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Pokémon Sword and Shield make gym battles exciting again

Pokémon games can be formulaic, which can make it difficult to enjoy them as much when you’re already played a bunch of them.

Take the gym experience. This is where you have to solve a puzzle, battle some weaker trainers, and then take on the gym leader in order to win a badge that proves your mastery. The whole ordeal has gotten a bit predictable, but Sword and Shield makes gym battles cool again.

Pokémon Sword and Shield are coming out for Switch on November 15. They represent the eight generation in the main series of role-playing games. The franchise has sold over 300 million copies since its debut in 1996, and Sword and Shield will likely be Nintendo’s top sellers for the holidays.

I got to play a demo of about 20 minutes during the Electronic Entertainment Expo this week in Los Angeles. It took place in a water-themed gym. At first, it was pretty typical. I walked around, solved a simple puzzle involving switches that turned path-blocking-waterfalls on and off, and fought some trainers.

The main event

Things felt much more different once I went to fight the gym leader, Nessa. My character walked into a giant arena filled with spectators. It was a far cry from past games, where you’d just walk up to the gym leader and have a simple battle with them. Instead I watched a cutscene setting up the fight in this giant stadium. It made the upcoming battle feel more like a major sporting event. It felt special.

Dynamax also helped make the gym battle stand out. This is a new feature for Sword and Shield. With the push of a button, you can make a Pokémon grow huge. The effect only lasts for a few turns, but the Pokémon is stronger and has access to more powerful moves while enlarged.

Nessa is a new gym leader.

Above: Nessa is a new gym leader.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Nessa was also able to use Dynamax. Watching her Pokémon get so big that it practically burst out of the stadium made for a fight that felt a good deal more cinematic. I almost felt bad sending out my tiny Pokémon against her monster.

I was worried about Dynamax when I first heard about it. The system sounded like a flash-over-substance technique. But now that I know you can only use the maneuver during special events like gym battles, I feel much better about it. Making it limited makes Dynamx feel special.

Sword and Shield is the first time a main series Pokémon game is on a Nintendo home console (even if the Switch also doubles as a portable). I was hoping this would mean that the presentation and cinematic quality of the series would get a significant upgrade. So far, so good.

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