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Pokémon Sword and Shield transform gym battles into a really big deal

Pokémon Sword and Shield Dinamax
Image used with permission by copyright holder

As we get closer to the release of Pokémon Sword and Shield, the more we learn about just how different it is. It’s the first mainline game to come to a Nintendo home console and is also the first entry to not include all previous generations of Pokémon. The most exciting additions, however, are the Dynamax and Gigantamax Pokémon coming to battle and the co-op raids found in the Wild Areas.

I had the opportunity to play a hands-on demo at PAX West 2019, where we faced against a Water-type gym leader, met some of the new pokémon coming to Sword and Shield, and even participated in a Dynamax battle.

Leveled up gyms

The session began inside a water-type gym where you’re tasked with navigating through a maze of raised platforms surrounded by water. The platforms are connected by stairs and occasionally blocked off by brightly colored pipes flowing with water. In order to reach the gym leader, you have to interact with Pokéball shaped valves to turn off the pipes and progress.

The inclusion of a maze based on the gym leader’s preferred Pokémon type made for a more engaging experience, and I can’t wait to see the others when the full game launches.

Pokémon Sword and Shield Combat
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Random battles with NPCs are still present in Pokémon Sword and Shield, with the exception of the Wild Areas, which are the locations trainers travel through to reach the various towns in Galar. Unfortunately, these areas weren’t included in the demo, so all our encounters were random, right up to the moment we faced against the gym leader.

Walking into the stadium is electrifying, and I was eager to finally face off against gym leader Nessa for the first time. It’s hard to miss how much the visual style and look of Sword and Shield has improved over past games, noticeably taking direct inspiration from Pokémon Let’s Go.

Unfortunately, menus were all disabled in the demo, so I can’t remark on how those look. Nevertheless, watching each character prepare for battle remains charming, even if the presentation itself hasn’t changed all that much.

The new starters — Grookey, Scorbunny, and Sobble — were already part of my party in the demo. There were also a few other Pokémon who appeared in both my party and as part of my rivals’ lineups. This included the Normal-type Wooloo, Grass-type Gossifleur, Water/Rock-type Drednaw, and Flying-Steel-type Corviknight.

No evolutions were shown, so it’s going to be a while before we get to see whether or not Grookey transforms into a massive gorilla. But the new members of the Pokémon family are charming and adorable, and I suspect their evolutions will be more than worth the wait.

Pokémon Sword and Shield Pikachu
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Larger than life battles

One of the most interesting features coming to Pokémon Sword and Shield are the Dynamax and Gigantamax transformations. With a device called a Dynamax Band, trainers can turn their pokémon into mammoth-sized versions of themselves.

This takes the scale of battle to a whole new level in quite a literal way. Once activated, you can choose between new upgraded abilities called Max Moves that are stronger than the pokémon’s regular moves. Dynamax transformations only last for a total of three turns, and if your pokémon happens to faint when in this state, you won’t be able to use it again in that same battle.

The also applies to your adversary, adding an interesting strategic component to these special battles. Knowing when to use the Dynamax and Gigantamax transformations, and picking the right pokémon to counter your opponent’s can make a huge difference in tough encounters.

Pokémon Sword and Shield Protagonist
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Combat certainly gets a different treatment with Dynamax battles. Pokémon glow red, the ground shakes, and the difference in size between normal and Dynamax pokémon is actually pretty terrifying, especially if you’re on the receiving end of an attack. It’s a shame that the demo didn’t include a Max Raid Battle in a Wild Area as it would have been interesting to see how a battle between a group of trainers and a wild Dynamax pokémon would unfold.

Many of the features announced were not shown during our hands-on with Pokémon Sword and Shield. While Gym battles play a big role in every pokémon game, Sword and Sheild is proving to be the most ambitious thus far and we’ve yet to see how everything will tie in together. The Wild Areas, Raid Battles, poké jobs, and even simple features such as the menus and Pokédex are still important aspects and I hope we get to see them all in a final showcase before Pokémon Sword and Shield’s launch on November 15.

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Diego Arguello
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Diego Argüello is a freelance journalist from Argentina who spends most of his time reading in public transport and thinking…
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