than any substantial, in-depth narrative that you the player are an active member of.

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While I appreciate that it is impossible to please every player, especially with such a beloved and deeply-personal franchise as Pokémon, this game raised more questions than it answered. I always hoped that the removal of certain features was to make up for the inclusion of bigger and better things, but it wasn’t… really.

I know that as a business there is tremendous financial pressure on Pokémon and Game Freak to release new games annually, they usually are up to this challenge and produce a high quality product, but I feel that Sword and Shield could be the start of Game Freak’s descent in to the world of poor quality, disposable and avaricious mobile-style gaming. Which would be heartbreaking for myself, a fan for exactly twenty years this December, and others.

Also, considering how much money Pokémon must bring in and the manpower out there across the globe of people who would be willing to be involved in working with Pokémon creatively on the gaming team, there isn’t really an excuse for low-budget, lazy outputs…

I still love Pokémon and hope that whatever upgraded version of Sword/Shield we’ll no doubt be getting Christmas 2020 fills in the gaps that we’re left with now…!

That being said, six million copies sold it’s first week, it just goes to show there’s no publicity like bad publicity.

I give this game 4 Pokeballs out of 6.

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There we have it, nerdlings! Keep watching the skeys! I mean, skies!

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