[Reading Time: 7-10 minutes; very minor gameplay spoilers]
I don’t give a single heck about the National Dex controversy. So let’s get that out of the way right now.
As you can see, I’ve played Pokemon Shield for exactly 20 hours, collected the first two badges, caught 69 Pokemon, and am currently running with a main team consisting of:
• Hitmonchan: Drain Punch, Bullet Punch, Ice Punch, Thunder Punch
• Pumpkaboo: Bullet Seed, Shadow Sneak, Confuse Ray, Leech Seed
• Gyarados: Waterfall, Rain Dance, Crunch, Ice Fang
• Boltund: Nuzzle, Spark, Bite, Swift
• Raboot: Flame Charge, Double Kick, Quick Attack, Swift
• Corvisquire: Pluck, Hone Claws, Power Trip, Taunt
They’re all leveled in their late 20s, early 30s, and I’m still figuring out what attacks/moves I want for those last three. I spent a sizable chunk of those 20 hours looking for a Tyrogue with Steadfast, a non-crappy nature, and stat IVs that wouldn’t interfere with evolving into Hitmonchan.
I also have a group of backups in the PC who I switch out (might as well since you can’t turn Exp. Share off), including an original and Galarian Meowth, Ninjask with False Swipe for catching, Klink which I’m still convinced sounds like a racial slur, an Eevee that I’m planning on evolving into Umbreon, and a Dottler because I find Bug/Psychic to be a pretty unique dual-type.
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Aspects of the game I’m loving so far:
The British slang is good fun. They say “mum” instead of mom, friends call each other mate, the gym arena is called the ‘pitch’ since it looks like what Americans would refer to as a soccer field, and I’m guessing at some point I’m going to be asked if I’m alright.
Interestingly enough, the move “Vise Grip” is now spelled as such with the American spelling, versus the British spelling “Vice Grip” which the games had been using since 1998. As a grammar nerd, I am both fascinated and puzzled.
There is an increased emphasis on berries. The first town has a vendor selling a few for cheap, and the Wild Area has a plethora of berry trees with a pseudo-Blackjack minigame. Pokemon healthcare is much cheaper if you only use natural ingredients [insert vague political critique of Western medicine]. You can also mix berries into curry, but I’m just not interested in that system yet.
The theme for Team Yell is pretty rad. The music in Hulbury is fantastic – it feels like an actual SONG, not just a loop track. (Not that there’s anything wrong with those.)
If there hadn’t been a presidential impeachment hearing going on every second of this week, I’d have listened to that music to that while writing this. Or maybe the Turffield theme, with its vague reminiscence of a lovechild between video game music and a 90s rock ballad.
The background during battles is exactly what you see around you in the area, replacing the generic “grassy area” of previous generations. The games were fine without this, but it never hurts to see the carpet match the drapes.
I went in blind, with no knowledge of new Galarian forms, with the exception of Weezing and Ponyta. They’re such unavoidable spoilers on the internet, so deliberately designed for meme primetime.
I mean just look at them:
Nintendo knows what’s up.
So I was pleasantly surprised when I ran into a new Galarian Meowth that I thought was Rock-type at first, but turned out to be Steel. I’m curious to see what moves it will have that differs from the other two Meowth breeds.
I was unsure about the idea of Pokemon appearing visually in random encounter areas (as they do in Go and Let’s Go), but now I’m fully on board. I caught a Tyrogue and decided I wanted to run with a Hitmonchan for its attack type diversity (Fighting, Steel, Fire, Ice, and Electric punches are all available). But I caught one with the wrong Ability; I wanted Iron Fist to increase punching attacks, not Keen Eye to keep my accuracy from being lowered. So I found myself zipping around the Wild Area outside grassy areas looking for a Tyrogue and avoiding all the other Pokemon. Imagine if you could have avoided all the Zubats in Mt. Moon while you’re looking for Geodude or Clefairy.
But then, if you’re just engaging in random battles to level up, you don’t have to pay attention to the ones you can see. You can run around in the grass just like the pre-Go days. Running in the grass will make a ! pop up, and if you run into that exclamation mark, you’re essentially in a traditional random encounter. It’s quick to initiate, you won’t know the Pokemon you’re fighting until the battle starts, and it might not even be the same kind as the ones you visually see walking around.
There’s a brilliant view looking into the distance in the exact area near the daycare where you’ll be riding your bike back and forth to hatch eggs. Sun/Moon’s daycare area wasn’t nearly as large as previous games, so the size of Sword/Shield’s daycare area is a welcome re-addition, essentially a return to the long stretch of plains we had in X/Y.
The character models are a beautiful evolution of the slightly lanky characters in Sun/Moon. Game Freak continues to trend toward more realistic-looking people, a long way away from the sprites of old.
The available outfits are stylish as always. Here’s what I’m rocking:
Because I was gay in a past life, I’m still thoroughly enjoying the fashion game that I was afraid had gone away with the release of Omega Ruby and Ultra Sapphire. Am I a pedo for thinking her haircut is cute? Only God can judge me.
Quite a few smaller, quality-of-life changes. More buttons on the Switch controller allow ZL and ZR to be equivalent to pressing A, allowing you to play most of the game with one hand, without giving up the L and R buttons for PC navigation as previously necessary.
The ability to access my PC from the field is honestly a pretty groundbreaking feature for the Pokemon franchise. Though after feeling the convenience of using DIM to manage my weapons and armor in Destiny, I don’t know how I ever lived without this. You can’t use the remote-PC feature in gyms and I’m assuming some other important areas, similar to not being able to switch your loadout during a Nightfall strike or Trials of the Nine. But when you’re running around in random grass areas, it certainly doesn’t hurt to give access to your PC. It’s kind of a “Why Not?” feature, honestly.
I love being able to plug my device into the charger and pick up the game on my TV right where I left off – though that’s on account of the Nintendo Switch functionality, nothing to do with this Pokemon game specifically.
I try to run around with at least one in my team with the ability Pickup, which has a chance to give you random items after every match. Sometimes it’s a Repel or a Super Potion, but I’m pretty sure I got a Moon Stone or Leaf Stone once; I’m not sure which one (I have both in my inventory right now) and I didn’t hit record, so I’m not positive. With the changes to how EV training works, I’m finding myself not knowing what items will be useful later on. That feeling of mystery is refreshing.
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I have a lot of complaints about the way these new games hold your hand, don’t really allow exploration or the ability to organically figure out where to go next, and feature no Metroidvania-style systems where you happen upon an obstacle and use a later item to overcome it.
But I’m hoping my complaints are due to the fact that I’m still only two badges in, and that perhaps like Super Metroid, the game will open up during the second half and allow me to wander and find my own way. Instead of being told by someone in every single Route and every single town exactly where to go next and what to do when I get there.
So I am saving those thoughts for after I complete the entire game to see if I get proven wrong. And I hope I do!