When Pokémon Sword and Shield were first announced earlier this year, there was nothing that seemed more exciting than finally getting our hands on the next installment in this legendary series. Unfortunately, our excitement has been tempered by recent lackluster gameplay videos. And after three hours with both titles, we have to say that our worst fears have been confirmed, as a new sponsorship deal has resulted in the addition of mediocre corporate monsters like the Pep Boys, Florida Orange, and even Johnny Walker.
It’s a huge distraction, and one that drags down the otherwise exciting, new installments in the series.
To be fair, the initial thrill of getting to see a new Pokémon game on a console like the Switch was undeniable. Nothing in gaming can quite compare to first booting the game up and setting off into the lush, verdant Galar region in search of my first wild encounter. Sadly, this only made it all the more disappointing when I saw Flo from Progressive wandering through the high grass ready to go toe-to-toe with my Scorbunny by using her basic attack “Claim Deny,” a spam attack that annoyingly limits your Pokémon’s ability to heal.
As much as Game Freak may have wanted these sponsorship deals, it’s an undeniable misstep that seriously cheapens the game experience.
By far the biggest problem with these sponsored Pokémon is their slipshod integration into the larger game world. Admittedly, some characters, like Chester Cheetah, actually make some sort of sense in the overall narrative. But another Pokémon I encountered was just a Mazda Miata. As far as I could tell, it wasn’t even a living creature. Just a two-passenger roadster that sat there during battle.
Meanwhile, the Hamburger Helper glove Lefty was completely unbalanced and overpowered, crushing opponents in one hit due to a sponsorship deal that gives him maxed-out stats to emphasize Hamburger Helper’s protein-heavy nutrition. Not to mention that it was nearly impossible to keep track of its evolutions, due to confusing variations like Beef Pasta and Cheesy Hashbrown.
Now, I understand if Nintendo needed money to help finance the game. But I just can’t comprehend the implementation of new game mechanics like having a Pokémon chug a Gatorade Glacier Freeze during battle to replenish electrolyte. Equally confusing is why, precisely, Pokémon balls are now skinned as Wilson tennis balls. There’s no explanation for this whatsoever, and so I’m left to assume that the developers never came up with one.
In some cases, I’m reserving my judgments on the Pokémon team’s creative decisions. Maybe later in the game, it will make sense why Galar’s legendary Pokémon are now simply the three Pep Boys. At the moment, however, there’s just no conceivable reason why this is the case.
Now, I’m all for crossovers. All I’m wondering is if fans will share in my sentiment that exploring the faithfully recreated interior of a Target—an environment that contains no Pokémon and mostly consists of various discount jeans—has no place in a brand-new Pokémon title. It may be these things are just a small part of the finished package. But until we know for sure, I would advise any Switch owners to refrain from preordering and put their money towards something else. Let’s just hope Nintendo’s deal with the U.S. military doesn’t affect Animal Crossing: New Horizons in a similar way.