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The Pokémon Sword and Shield demo at E3 2019 was a throwback to the Red/Blue Pokémon games of 1998 until Pokémon Sun/Moon was released late 2016, as the demo took place exclusively in the Galar Region Water Gym. Instead of Island Challenges in Sun/Moon and Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon, the Pokémon franchise’s return to the tried-and-true formula of yesteryear meant that I had to clear puzzles in the gym (rotate water spouts around) and defeat trainers (three of them) in order to clear my way to the boss. In what is a clear shift from the 3DS generation of titles and the prior Nintendo Switch Let’s Go! Pikachu/Eevee games, Pokémon Sword and Shield clearly have taken a page from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and the No More Heroes franchise by adopting a cel-shading-lite appearance that is stunning to look at.
For my team, I was given the three new starters (Sobble, Scorbunny, and Grookey), the very meme-able Wooloo (Normal-type), Corviknight (Flying/Steel-type), and Yamper (Electric-type). My entire party was at level fifty, and I was told that there was an NPC at the start of the gym who would heal me up as necessary. As I took on the three different trainers, I discovered that STAB (single type attack bonus) is still relevant, and that the basic typing advantages/disadvantages haven’t changed.
When I faced down the Water Gym Leader, Nessa, towards the end of my demo, I faced her team of Goldeen and Drednaw (a new Water/Rock-type). It was then that I was finally able to use this generation’s new Pokémon gimmick: Dynamax. Instead of using it on my Grookey or Yamper (which would make sense against Water Pokémon), I instead used it on the Wooloo. There are few things more hilarious in life than a Wooloo suddenly being swallowed up by giant purple and black clouds around its head as it looms over a small Goldeen.
Dynamax is the new gameplay feature added to Pokémon Sword and Shield, which allows you to grow one Pokémon to an extremely large size for three turns. (Images courtesy of Nintendo).
I quickly discovered, however, that this new mode wasn’t an automatic ‘win’ button. While it is true that Wooloo did more damage with Max Strike (the Pokémon’s regular moveset all convert to a different moveset based upon the move’s type, resulting in Wooloo having two of the same Max Strike moves available), it was absolutely not enough to knock the Goldeen out. It took two strikes with the Goldeen, who kept doing serious damage to my giant Wooloo. When Nessa knocked my Wooloo out with her Drednaw on the third and final turn for Dynamax mode, I knew that I made a mistake and picked the wrong Pokémon to use. I started to switch to my STAB attack Pokémon that had a type advantage, but Drednaw used its own Dynamax ability and I ended up with my Yamper able to hold on and knock Drednaw out thanks to the type discrepancy to seal the match for me.
Nessa, the Water Pokemon Gym Leader of the Galar Region, is not afraid to use Dynamax to take on any and all challengers. (Images owned by Nintendo).
The gymnasium where the Gym Leader battle took place felt huge, much like the Pokémon League battles in the anime series, and the Dynamx mechanic only added to the coolness factor of fighting there. There were weather changes that took place during my battle, thanks to the Pokémon fighting, and the graphics of sand swirling around the battle field as I fight looked phenomenal. My only concern was that I could not use Dynamax outside of the final Gym fight, which is unlike the Z-Power or Mega Stone evolutions of prior games that could be used anywhere. According to the official Pokémon website, Dynamax can only be used in “specific locations of the Galar region, like in the stadiums of Pokémon Gyms.” As a result, I imagine that this will be how Gym battles and Dynamax in the final game will be like.
After playing this demo, I am really excited for Pokémon Sword and Shield, even though I feel like going back to the gym system is a step back from the games of Pokémon Ultra Moon and Ultra Sun that dared to innovate the core concepts of the franchise with the Island Challenge. With the new concept of the Wild Area doing away with random encounters in favor of the Let’s Go! system of having visible Pokémon spawn in the playing area, I am confident that Nintendo and Game Freak’s streak of fun and successful Pokémon titles will continue.