E3 2019: Pokémon Sword and Shield brings back Gyms, but they’re not that different

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Perhaps the first thing that struck me during my brief time with Pokémon Sword and Shield was just how familiar it felt. As someone who only recently started playing modern mainline entries such as X and Y, I was expecting Sword and Shield to immediately feel different from the formula that Nintendo had established on 3DS consoles. Not radically different, but unique in a way that made its appearance on a home console again feel special. Based on the single gym I got hands-on time with, that idea might not be in Sword and Shield’s mission statement.

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The demo on the E3 show floor doesn’t give you access to anything outside of a single Water Gym. It’s a labyrinth of massive colour-coded pipes that are gushing out massive jets of water, blocking paths you need to take to reach the Gym’s leader. In typical Pokémon fashion, you’ll need to do some light puzzle solving to do that. In this case, I needed to activate switches in certain correct orders to open pathways inside the gym, ultimately leading to a switch that let me access the final room. The puzzles weren’t taxing in the slightest, and just serve to push you from one Pokémon Trainer battle to the next in the lead up to the big fight.

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These battles roll out are exactly as you might expect them to. You’ll have your party of Pokémon with their four moves each to battle with, with the same elemental and type matchups at play. I was lucky enough to play with all three new starters – that’s main boy Swobble, Scorbunny and Grookey – as well as some recently announced additions to the Galar region, like the adorable sheep Wooloo. The brief battles weren’t enough to get a strong sense of their respective new abilities, but it was fun taking down a pesky Vulpix with Swobble’s powerful Water Cannon attack that was amplified by another ability that made it rain for a few turns.

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These battles look great too, and the Pokémon fighting in them haven’t looked better anywhere else. There’s a definition to these new models that simply couldn’t exist on the 3DS, allowing for more detailed animations to accompany your strategic decisions. Scorbunny for example, exudes a sense of energy on the battlefield, constantly hopping from one foot to the other while waiting to attack. Swobble by contrast, anxiously surveys the battlefield in his signature adorable way. Pokémon Sword and Shield looks great, putting the extra power of the Switch to good use.

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Nintendo couldn’t divulge details regarding what changes Sword and Shield will introduce in its open world. At least not beyond what was shown during the game’s lengthy Direct from last week. It’s clear that it’s there where most of the changes this new generation introduces will manifest, such as the new open-world camera, wild and randomly appearing Pokémon and the full breadth of the new Galen roster. This small showing was enough to make me intrigued to think about what lies beyond this familiar Gym structure, while also fantasizing about how gorgeous Pokémon can finally look on more powerful hardware. It’s not long to go until launch, but this was a small tease and little more.

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Last Updated: June 12, 2019

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