To say that Pokémon Sword & Shield are the most controversial Pokémon games in recent memory is an understatement. These games have been dogged by controversy since E3 2019 regarding all of the features that have been cut in the transition from the Nintendo 3DS to the Nintendo Switch. The fan reaction has been harsh and it's clear that Pokémon Sword & Shield have a lot of problems, but the critical response to the games has been positive, even if they don't live up to their full potential.
The biggest complaint about Pokémon Sword & Shield is the absence of the National Dex. Junichi Masuda revealed during the Nintendo Treehouse: Live event that the number of Pokémon in Pokémon Sword & Shield would be restricted and that only creatures in the Galar region would appear in the games. The fan reaction to this announcement was harsh, but Pokémon Sword & Shield have issues outside the National Dex, as Mega Evolutions and Z-Moves were also cut from the series. The backlash has only become more vocal in the lead-up to the release of Pokémon Sword & Shield, with many fans bemoaning the fact that they are the most expensive games in the series to date, yet they have less content than Pokémon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon.
It took a long time for Pokémon games to hit consoles and the expectations going in were sky-high. Pokémon Sword & Shield are currently averaging an 81 on Metacritic, which puts them in the same average score range as the other Pokémon games, as they normally hit somewhere in the 80s. The reviews have cited the game's greater emphasis on freedom to explore as one of its strong points, as well as an emphasis on quality of life improvements, such as introducing items that can change a Pokémon's nature. There are also problems that have been highlighted, such as the Wild Area being too barren and the designs of some of the new Pokémon being underwhelming.
EGM - 4/5 - Ray Carsillo
The first new-generation Pokémon game to release on a proper home console does not disappoint. New features like Dynamaxing and the Wild Area are fun additions that make the experience of becoming a Pokémon champion still feel fresh. It’s just a shame that Game Freak didn’t lean into the new features more than they did.
Game Informer - 8.75/10 - Brian Shea
Pokémon Sword & Shield are strong first attempts for the series’ full transition to consoles. While some frustrations hold it back from true legendary status, this new generation proves the Pokémon franchise is still great more than two decades after its debut.
Gamespot - 9/10 - Kallie Plagge
In collecting, battling, and exploring, Sword and Shield cut out the bloat and focus on what makes these pillars of the Pokemon games so captivating in the first place. You're not held back by overly complicated back-end systems or hoops to jump through; from the outset, you can start wandering the Galar region, seeing its new Pokemon, and trying out its new battle strategies with very little in your way. This leaves you free to enjoy what Pokemon is all about, and that makes for an incredibly strong showing for the series' proper debut on Switch.
IGN - 9.3/10 - Casey DeFreitas
Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield are closer to my dream Pokemon RPGs than anything that’s come before. I’d still like better cutscenes, companion Pokemon, the complete Pokedex, and a more visually interesting Wild Area, but nitpicks are just not very effective when everything else was such a complete joy to play. The way they respect my time is wonderful, and the removal of monotony from random encounters and other odds and ends distills it down to only the pure and charming fun of capturing, training, and battling wonderful creatures. And hey, if I’m missing any tedious repetition, I can always get back into breeding.
Polygon - Polygon Recommends - Nicole Carpenter
The surprise in Sword and Shield is that I’m still finding things that surprise me, even after putting in so many hours. It’s in how Game Freak has made a linear game feel so much less linear. Make no mistake, Sword and Shield is not an open-world game. There are limitations. But the game’s designed for me not to notice them, and mostly, I don’t.
Pokémon Sword & Shield have become more defined by their limitations than the new freedoms that they are offering players. The absence of the National Dex was always guaranteed to frustrate part of the fanbase, as even the most generally disliked Pokémon will have its fans and they'll be disappointed when that Pokémon doesn't appear in the latest game. The discourse surrounding the cut features has dominated the discussion regarding Pokémon Sword & Shield, but the positive reviews might help to steer the conversation towards what the games are doing right, instead of what is wrong.
Pokémon Sword & Shield are not perfect games and fans have every right to feel that they are not worth the price of purchase. The reviewers have spoken and the word has been positive, so it's up to everyone who is still on the fence about picking up Pokémon Sword & Shield to determine whether the good outweighs the bad and whether the Pokémon series' first outing to consoles will be worth their time.
Pokémon Sword & Shield will be released for Nintendo Switch on November 15, 2019.