With the newest Pokémon Direct freshly behind us and Nintendo’s E3 presentation over with, Pokémon Sword & Shield is easily one of the hottest topics of conversation surrounding upcoming titles, particularly ones that are coming this year. And Nintendo knows this, which is why a fully playable demo is available on the E3 show floor. Being the insane PokéManiac that I am, there wasn’t a question about whether or not I was going to end up trying that demo — I was absolutely going to spend as much time holding that controller as I possibly could.
When I was finally given the chance to step up, I was ecstatic – shaking with excitement. The attendant at the stand asked me if I’d ever played a Pokémon game before, and while I wasn’t trying to be rude, I laughed. The entire demo area was set up to look like the Water-type Pokémon Gym, headed by Nessa, the Gym Leader we were introduced to yesterday. The area included giant walls with crowds of fans printed on them and attendants dressed in Gym Leader uniforms. The entire thing was immersive, fun, and wholly Pokémon, and it couldn’t have been more perfect.
The demo starts and you’re immediately thrown right into the Gym — no nonsense, no superfluous information. The Gym attendant tells you it’s the Water-type Gym, and he can heal your Pokémon if needed, and then he sets you off.
One of the things I know has sparked a lot of conversation since the Pokémon Direct last week is the idea that fans were scared the new Stadium Gyms were a telltale sign that Gym puzzles were a thing of the past. I can guarantee you know this is not true; now classified as Gym Missions, each Gym starts with a puzzle you have to solve and Gym Trainers you have to defeat in order to proceed. In Nessa’s case, she has you solve a button puzzle that involves redirecting the flow of water columns from the ceiling to clear a path to the Stadium. There are several Gym Trainers that are blocking the path as well, and you’ll have to defeat them in battle in order to progress.
As a Trainer in the demo, you’re given a team of six Level 50 Pokémon: Sobble, Scorbunny, Grookey, Wooloo, Corviknight, and the newly introduced Yamper. What was most interesting about the demo to me was the fact that the Gym Trainers had seemingly nonsensical Pokémon for a Water-type Gym such as Vulpix and Gossifleur, but it quickly occurred to me that this was most likely so that you can utilize the different Pokémon in the party they give you that you wouldn’t otherwise use (Sobble for Vulpix, Scorbunny for Gossifleur, Corviknight for Impidimp, etc.) It’s a clever way to get you to use more Pokémon than you might normally, and I have a strong feeling that the Trainers’ Pokémon choices will change by the time the full game comes out.
Playing through the Gym Mission, what stuck out to me immediately was that it felt… just like any other Pokémon Gym. If there was any concern that there might be a change in these because of the refocus in Gyms, there really isn’t a need to worry. While I can’t necessarily speak for every Gym in the game, Nessa’s felt like it fit in exactly with the rest of the of the puzzles from Pokémon Gyms past, and I actually had a lot of fun running around and trying to figure it out.
Pokémon Battles, too, felt VERY good. My immediate response was that everything flowed well, everything was smooth, and everything felt like it was working as it should. In the demo’s case (and I have to assume the full game as well), Sword & Shield don’t suffer from the same fate as some other Pokémon games where everything feels like it’s running at 0.75% speed, and that’s something I’m always concerned about with a Pokémon game. Subsequently, playing through this felt good, and my fear of another slow-moving Pokémon game was quashed… at least for now.
Ultimately, I can’t say that the lead-up to Nessa was particularly tough in terms of battles (it did take me a few minutes to figure out the puzzle, though!), but I’m not sure it was meant to be with the demo. Obviously, you’re limited to a short period of time to play the game here, and I think more than anything Nintendo wants you to be able to make it to the Gym Leader without much of a fuss, so you can actually experience the “meat” of the Battle System: Dynamax.
A new battle mechanic was something I saw coming from a mile away, and as someone who loved Mega Evolution and hated Z-Moves, Dynamax fell firmly in the middle for me. I felt indifferent upon the announcement, but was interested to see how it would play out in-game. While I don’t see myself using it a ton in the full-game, I knew I had to give it a chance during the demo, and I’m glad I did.
What’s interesting about the Dynamax feature is that it feels very powerful without necessarily feeling like an insta-win gimmick. Don’t get me wrong, it absolutely seems to make battles easier, but as a long-time Pokémon fan not in the way I was expecting… or even worried about. Dynamaxing Grookey against Nessa’s Drednaw felt good, and it was both cute and fun to watch that giant monkey go head to head with a massive turtle in the climax of the battle. It was exciting, and I can see the feature appealing to a lot of people.
The entirety of the demo was fun, albeit a little short. That’s kind of what I was expecting though — there’s not a ton they can show off from a new region even in a controlled environment before they’re ready, and I can’t blame Nintendo for that. But I have to appreciate what we were given: a cute taste of what’s to come that has me drooling for more. Most importantly, it felt like Pokémon, and while that might seem to go without saying, people seem to be afraid more than ever that the series is something entirely different from what it used to be. Thankfully, I can say with excitement that this game feels right.
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