Pokemon Sword and Shield show console is where the main line’s future lies

I played Pokemon Sword and Shield at E3 2019, and the leap to a full console release is just as impressive as I expected. For over two decades, I’ve been praying for a main series Pokemon title on console, and the brief hands-on demo I played was exactly what I hoped to see. I only got to play through a gym, the Galar Water Gym, which was purpose-built for E3 and probably isn’t indicative of the final product. However, it was a great introduction to some of the changes that are coming with Pokemon Sword and Shield and how the game performs on the Switch.

The hands-on demo plopped me at the beginning of the Water Gym. Appropriately, in addition to trainers, there is an overarching puzzle consisting of water falling from large pipes. This torrent blocks your path, so you have to control the flow of the water with switches. It’s a pretty simple puzzle, but it breaks up the time between gym trainer battles well.

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The meat of Pokemon games is battling and raising your Pokemon, and this is where Sword and Shield really shines. As much as I love the 3DS games, in Sun and Moon, they reached a point where the small screen really stifled what could be done with the game. Fortunately, on Switch, all the slowdown and aliasing that has plagued the 3DS games are gone. Each battle I participated in played out smoothly no matter what was happening on the screen. Additionally, it seemed like the camera was moving a little more freely. Battles seemed like they were more cinematic than they were on 3DS, and the whole thing had a Pokemon Stadium feel.

In the demo, everyone’s Pokemon were at level 50, so I didn’t get a great picture of how my team would feel if I had leveled them up myself. Also, the trainers in the gym didn’t use Pokemon that I’d expect to see in a water-type gym (Vulpix, comon). However, battling felt good, though the underlying system is much the same as it was in Pokemon Blue and Red 20+ years ago.

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Once I solved the water pipe puzzle, I was able to head into the leader’s sanctum and face off against her. Nessa is a sassy (according to the PR rep who took me through the demo) gym leader and will be in the final game, though her Pokemon may be different. As I entered her location, the camera panned and showed that we were facing off in a proper stadium. I loved that battling a gym leader was given a more grandiose air than in previous games since what should be a big deal has always felt a little subdued.

The prominent feature for the leader battle was Dynamax. Nessa used this new feature to make her Drednaw gigantic, and its roar filled the stadium as she threw its boulder-sized Pokeball to bring it into the battle. Fortunately, I had an opportunity to loose my Dynamaxed Grookey on her, and I stomped Drednaw without batting a sweat (just kidding it almost took out Grookey). Dynamax offers a new dynamic to Pokemon battles, especially since it switches your moves up. Though it only lasts three turns, it does enhance your attack power tremendously. However, the demo didn’t give many indicators as to the limitations of Dynamax. I was only able to use it in the battle against the gym leader, so it may be limited similarly in the final game. Alternatively, Nintendo might just have wanted us to be able to use it in the final battle of the demo.

It’s unfortunate the controversy about Pokemon Sword and Shield‘s Pokedex has arisen because the demo I played really impressed just how much the series has to gain from finally making its way to console. Furthermore, with the Switch, it doesn’t lose its portability giving fans the best of both worlds. I’ll have to save my verdict until the game comes out on November 15, but so far Sword and Shield looks absolutely amazing.