Yes, this is an opinion I still hold in the advent of Scarlet/Violet’s atrocious visuals and performance.
Before I start blasting negative words about a franchise I adore, I’d like to touch on the things I think generation 8 did correctly.
Overall, I think the new wild areas in Pokémon Sword and Shield proved a monumental step forward for the series. It’s the first step Game Freak has made toward realizing millions of childhood pipe dreams across the globe.
Our fast travel system has leaped hurdles and dashed up to modern standards. The new cinematic camera during battles makes them more fun to look at, as well. I especially love the stadium-style gym battles featuring colossal crowd ambiance. The new background music for the gyms? It’s catchy and surprisingly modern.
I also think that gen 8 features the tidiest and most organized online matchmaking and events we’ve seen from Game Freak. So, kudos for that!
Game Freak remedied previous roadblocks that left competitive Pokémon inaccessible to the masses.
Accessibility is a monumental boon to the competitive scene. That’s a healthy step forward for Pokémon trainers worldwide!
Lastly, and the biggest draw for me: Collectors can breed for exotic balls with relative ease.
In previous generations, only a female could pass a rare ball to her offspring. This made chain breeding with Ditto a relentless grind. Countless Pokémon endure a 12.5% female birth rate. Breeding something like an Eevee with a cool entrance animation and perfect stats could easily exhaust 4-5 hours! Gross.
Of course, the positive feedback abruptly ends there.
I’m not going to argue that the new Pokémon games aren’t fun. I wholeheartedly enjoy them. Although, generation 8 left me wondering if I’d ever purchase another Pokémon game. Sword and Shield are easily the worst Pokémon games ever released, and here’s why:
Martin’s Solrock used Cosmic Power! The wild Dedenne nullified the stat changes and abilities of all opposing Pokémon. Martin’s Solrock used Cosmic Power!
Here’s the thing:
It’s brutally apparent that Game Freak didn’t spend a ton of time testing the balance of these new Max Raids.
The new Max Raid battles were designed to be the main selling point of the game!
There have been hundreds of times where I would fire off a G-max move that an opposing Pokémon would sport a quad weakness to, only to deal about five damage before getting blocked off by a new layer of “shields”
The dens feel like an expression of lucky timing rather than offering any true challenge. So, when Game Freak decides to pair me up with Freya’s Eevee who evidently only knows Helping Hand, and Martin’s Solrock that only seems to know Cosmic Power and Rock Polish, it feels more like an annoyance than anything.
The online raid feed and shared raid system are a littered mess of mistimed push notifications. Most battles that appear through your feed have already timed out or filled. Online functionality tosses even more kindling into the fire with poor optimization.
As far as a new generation gimmick goes, Pokémon Sword and Shield are Easily the worst Pokémon games we’ve seen.
Unless you enjoy twirling your thumbs in an empty lobby for three minutes only to face the light of a time-out screen at the end of the tunnel.
Staring into the face of a giant Gothitelle was a weighty disappointment. Her dead eyes sat flush with the rest of her face. There were no signs of shading or depth to be seen.
It isn’t just Gothitelle either. They all suffered.
Somehow, every other Nintendo franchise has managed to break boundaries on Nintendo Switch hardware.
Meanwhile, Pokémon Sword and Shield are the worst looking games we’ve seen from a Nintendo developer this generation. Fans are starting to reminisce about the days of Pokémon sprites. At least the sprites looked charming.
Ever wonder how much dialog the game would have if Hop didn’t exist? I swear – every time that little kid opens his mouth – I’m listening to another generic TED talk about the importance of perseverance.
Which is great…
Except he drills his speech into us every time we hit an intersection or enter a building. He’s always challenging us to battles without making any noticeable changes to his party. His rematches feel a lot less like a lesson on perseverance and more like a spotty interpretation of childhood masochism.
How does he keep finding us if he’s rushing off bull-headed every 15 seconds? Do we have a stalker? Does he hide in dumpsters waiting for the perfect moment to pounce?
Leon and Sophia? They’re literal two-dimensional caricatures.
Leon has never lost a single battle in his entire life. Not once. He’s the unrivaled image of perfection who throws his Pokéball better than anyone in Galar. He wears a cape. He gets lost all the time.
Each character in Galar drills these character traits into our brains as though they’re nothing short of a Picasso painting bound to luxurious framing. Get those dangerous power tools away from my head already!
Aside from that, Leon is wholly devoid of character. Pokémon has never been the franchise to win any academy awards for acting. I get that.
But let’s take a moment to compare some past champions to Leon. Lance wore a gaudy cape, too. We can start with him.
Lance was obsessed with the idea of nobility, isolated himself deep in the mountains for intensive training. Lance also disguised himself to commit government espionage before rushing in to save the day and had a distinct role as a chairman for a world peace organization.
Steven was a shy hermit. He kept himself isolated and obsessed over rocks with the love and care of a geologist. Steven was humble. He was often helpful without completely over-running our operations.
Alder was a self-afflicted outcast who never won the Pokémon League title. He was allegedly elected champion by Unova officials. Alder was a simple wanderer trying to overcome loss after his beloved Volcarona died.
Diantha was an uptown-styled actress who spoke with an unusual amount of formality. Her personality was ripe with affluence, Ripe with the sort of insincere politeness you would expect socially ingrained into her etiquette.
Leon? Oh. Rumor has it that his Pokéball throwing stance is exquisite.
“Now listen here, children,” chimed every character in the game, “You just focus on your little gym battles, and us grown-ups will handle the big meanies”
Off they went. Miraculously, the adults saved the world somewhere off-screen. Our child prodigy protagonist never had to lift a finger.
Uh oh! Here comes Team Yell! They have a nefarious plot to… Cheer on our rival?
Oh no! Here comes Eternatus! The hardest Pokémon to catch in the whole game! I’d better save my progress! Wait. Nevermind. I captured him with a Pokéball on my first try.
Pokémon’s light simplicity has always been its appeal. Still, there’s a line to be drawn between keeping a game light – and straight hijacking the user experience.
If Pokémon X and Y were a gentle stroll in the park, Pokémon Sword and Shield were the equivalents of being pushed through the park in an automated infant stroller.
The option to turn off experience-share vanished this generation. Experience points flooded my benched ‘Mons, despite their ability to knock out gym leaders in a clean sweep.
In terms of difficulty, Pokémon Sword and Shield dropped the ball. Luckily, we can bypass over-simplified difficulty curves by injecting a self-imposed Nuzlocke, but the forceful experience share still plagues us.
Long gone are the days of solving cave puzzles or revisiting old routes with new equipment/abilities. Pokémon X and Y were the first to use linear routes, and apparently, that was a huge success.
Nowadays, you can stare straight at your television while navigating these routes because most of the time, they follow a straight line.
I suppose the enchanted forest before hitting Ballonlea had the intent to be our big puzzle in Sword and Shield. I’d hardly consider a path that branches two or three times a puzzle.
Please, Game Freak, I know you want to make this franchise accessible to children. Children LOVE solving puzzles.
Now we’re starting to get into the core mechanics that have helped Pokémon evolve from its first-generation mechanics of glorified Rock, Paper, Scissors.
In the early days of Pokémon, things were cut pretty dry. Alakazam was the best psychic type. End of story. Gengar was the only ghost type. End of story. Tauros was the best normal type. End of story.
In Gold/Silver, we started seeing support moves and coverage moves diversify teams. Skarmory started dropping spikes to promote tankier teams that punished switch-ins. Jolteon and Scizor became baton pass users who could support teammates with threatening stat buffs. Teams needed haze users or roar users to blast away the set-up sweepers. We witnessed physical and special attacks split by type.
In generation 3 we started giving Pokémon unique abilities. Suddenly, Tentacruel was a viable choice. He had access to rapid spin. Starmie boasted the same support role but could also bounce status problems while switching out.
In generation 4, we picked up even more support roles. New entry hazards! U-turn helped bulky teammates offer safe switch-ins to their allies. The developers broke their old rule of thumb for types being the sole determining factor of whether a move was special or physical. Another step forward for Pokémon.
Generation 5 gave us weather setters.
Generation 6 balanced the type chart with the introduction of fairies and dampened the power of popular moves.
Each time a generation shifts, Pokémon inherited new Technical Moves, Egg Moves, and Tutor Moves. Generation 8 is the worst Pokémon game in terms of support moves. The moves we gained stagnate toward aggression and coverage.
Hydreigon lost tailwind. He was the only non-flying type who could stir a windy speed boost. But, of course, our cranky cave-dweller gained powerful coverage moves.
Garchomp lost dragon tail. He can’t force switch-ins after setting rocks anymore. It was a unique team role only Garchomp could fill. Although, we can still make Garchomp into another aggressive sweeper – just like everyone else.
Umbreon lost access to toxic. His era of absorbing hits and spreading status became a foggy memory.
Sure, Pokémon movesets change every generation. Our problem isn’t necessarily that the moves disappeared. Our problem is their new replacements.
106 Pokémon learn close combat now. It was a once exclusive 120 base power super-sweeping secret-weapon hitting 5 distinct types at double damage. Having access to the move made it’s users a unique choice for teams. Although, with 106 options, it hardly feels special this generation.
The list goes on. In prior generations, I trained Pokémon to act as part of a team. In Pokémon Sword and Shield, I primarily raised stand-alone creatures, each with efficient coverage moves.
We find ourselves backtracking to the old days of: “Alakazam is the best non-legendary Psychic type because of his stats. End of story.”
Thus making SwSh – you guessed it – the worst Pokémon team-building experience since Red/Blue.
For a game trying to boast how big everything can be, there isn’t much to explore.
I can appreciate how jam-packed the routes were with unique Pokémon species’. Still, spacing the habitats out would have done this game wonders.
The problem with the wild area was how unnatural it felt. Someone at the studio suggested tacking it on last minute after seeing praise from the “Let’s Go” encounter engine. Then, the developers grew frustrated with the task of producing Wild Areas under a tight deadline and dumped it.
If the whole overworld had presented itself as a Wild Area, this game could’ve rocked… as long as she wouldn’t lag like the massive over-compensation that was Scarlet and Violet.
Instead, we got a dinky homestead – easily traversed from one corner to the opposite in two minutes.
The weather biomes are so small it’s uncanny. They don’t provide much for the overworld other than obscuring our vision, providing us with only the frustration of traversing an area blindfolded.
I’ve heard every excuse in the book, Game Freak!
If Witcher 3 can cram onto the Nintendo Switch, Pokémon can pack a little more punch too. The problem isn’t hardware limitations or lack of skill. The problem is your deadlines.
I didn’t need Pokémon released in time for the holidays. I needed a quality Pokémon product.
I tried my best to savor this game, and I still cleared it in under 30 hours. That was running as a dex completionist, mind you. The world was a hollow shell aching for her former glory.
I’m glad that Game Freak dropped Z-moves. Adding new mechanics every generation was beginning to make the game convoluted and visible issues with power creep incoming started sprouting up.
Although, the Dynamax mechanic was nothing more than a cheap band-aid.
Now you can simply mega evolve your strongest Pokémon for more carnage than ever before, and he gets the luxury of three back-to-back, changeable Z-moves.
We’ve doubled the base power of popular moves like ice beam, thunderbolt, flamethrower. We’ve given these moves perfect accuracy. We’ve also topped these insatiable moves off with perks like setting weather or offering free stat boosts.
-Game Freak, probably
This has some overlap with #5.
Politoed is useless now that Kingdra can set rain without losing a turn or a moveslot.
What is the point of using an evasive Froslass to lay spikes now?
There isn’t one. Moves never miss and alter weather without any loss of momentum.
This solution presents more problems to game balance than the features they were trying to replace. I go into competitive singles matches, and the key strategy is dropping a turn 1 Dynamax.
Do your best to outrace your opponent, set yourself up with your three flashy Z-moves, and if your Dynamax took down the opponents: proceed to sweep.
There are ways to counter this strategy, but the window is small and often not worth giving up your chance to win the drag race.
Worse yet, Dynamaxing set a precedent for unveiling new off-brand Mega evolution gimmicks to abandon with each passing generation. Terastellizing in Scarlet/Violet is just another Mega evolution re-skin. Meanwhile, Pokémon who picked up Megas shedded their evolutionary buffs – making them feel like they occurred in a fever dream.
Somehow, Game Freak managed to unearth the worst of both worlds.
You go into a den with some buddies. You win a few raids. You catch the legendary Pokémon with a 100% success rate.
There aren’t any secret tunnels to navigate to find the den. It’s located right beside the fast travel portal. You don’t need to train a Pokémon crew. Just rent whatever the scientist offers.
Legendaries: Now you can start 100 save files and collect as many of these bad boys as you want in a matter of minutes!
Don’t believe me?
Check out the Pokémon home app today!
Forgive me, I couldn’t suppress the urge.
The Japanese forged an underground network of swapping Kubfu for Pokémon bred in Apriballs. Go ahead, try tossing your heavy ball Torkoal in Pokémon Home requesting a Kubfu.
I bet you’ll get one.
While I can appreciate the ease of swapping Pokémon in rare balls without gambling for junk trades, I still think it presents an enormous design flaw in what should classify as a “Legendary” Pokémon.
If I wanted to play a turn-based RPG with characters I didn’t care about, I’d pick up a new game.
The genre is now leagues ahead of Pokémon in terms of depth and story.
Pokémon still tramples today’s market for one reason: It boasts an incredibly diverse (and unique) roster. There is an overwhelming threat that their reign may end.
I know the hardware can support thousands of creatures. I think deep down we all do.
Each creature diced from the roster offered a refreshing spin on combat.
Venomoth was a frail little porch light magnet, sure. He was also the only in-game character who could pass a quiver dance buff to friends. Access to sleep powder with his compound eyes ability was lethal.
Chesnaught was the ugliest armadillo the world has ever gazed upon. He also had access to spiky shield and could damage foes while playing a defensive game.
Donphan was a great rapid spinner for wacky trick-room-sandstorm-team shenanigans.
Breloom was our most aggressive spore user. He had some great moveset options to mesh with his ability technician. Not all sleep-inducing teams want to play slow and tanky.
Eelektross had the best coverage moves of any electric type.
Serperior used his contrary ability to spam threatening leaf storms, a move that no other Pokémon would dared to spam since it halves their attack strength.
Alomomola was the only Pokémon with the regenerator ability that wish pass while simultaneously mirror coating special attacks away. Alright, that one’s a stretch…
Team building suffered.
The decision to cut these critters from the game was a hasty one. It stirred up serious hobby drama in one of the friendliest, most wholesome online gaming communities. Fans became divided as though they were representatives of an electoral college, as though they were standing on opposing ends of tectonic plates in the moments before an earthquake.
Fans refreshed their news feed with fingers crossed, hoping that their favorites would make the cut.
New derogatory terms sprouted up, such as “Genwunner” or “Nintendo’s Call of Duty Mascots” Pokémon Sword and Shield broke the community in ways that seemed incomprehensible until Game Freak straight Thanos-snapped the lineup. It was heartbreaking to watch.
I know. Calling Pokémon Sword and Shield the worst Pokémon games to date is a pretty bold claim. I stand by it. Here’s to hoping that our beloved franchise takes a hint and starts heading back in the right direction.
Here’s to hoping that Game Freak takes their time on future installments.