You know what I loved? Pokémon Sun and Moon.
There was a real passion there. The Alola Region could have been… handled poorly, distastefully pulling from obvious cheap tourist-driven stereotypes and overly commercialised tropes. But GameFreak didn’t go that route – the heritage, culture and heritage of the Hawaiian Region, and its people and its historical beliefs and religions, shone brighter than anything we’d seen before. The game was perfectly, and skillfully, changed and modified in a way that helped to emphasise their respect and admiration for Hawaii, and its peoples and its history. It was a labour of love, and it showed, and it was good.
… Sword and Shield is GameFreak on Opposite Day.
Look, I’m a Brit. I have grown up here, and it’s my home and no, Britain isn’t perfect. I could speak at length about HOW imperfect it is, as a mixed-race person and also as a disabled man, but truth is… I love the United Kingdom. It’s a fascinating, historically rich and culturally relevant and important place in the world, and denying that is just ludicrous and hilariously out of touch with reality.
So when I say the Galar Region is NOTHING LIKE BRITAIN, I don’t mean that in the “oh it’s a bit cheap” sense. I mean… there’s nothing. N-O-T-H-I-N-G. This isn’t even Touristy Stereotype Britain. At least none of the good bits… but let’s not talk about the Welsh inspired Grass Gym where you chase Wooloo sheep pokemon around from behind through fields because god knows the Welsh are going to say plenty about that and once Nintendo understands that long standing “joke”, someones head is going to roll right out the door. Absolutely insane. How this got past anyone at Nintendo or The Pokémon Company defies explanation.
It’s the lack of depth here. Britain is a beautifully interesting place and we love sending ourselves up – hell, one of the biggest TV events on both sides of the pond the last couple months has been Drag Race UK. This isn’t an “oh, we’re delicate snowflakes and we’re offended”. Brits can handle a joke and we love seeing what people do with our history and culture and how it can be put to work in fiction.
However, I think we can say we get a little frustrated when it’s so obviously half-arsed.
Let’s take a moment to talk about what COULD have been. Let’s start with the Gyms, which come off as kinda incidental and not very interesting on the overall. The Welsh Gym should have been Dragon themed instead (you’re welcome, Welsh people!). There should absolutely have been a silly Steampunk Victorian town where the gym was Steel or Poison themed – considering gyms are sometimes different in games now, this could unquestionably have been both and it would have worked.
Let’s move down a bit. Dorset and Somerset have pretty epic Druidic elements to them still, so that could have been your Grass Gym theme right there. Bristol Zoo has a famous collection of bugs and insects from across the world – there’s a Bug-type Gym where you could have put in anything from any Pokémon region. Cornwall – hell, that’s where I’ve lived most of my adult life, and aside from its stunning rugged coastline… this is where the modern Pirate Mythos was born. Pirates of Penzance – Penzance is IN CORNWALL. The Jamaica Inn – that’s in Cornwall. Oh, and how pirates talk – thank Robert Newton for that, for when asked in the 1950 adaptation of Treasure Island (he was Long John Silver) to speak “more like a pirate”, he put on a Cornish dialect and tone… and now you have Talk Like A Pirate Day. Yarr matey. A silly, hilarious theme for a Water Gym by any measure.
This is just off the top of my head too. There’s Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Heck, another TV Sensation across the world is Dancing With The Stars… which is derived from the BBC Show Strictly Come Dancing. And Blackpool is a massive place for dance, with the Tower Ballroom being a highlight of the dance calendar.
All of that is before you talk about our Royal history – significantly absent aside from two long-dead kings, replaced with an unelected Chairman (no prizes for guessing who GameFreak were pandering too there). Or our Celtic history. The romans and the Old Brits like Boudica. Art Deco, Edwardian period stuff, the War Efforts.
Which is what ultimately makes Sword and Shield, and the Galar Region as a whole, so utterly disappointing. There was scope to go completely hog wild with the Galar Region; send up our history, our culture, our heritage, and have us all laughing and giggling and in total awe. But the effort that was in previous regions, like the Alola Region or even the French-themed Kalos Region, just isn’t there for the Galar Region. To call this superficial is to vastly understate it. Aside a few digs at our love for curry and football with all the stadiums, there’s so little there that resembles Britain that it could be any generic place in the world. It lacks an identity, a cohesion, something to pull it together. We have regional dialects – Cornish, Welsh, Scottish, Essex, Brummie and Liverpudlian. We have Pearly Kings and Queens, a history of Drag, Shakespeare even. Where is any of this stuff? And why is there a Streets of Rage homage in this game? What does that have to do with ANYTHING?
That’s why I personally think Sword and Shield – whilst not terrible games in themselves – do suffer and come across as the worst and laziest Pokémon games to date. It’s a bunch of very small routes you could spit across and a bunch of very small locations surrounding a large Safari Zone right in the middle of it all, and it’s not even a particularly good Safari Zone either if I’m being honest.
You can sort of see what happened though – GameFreak were trying to do… something to keep up with the big Switch games. A Breath of the Wild-style open world area that still has far too much in it that can’t be explored. The constant switching up of gym minigames that because they’re so brief ultimately don’t have the same impact that stuff such as Super Mario Odyssey has, because Odyssey swings from wild ideas to wild ideas where Pokémon has to be pulled back to being Pokémon all the time.
This was a critical miss from GameFreak. This game feels rushed, lazy and inconsequential. Nothing is given any time to develop, nothing is explored in any depth and ninety-nine percent of the game feels like it has nothing to do with Britain at all. Just a big “London Eye” derivative and a few gestures.
But what I mourn most is the vast ocean of missed potential there. At a time where Britain needed a bit of a lift, this just rings hollow and is a poor facsimile of our country and of a Pokémon game in general. It’s so… boring. So empty. So lacking. It’s an embarrassment to the franchise and to Nintendo for hyping the ever-loving heck out of it.
In a year of quality content and strong games with clear identities and goals, Pokémon Sword and Shield stands out as a game confused about what it is, what it needs to do and where it’s going in general. Yes, the UK is in a similar position… but at least there’s passion here, however misguided people are in their beliefs. There’s not even that in Sword and Shield. There’s no love, no fire, nothing… just a vast, empty void right slap bang in the middle of everything.
So yeah. This really might end up on my Worst Games of 2019. And I can’t even believe we’re in that position.
That’s how badly GameFreak messed this one up.