November 15. That’s the date that Pokemon Sword and Shield, known to fans as “Gen 8” for being the eighth generation of games in the main franchise, will hit store shelves. Until now, each new generation of Pokemon game has been released on a Nintendo handheld, from the Game Boy to the 3DS. Sword and Shield are exciting because they’re developed from the ground up for the Nintendo Switch.
We found out a lot about the games in June, including the aforementioned release date, what Sword and Shield’s legendary Pokemon look like, the Dynamax and Gigamax transformations and, much to the chagrin of many fans, the fact that not every Pokemon ever will be in the game.
Most recently, Nintendo dropped a trailer on July 8 which, among other things, showed us four new Pokemon. We’re sure to learn much more about Gen 8 as November 15 draws closer. Here’s everything we know so far.
Sword and Shield aren’t the first Pokemon games developed specifically for the Switch. They follow Pokemon Let’s Go: Pikachu and Let’s Go: Eevee, reimagined versions of 1998’s well-regarded Pokemon Yellow.
The Let’s Go games were fun, but unlike the main-line Pokemon games in a few ways. There were no random encounters, with Pokemon scuttling about in front of you instead of hiding in the tall grass. You couldn’t battle wild Pokemon, only other trainer’s Pokemon, and instead gained experience by catching Pokemon repeatedly a la Pokemon Go.
As you probably guessed, Pokemon Sword and Shield reverts to the playing style of old. The first Sword and Shield trailer shows our intrepid Pokemon trainer getting into a random encounter-style confrontation with a Pikachu, with no Go-style catching depicted.
This likely means a harder experience than that found in the Let’s Go games, which, while a delight to play, presented almost no challenge whatsoever to the PokeMasters among us.
Another Let’s Go feature noticeably absent from the Sword and Shield trailer is rideable Pokemon, which replaced bikes and flight skills (known in the games as HMs). Bikes make a return in this game, and at one point we even see our Pokemon trainer bike across a body of water, suggesting a new bike model will replace the Surf HM.
Welcome to Galar
Sword and Shield take place in a region of the Pokemon world known as Galar. Based on official Nintendo art, Galar looks absolutely huge, and what we’ve seen in trailers presumably only gives us a taste of what wondrous sights are within.
What we do know, though, is that the region is loosely based on the UK.
Each of the seven preceding Pokemon regions have been based on actual cities and areas. While Kanto, Johto, Hoenn and Sinnohh (Gen 1 to Gen 4 regions) are all inspired by different parts of Japan, the Pokemon team has looked at international regions to base newer games on. Unova (Pokemon Black and White) had a New York City vibe to it, while Kalos (Pokemon X and Y) took on France and Alola (Pokemon Sun and Moon) was a clear take on Hawaii.
The launch trailer depicts scenes that certainly look British, with fields reminiscent of England’s countryside and buildings that look like English manors.
Plus, the northernmost city in the aforementioned region artwork has a clocktower, a ferris wheel and a bisecting, Thames-like river. We’re assuming the housing market in the city is appropriately unaffordable.
A new start
Pokemon has changed a lot since 1996’s Red and Blue, but one component hasn’t: You still choose between a fire-, grass- or water-type starter Pokemon.
Sobble, Scorbunny and Grookey are your three options here. Each was profiled briefly in the Sword and Shield reveal trailer.
Scorbunny is a bipedal white rabbit with red-tipped ears and feet. It harbors the power of fire within, but also looks like it could evolve into a fighting type, like Gen 3’s Blaziken. Then there’s Sobble, a stealthy water-type Pokemon that has the ability to camouflage itself. The little guy doesn’t look very confident in itself, but in the Pokemon universe that often means a fierce evolution looms.
Finally there’s the grass-type, which is usually kind of lame. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but in Gen 8 the grass-type Pokemon actually looks the coolest. It’s Grookey, a green primate fellow who scares off Sobble in the trailer by beating his stick into a rock like a cheeky monkey warrior bashing a war drum.
Nintendo has steadily drip-fed us information on other Pokemon since the launch trailer. There are some run-of-the-mill types, like Wooloo, that you don’t need to fuss over. But there are also already some standouts, like Corviknight, a raven Pokemon that doubles as a transportation service, Duraludon, steel/dragon-type Pokemon, and Yamper, who appears to be an electric Corgi, if you’re into that type of thing.
Then, of course, there are Zacian and Zamazenta, the legendary wolves of Sword and Shield. You can tell which Pokemon is exclusive to which game by the fact that one carries a sword in its mouth and the other is basically half wolf and half shield.
Though June brought plenty of Pokemon news, not all of it was pleasing to fans. At E3 some fans were crestfallen to hear that Sword and Shield won’t include every Pokemon in the franchise’s history.
At the beginning of each Pokemon game you’re given a Pokedex which contains information on all the Pokemon native to that region. After you beat the main game, you’ll usually get upgraded to a National Pokedex, which enables you to use every Pokemon from previous games. At E3 Junichi Musada, Sword and Shield’s producer, revealed these games will feature no such upgrade, and that only Pokemon in the Galar Pokedex can be used in the games.
In other words, players can only use Pokemon that developers decide are native to the world of Sword and Shield. Neither GameFreak, the studio developing the games, or Nintendo have said how many of the 807 existing Pokemon will be included, or how many new ones will be introduced.
Musada told Japanese publication Famitsu the decision to curtail the amount of Pokemon within the game mainly came down to gameplay balance and making each Pokemon feels visually unique. However, many hardcore fans are accusing the team of being too lazy to include all Pokemon, leading to the #BringBackTheNationalDex hashtag.
“I’ve read all your comments and appreciate your love and passion for Pokemon,” Musada said in a statement addressing the fan outrage. “After so many years of developing the Pokémon video games, this was a very difficult decision for me. I’d like to make one thing clear: even if a specific Pokemon is not available in Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield, that does not mean it will not appear in future games.”
“We are pouring our hearts into these games, and we hope you will look forward to joining us on this new journey.” You can read the full statement here.
Bigger is better
Pokemon X and Y introduced Mega Evolutions of certain Pokemon, and now Sword and Shield are taking that to another level with two features: Dynamaxing and Gigantamaxing. They don’t exactly roll off the tongue, but do look to add an extra layer of depth to combat.
Specific details have yet to be released, but Dynamaxing appears to super size your Pokemon, like they just ate a super mushroom from a Super Mario game. Gigantamaxing, meanwhile, not only makes your Pokemon XXL, it also changes their appearance.
Take Alcremie as an example. Alcremie is a whipped-cream Pokemon. Dynamax Alcremie is a very large whipped-cream Pokemon. Gigantamax Alcremie, however, appears atop several pillars of cake, thus making it more fearsome. Dynamax Pokemon are bigger and more powerful than average, while Gigantamax Pokemon are bigger, more powerful and can use a special G-Max Move.
According to Sword and Shield’s website, only certain Pokemon with certain attributes will be able to Gigantamax. Dynamaxing is “common to the Pokemon from Galar,” which likely means all Pokemon, or at least a lot of them, will be able to eat the proverbial super mushroom.
All mainline Pokemon games have had exclusive monsters. Sword and Shield continues this tradition and expands it to gym leaders. The same towns will have different gym leaders depending on which game you’re playing. For instance, one town in the game will have Bea, a fighting-type Gym Leader, in Sword, but Allister, a ghost-type Leader, in Shield.
Other known gym leaders are Milo and Nessa, who use grass- and water-type Pokemon, respectively.
As with old games, the main story takes you from a small-town kid to regional hero. You’ll compete against Gelar’s eight gym leaders and eventually enter the Champion’s Cup, which is presumably like the Elite 4 from earlier Pokemon titles. The current Champion in Leon, who battles alongside his trust Charizard. (That’s so 1998.)
You’ll also regularly run into Leon’s brother, Hop, who acts as your Gary Oak-esque rival throughout the game.
New and old Pokemon will be exclusive to both games, too, as Nintendo have already said that Deino is exclusive to Sword, while you can only find Larvitar in Shield. (Both Pokemon eventually level up to incredibly powerful Pokemon in Hydreigon and Tyrannitar, respectively.)
The Game Boy experience: While you can play these games on your TV, they’ve been designed to cater more to the handheld Switch experience. That’s according to Shuntaro Furukawa, president of Nintendo.
“Pokemon Let’s Go: Pikachu! and Pokemon Let’s Go: Eevee! … are designed to highlight the fun of Nintendo Switch in TV mode,” he said during Nintendo’s Q1 2019 fiscal results briefing, while “Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield are being developed to emphasize the fun of playing Nintendo Switch in handheld mode.”
Tradition is tradition: All the way back to Kanto’s Professor Oak, the main character’s mentor is always named after greenery of some description, mostly trees. That stays true here: In Sword and Shield it’s Professor Magnolia who will give you your Pokedex.
Two types of training: The trailer for Sword and Shield reveals several glimpses of trains. This could just be a background aesthetic ode to Britain, where railway transport was invented, but some fans are speculating these trains could provide either fast transport or a post-game link to another region.
Stuff of legends: Another visual nod to Britain comes in the form of a geoglyph, seen below. It could be a random anthropomorphic shape, but it’s unlikely to mean nothing. I’m guessing it has something to do with the legendary Pokemon in Sword and Shield.
Originally published May 15.
Update, July 8: Includes new information from June, E3 and July trailer.
Update, July 16: Adds information on exclusive gyms, Champion’s Cup and more.