Did you know that Dynamax and Gigantamax Pokémon – the jumbo, Stay Puft forms your little creatures can rather endearingly assume during certain battles – are actually just projections? Your barely two-foot-tall Pikachu isn’t actually growing to the height of a skyscraper – or the girth of the classic chunky design, for that matter. It’s just an illusion. A smart way to combine the AWOL, slightly unwieldy Z-Moves and Mega Evolutions of previous generations into a single, spectacular three-turn mechanic in battles, sure. But the scale of those battles, the spectacle, is fake.
In practice, outside of being a neat detail for the lore nerds, that sleight of hand doesn’t really matter. But it does serve as quite a fitting, if on-the-nose, metaphor for a game set in Galar, a new region inspired by the long-waned superpower of Great Britain, with all its puffed-up-cheeks and empty bluster. It’s also, more troublingly, quite a fitting metaphor for Pokémon Sword and Shield themselves. This is a new generation of Pokémon games that promises much, with brilliant new Pokémon, a raft of intricate system-tinkering for long-term fans and a series-first stab at an “open-world” area. But all that’s new seems to have come at a cost – and the cost is almost everything else in the game.
Pokémon Sword and Shield’s beginnings are much like any other in the series. You start at home, in the especially bijou hamlet of Postwick. You say goodbye to your mum and meet your friendly rival, heading past rolling fields of Wooloo and crumbly country lane cottages. You collect your starter, cutely and intricately animated in their little line-up, as you make your choice. And then you press on through the local village of Wedgehurst, with its chortling berry grocers and singular boutique, to meet the elderly professor at her old house, nestled beside a lake. In other words – a brush with heavy foreshadowing aside – it’s all strictly familiar stuff. Traditional Pokémon in traditional England – or at least a parochial, Surrey retiree’s idea of it.
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