We Played ‘Pokemon Sword And Shield’s Water Gym And Walked Away Thirsty For More

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At E3 2019, we got hands-on time with Pokemon Sword and Shield’s water gym and the new ability that lets you supersize your Pokepals.

Why Is Every Gym Leader In Sword and Shield So Hot?

We’ve met two of the Great Britain inspired Galar region’s gym leaders: Milo, the grass gym leader plant daddy twunk that can sprout his seed in me, and Nessa, the competitive swimwear-wearing water gym leader that can literally drown me.

Set in Sword and Shield’s water gym, Junkee’s demo had me facing off against random trainers blocking my path in a classic water-themed Pokemon gym puzzle. In it, I played with valves of water to change the flow of cascades of water that blocked the path to progress further in the dungeon, eventually doing a bit of backtracking to clear the final path to the next room. As a Nintendo representative watching my gameplay told Junkee, what we played might not be in the final version of the game, but it was a fun and easy puzzle for the first few gyms that felt like the last few generations of Pokemon in the best way possible.

With a party of six Pokemon – my anxious water son Sobble; the adorably cheeky monkey with a stick Grookey; the fiery football hooligan bunny Scorbunny; the edgy raven clone of Skarmory, Corviknight; the electric good boy corgi, Yamper; and a sweet ball of wool, Wooloo – I was ready to tackle Nessa. Or so I thought.

Pokemon Sword And Shield

Walking into a doorway of blinding lights, I emerged to a giant football stadium. Fans of Pokemon battles dressed in patriotic team colours surrounded me, ready to see a good show.

Are they always there whenever a trainer battles a gym leader, I wondered, forever tied to this immortal plane of competitive existence? Do they ever leave? Are they even real or an illusion of our trainer’s narcissistic perception of themselves? “I’m not sure, I don’t think I can say,” the Nintendo representative told me.

Walking up to the middle of the stage, I shook hands with Galar’s water goddess and threw my first Pokeball. Go Sobble! Her choice? Dreadnaw, the big water and rock turtle boy that’s simply described as “the bite Pokemon.” Yikes. Stepping into that ring, I had no idea just how powerful Nessa’s Dreadnaw was. Its mind, it truly amazes me.

You Can Supersize Your Pokemon, But Not Every Pokemon

Within seconds I was down to only three Pokemon: Grookey, Corviknight and Wooloo. You’d think in this instance that I’d decide to use Grookey, a Pokemon that’s moves and type counter Dreadnaw’s hard rock shell and the slimy wet skin buried underneath, but instead, I opted to see a big woolly boy, and The Pokemon Company delivered.

Oh, what a gloriously big floofy boy he was indeed.

Here, I used Pokemon Sword and Shield’s craziest new feature to Pokemon battles, Dynamax. Similar to Mega-evolutions, Dynamax allows you to supersize your Pokemon to gigantic size for three turns. You can only use this move once per battle and each Pokemon has a set of superpowered specific moves based on their Pokemon type they can only use when big and chunky. Dynamax Wooloo could use Max Move, a powerful normal physical attack that also lowers the enemy’s speed when hit, and Max Guard, a move similar to defence curl that strengthens the defence of our normal adorably big ball of wool.

There’s a great deal of strategy here in determining when and who to Dynamax, and even more so in determining what Pokemon your competing trainer plans to Dynamax, and perhaps in teaching specific Dynamax moves to your Pokemon. Even when Dynamaxed, your Pokemon can still faint and be super effective by moves from smaller-sized Pokemon, so be wary — and on the flipside, totally aware it will just take more time to beat that giant monkey with a stick.

It may have been foolish for me to waste my once-per-battle move on the big ball of wool and perhaps this region’s Ratata, but I still think fondly of my trainer, sitting by the fire at winter covered in a snug oversized woollen blanket.

Pokemon Sword And Shield

While Nintendo confirmed you’ll be able to Dynamax every Pokemon found in the Galar region, not all over 800 Pokemon will be in the game. As The Pokemon Company and Game Freak staff told fans in a Nintendo Treehouse gameplay presentation, the National Pokedex, a post-game feature that records every Pokemon you meet, trade and battle against after your Pokemon journey, won’t be in Sword and Shield. Instead, what you’ll find are new Pokemon unique to Galar and previously seen collectable critters that producer Junichi Masuda and the team think would fit in the new region’s ecosystems. 

That video is now sitting at 65,000 dislikes so suffice to say, the internet ain’t happy about it. In fact, Pokemon Sword and Shield could be the least liked game at E3 2019.

As producer Junichi Masuda explained to USGamer, this decision is tied to Game Freak’s plan to create higher quality animations for Pokemon, as the studio knew that doing so for every Pokemon would be too intense of a task.

“We knew at some point we weren’t going to be able to indefinitely keep supporting all of the Pokemon,” he explained. “We just found that Sword and Shield would probably be a good point to go back and reevaluate what would be the best selection of Pokemon that appeal to the widest audience while keeping into consideration the balance of the battle system.”

“It isn’t just going to be an all-new Pokemon in the Galar region Pokedex; there’s still going to be a lot of favourites that fans will be able to bring over that they’ve adventured with previously.”

Fans find this hard to believe, however, circulating a rumour on Twitter that The Pokemon Company have been using the same animations and assets in their games since Pokemon X and Y in 2013.

A Sprinkle Of Breath of the Wild’s Open World

Although unavailable in our demo, perhaps the most ambitious feature of the next mainline Pokemon game isn’t supersizing your Pokemon — but its sprawling open world.

Opting out of the conventional routes and roads of previous Pokemon games, Sword and Shield introduces a variety of locations that you can reach through towns and villages, called the Wild Area.

In the Wild Area, Pokemon aimlessly walk around the world and in the grass like past games. You can choose to completely ignore them or have them randomly appear in front of you. A dynamic weather system also affects what kind of Pokemon you’ll see in specific parts of the Wild Area, including more electric Pokemon in thunderstorms and ground types in clouds of dust and sandstorms.

Additionally, you’ll also find points in the Wild Area to call your friends in epic co-optional battles with Dynamax Pokemon. What we’ve seen of this so far in the pre-E3 Direct looks great and there’s some great potential in epic Pokemon dungeons and local and online co-op battles but it’s unclear just how this will work: Will it be truly turn based? How could lag affect the game? Will you all decide a move per round and will you be able to communicate in-game about your team’s strategy? Will captured Pokemon be shared among all players in the battle or tied to the player that throws the first Pokeball at Stonewall?

Regardless, while you might not be able to fully catch them all, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of Wild is oozing out of the design behind Pokemon Sword and Shield’s open world DNA. Many fans may not think it’s the most stunning game on the Nintendo Switch, but if its environments, living creatures and physics are as reactive and fun to explore as Breath of the Wild’s, then we might be soon playing a real treat.

And if anything, its gym leaders are still hot.

You’ll be able to catch some of ’em all when Pokemon Sword and Shield makes its way to our shores on November 15.

Julian Rizzo-Smith is a freelance games and pop culture writer. He is willing to challenge Game Freak to a Pokemon battle to get Arcanine and Lapras in the Galar Pokedex. He tweets @GayWeebDisaster