Talking Movies [National Pokémon Day]: Pokémon the Movie 2000: The Power of One

Upon the release of Pokémon: Blue Version and Pokémon: Red Version (Game Freak, 1996), a new craze swept through playgrounds across the world. An entire generation grew up either playing Pokémon, watching the anime, playing the trading card game, or watching the feature-length movies as clever marketing and a co-ordinated release and multimedia strategy saw Nintendo’s newest franchise become not just a successful videogame franchise but a massively lucrative and popular multimedia powerhouse that endures to this day. Accordingly, February 27th is now internationally recognised as “National Pokémon Day” for fans of the long-running and beloved franchise to come together in celebration of all things Pokémon.

Released: 17 July 1999
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama
Distributor: Toho
Budget: $30 million
Stars: Veronica Taylor, Neil Stewart, Rachael Lillis, Ted Lewis, Amy Birnbaum, Eric Stuart, Ikue Ōtani, Maddie Blaustein, and Eric Rath

The Plot:
In the Orange Islands of the Kanto region, a cold-hearted collector (Stewart) sets in motion his plan to capture the Legendary Pokémon Articuno (Yumi Tōma), Zapdos (Katsuyuki Konishi), and Moltres (Rikako Aikawa) in order to upset the natural balance and bring forth Lugia (Rath), guardian of the sea. When Ash Ketchum (Taylor) and his friends stumble upon the collector’s plot, they face a race against time to quell the battle between the Legendary Birds and keep the world from being destroyed by a tumultuous storm caused by their conflict.

The Background:
Pokémon (Nintendo/Creatures/Game Freak, 1995 to present) was more than just a craze when it came over from Japan: it was a phenomenon that swept through playgrounds as kids played the videogames, battling and trading with one another, collected the trading cards, bought all the magazines and such, and were mesmerised by the still-ongoing anime series (1997 to present). To say that expectations were high for the aptly-titled Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (Yuyama, 1998) was putting it mildly; the film was not only a box office success but also enticed Poké-fans with glimpses of some completely new Pokémon!

With new Pokémon being revealed slowly, anticipation was high for the next game and movie.

Production of a second Pokémon movie took place during a transitional phase for the anime and the Pokémon videogames; having finished up his adventures in Kanto, Ash was travelling the Orange Islands while the developers worked on my favourite games in the series, Pokémon: Gold Version and Silver Version (Game Freak, 1999). Pokémon the Movie 2000 (or “Pocket Monsters the Movie: The Phantom Pokémon: Lugia’s Explosive Birth”) was largely marketed around a brand new Legendary Pokémon, Lugia, who was the creation of Takeshi Shudo; Shudo was surprised not only when Lugia was incorporated into the games and anime but also when it was characterised as a male considering he regarded it as a more maternal Pokémon. Although the film made over $130 million at the box office, the critical reception was mixed to negative for the most part. Still, for me and many other Poké-fans at the time, Pokémon the Movie 2000 proved to be excellent promotion for the upcoming videogames and arguably was the first hint towards just how massive the franchise was set to become.

The Review:
Pokémon the Movie 2000 opens by immediately introducing us to a central aspect of its plot, a prophecy that warns against disturbing the harmony of fire, ice, and lightning and foretelling the coming of a “Chosen One” to help quell the “beast of the sea”. This little rhyme emphasises that, although the “guardian” of the sea will arise should these elemental forces be pushed out of balance, “alone its song will fail and thus the world shall turn to ash”. Obviously, this has been slightly altered from the original Japanese version which, as I understand it, was slightly vaguer in its details and basically said that anyone could be the Chosen One if they were able to reunite the treasures found on islands near Samouti Island in the Orange Islands (that’s a lot of islands…) However, in the dub, it’s made ridiculously explicit that “ash” has a double meaning, which is kinda fun but I guess your enjoyment of this aspect will depend on how much of a fan of Ash you are.

Ash and friends reach Shamouti Island as storms rage across the region and upset local Pokémon.

Naturally, Ash, Misty (Lillis), and Tracy Sketchit (Lewis) are currently travelling around the Orange Islands and, thanks to their current guide, Maren (Tara Jane), they soon learn all about the same prophecy and the legend of the treasures from the natives of Shamouti Island. While Melody (Birnbaum) stresses that its just a simple legend that they observe for fun and frivolities, Ash takes to his duties as the “Chosen One” with vigorous enthusiasm and the gang notice that all of the Pokémon in the area, including Pikachu (Ōtani), are acting strangely. Sensing the tumultuous changes in the weather, which causes sudden rain and snowstorms, Pokémon flock to Shamouti Island in droves since they feel that the natural balance of the ecosystem is in turmoil. Melody is largely dismissive of the island’s rituals and customs, believing them to be outdated and boring, much to the chagrin of her older sister, Carol (Michelle Goguen); despite her frivolous and snarky attitude, though, Melody still takes part in the ritual, which calls for her to dance about in a pretty dress and play the “Guardian’s Song” on conch-like ocarina. When the natives peg Ash as being the Chosen One simply because he happens to be a young Pokémon trainer, Melody immediately finds a more interesting reason to play her role as she takes an instant liking to Ash, much to Misty’s annoyance. This adds an interesting wrinkle to the film and the main characters as Melody constantly winds Misty up by flirting with Ash. Clearly jealous of Melody, Misty acts all passive-aggressive at the suggestion that she is Ash’s girlfriend and, unlike in the last film where she (and basically everyone else) just stood around doing nothing, this at least gives her a small arc where she realises that she’d do anything to help out her friend.

Ash finds unlikely help in the form of Team Rocket, who are willing to sacrifice themselves to save the world.

Of course, the main characters are pursued by Jesse (Lillis), James (Stuart), and Meowth (Blaustein) of Team Rocket; still determined to get their hands on Pikachu, Team Rocket soon find that they’ve once again bitten of more than they can chew as they are buffeted around by the rampaging storm and constantly bombarded by the Legendary Birds’ attacks. When they realise that the fate of the very world is at stake, though, they decide to join forces with Ash and his friends to help gather the treasures (since they wouldn’t be able to profit if the world is destroyed). This isn’t the first or the last time Team Rocket would team up with their enemies but they actually throw themselves into this heroic role with a surprising amount of gusto; not only do they help free Moltres and Zapdos from captivity, they also help Ash reach Ice Island and are basically prepared to die in order to see him succeed.

The Collector simply wants to add rare Pokémon to his collection no matter the consequences.

Their role as main antagonist is usurped by a cold-hearted, arrogant philanthropist (retroactively revealed to be called Lawrence III but here simply referred to as a “Collector” of rare Pokémon) who has spent his entire life obsessed with rare Pokémon, Legendary Pokémon, and studying the legend of the “Beast of the Sea”. His efforts lead him to attack the Shamouti Islands, employing tactics very similar to games of chess where he fire elemental blasts at each of the Legendary Birds and ensnares them in special electrical bands with, it has to be said, a ridiculous amount of ease. The Collector has seemingly no concern about the ramifications of his actions; he doesn’t care how capturing one Legendary Bird upsets the balance between the three and causes the Pokémon to run wild or that a raging storm brews under the sea that threatens the world. All he cares about it forcing Lugia to the surface so he can capture it for his vast collection (which is ironic as we never actually see his vaulted collection) and, even when the Legendary Pokémon are engaged in all-out war, he continues to pursue this goal and, as a result, finds his floating palace in ruins from Lugia’s desperate counterattack. While he is left defeated, the Collector ends the film free and resolves to begin his quest all over again, which I always found to be a poor ending as he really deserved to face greater consequences for his selfish and destructive actions.

The world is put at risk as the Legendary Birds engage in all-out war.

However, while the Collector may be positioned as the film’s main threat, it’s actually the warring Legendary Birds who are the primary menace for Ash and his friends. Hugely territorial, the birds generally prefer to keep to themselves on their respective islands but, when Moltres is captured, Zapdos immediately overtakes Fire Island and expands its territory. It refuses to listen to reason and doesn’t seem to care about the effect this has on the environment; it just wants to lord over more land and, when the three birds are unleashed, they engage in all-out war against each other. The effect this had is destructive and immediate but also causes a greater threat to emerge beneath the ocean, where the true “Beast of the Sea” rages; this swirling mass of energy causes catastrophic weather changes across the world and threatens the safety of everyone.

Lugia arises to quell the fighting but needs the “Chosen One” to calm the trio.

With the Legendary Birds raging out of control, Lugia finally arises to put an end to their conflict; like Mewtwo (Philip Bartlett), Lugia is fully capable of communicating with the human characters using is psychic abilities and, from it, they learn that they must bring all three treasures to a shrine and they play the Guardian’s Song in order to calm the warring trio down. While Lugia is extremely powerful, the numbers game overwhelm it constantly and its strength is directly tied to the success of the Chosen One; as a result, while it does everything it can to subdue the trio with brute force, it isn’t until Ash is able to fulfil his destiny that its powers are finally able to quell Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres and thus dissipate the environmental catastrophe that threatens the entire world.

The Nitty-Gritty:
As in the last film, Pokémon the Movie 2000 merges traditional 2D anime with some CGI effects; however, as much as I enjoy this movie for its depictions of the Legendary Birds and the emphasis it places on Lugia, I always found the rendition of the four birds to be somewhat lacking compared to the likes of Mewtwo or other Legendary Pokémon. The animation is good, and of a higher standard than a regular episode of the anime, but it just doesn’t seem to look or feel as big as the last film despite having more action and higher stakes. Like the first film, there’s also a bit of computer-generation animation employed here, primarily in the Collector’s ship, the rendition of the underwater tumult, and some of the birds’ attacks; it seems to have been implemented much better compared to the last film but I wonder if a bit of CGI enhancement would have helped the birds to stand out a bit more.

There’s plenty of amusing gags amidst all the action and themes of environmental concern.

While the use of rampant storms, wind, and rain is extremely similar to the aesthetic of the last movie, here it is a far bigger threat as we see the effect the trio’s battle has on Ash’s hometown and regularly cut away to a sub-plot involving Professor Samuel Oak (Stuart Zagnit) and Ash’s mother, Delia (Taylor), as they experience the severe phenomena, advise new reporters on what’s happening and theorise as to why, and even travel to the elemental islands to help out as best they can. There’s a clear and obvious environmental message in the film that warns about the dangers of interfering with or upsetting the natural order of things; while this can have severe ramifications for us in the real world, those in the Pokémon world are even more at risk as captured or provoking certain Pokémon can encourage or awake even more powerful and destructive creatures. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Pokémon the Move 2000 is its use of humour and jokes; there were some puns and gags in the first film but there’s loads of amusing little moments here, like when Misty and Melody are arguing about Ash and Tracey thinks they’re talking about him or a simple shot to Slowking (Nathan Price) when its sat in and covered by snow and it simply states, completely deadpan: “I could use pants”. These moments of levity really help to break up the film’s overall dark and bleak tone; the first movie was pretty dark in its implications and stakes but the second one escalates thing even further as the conflict between the Legendary Birds threatens to destroy the entire world and Ash is given the explicit role as the saviour of the planet rather than simply lucking into being a hero like usual.

The battle between the trio and Lugia is a big highlight of the film.

Another area where Pokémon the Movie 2000 also excels is in its action sequences; as awesome as it was to see Mewtwo finally battle with Mew (Kōichi Yamadera), all they did was basically just bash into each other a bit while the other Pokémon slapped each other about and it did somewhat underdeliver in its fight scenes. That doesn’t happen here; Articuno, Moltres, and Zapdos attack each other without mercy and with rampant aggression that threatens everyone and everything. Sadly, for a big Articuno fan like me, the Ice-type bird gets the short end of the stick a bit as it gets battered about by its counterparts but the film is a fantastic debut for Lugia, another of my all-time favourite Pokémon. While I would have preferred to see Lugia and its counterpart, Ho-Oh, share the screen (and it’s still weird to me that this never happened, as far as I know), Lugia is an enigmatic Pokémon in its own right and more than capable of battling against all three Legendary Birds for a time. While, like Mewtwo, Lugia’s powers are vast and formidable, its not an overpowered creature; it can calm the warring trio only when all three treasures are returned to the shrine and the song is played and it even seems to die a couple of times as it is overwhelmed by the Legendary Birds. A wise and enigmatic figure, Lugia is only as strong as the Chosen One to whom it is bonded, meaning that its success in battle hinges on Ash’s ability to live up to the lofty expectations of the prophecy (and his name). Of course, he succeeds in this endeavour (and without being turned to stone this time…) but it’s pretty touch and go for a while as he is relentlessly hounded by Moltres, Zapdos, and Articuno and is only able to succeed with help from friend and foe alike.

The Summary:
Since Pokémon Gold and Silver have always been my favourite Pokémon videogames, and my love of Pokémon was at its peak around this time, I’ve always had a soft spot for Pokémon the Movie 2000. It didn’t quite have the same epic feel as the first movie, mainly because the anime didn’t build towards the conflict or sow the seeds for the feature this time around and it would be difficult for any Pokémon film to match the mystery Mew elicited in young Pokémon fans at the time, but it was still a pretty impressive follow-up in its own right. With bigger, and more impressive action, a surprisingly emotional score and subtext, and debuting one of my all-time favourite Pokémon, the film is a decent entry and easily in my top three-to-five of all the Pokémon movies. Oddly, though, I don’t have quite the same level of nostalgia for this one compared to the first one and, in some ways, it might be a little more run-of-the-mill compared to the first movie but it’s got a lot going for it and, while I’m not much of a fan of Ash, it handled him being the “Chosen One” in a fairly amusing way. For me, it’s all about the battles between the Legendary Birds; while I’m still disappointed we never got to see Ho-Oh involved in the conflict, it was great seeing Moltres, Articuno, and Zapdos going at it in a furious squabble over territory that threatened the entire planet and tying Lugia’s strength in with Ash’s courage helped to keep the tension, and the stakes, pretty high as they were constantly battling the odds the entire time so I’d say it’s definitely one not to underestimate for how engaging it can be in its own right.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of Pokémon the Movie 2000? If so, what did you like about it; if not, how do you think it could have been better? Did you like the depiction of the Legendary Birds or would you have preferred to see them portrayed in a way that was closer to the source material? What did you think to the Collector as the main antagonist and the depiction (and debut) or Lugia? Which Pokémon game, generation, and creature is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating National Pokémon Day today? Whatever your thoughts, drop them in the comments below.

Game Corner [National Pokémon Day]: Pokémon Shield (Nintendo Switch)

Upon the release of Pokémon: Blue Version and Pokémon: Red Version (Game Freak, 1996), a new craze swept through playgrounds across the world. An entire generation grew up either playing Pokémon, watching the anime, playing the trading card game, and watching the feature-length movies as clever marketing and a co-ordinated release and multimedia strategy saw Nintendo’s newest franchise become not just a successful videogame franchise but a massively lucrative and popular multimedia powerhouse that endures to this day. Accordingly, February 27th is now internationally recognised as “National Pokémon Day” and a day for fans of the long-running and beloved franchise to come together in celebration of all things Pokémon.

Released: 15 November 2019
Developer: Game Freak

The Background:
I’ve talked about Pokémon a few times but, until now, I haven’t actually sat down and done a proper review of one of the games; as I’ve indicated previously, Pokémon was an instant cultural phenomenon back when the games first dropped, taking playgrounds by storm and dominating almost every aspect of my generation through a slew of merchandise. I remember being so adamant about purchasing Pokémon: Blue Version that I bought it brand new rather than getting a cheaper copy of Pokémon: Red Version and my friends and I routinely played the game at break times at school or on the Nintendo 64 thanks to Pokémon Stadium (Nintendo EAD/HAL Laboratory, 1999). Although the developers originally intended my favourite games/generation of Pokémon, Pokémon: Gold Version and Pokémon: Silver Version (Game Freak, 1999) to be the final entries in the series, Pokémon videogames continued to be developed, with new features, improved graphics and mechanics, and a whole bunch of new Pokémon being introduced in each generation.

Pokémon‘s home consoles games largely diverted from the RPG formula of the main series.

However, in all that time, we never really got a proper version of Pokémon on home consoles; they were always spin-offs, battling games, or neutered versions of the main role-playing experience, which remained exclusive to Nintendo’s handhelds. Nintendo’s development of their Switch console changed that, however; thanks to the Switch’s unique ability to be both a handheld and a home console, players were finally able to experience a main series Pokémon game in glorious high definition with the release of Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! (ibid, 2018) Though remakes of the first Pokémon games, the Let’s Go games (like pretty much all Pokémon games) proved both successful and popular and, eager to keep their unstoppable cash-cow afloat, Game Freak began developing an original main series Pokémon title for the Nintendo Switch. This time, much to my interest and appreciation, the games would be set in a new region that was heavily inspired by locations in the United Kingdom, featured the return of mechanics from previous Pokémon games alongside some all-new ones, and would later expand upon its limited roster of Pokémon through a number of expansion packs.

The Plot:
After years of waiting, the time has come for you and your childhood friend, Hop, to receive your very own Pokémon from Professor Magnolia. After Hop’s brother, Pokémon League Champion Leon, endorses your entry into the Gym Challenge, you prepare to journey across the region of Galar to earn a spot in the Pokémon League but, after a fateful encounter with the legendary Zamazenta, you also stumble upon a plot to use Galar’s precious Wishing Stars to cause Pokémon to enter a rampaging Dynamax state and bring about the apocalyptic “Darkest Day”!

I had (have? It’s honestly hard to tell these days) a friend once who told me that the reason he fell out of playing Pokémon was that the games hadn’t really changed since the days of Blue and Red. Personally, I find that a comfort; it means that if you haven’t played a Pokémon game in some time, perhaps years, you can still pick up a title like Pokémon Shield and know exactly how to play as the core gameplay mechanics are basically identical to how you remember them. Accordingly, Pokémon Shield is a role-playing game (RPG) in which you play as a young, up-and-coming Pokémon Trainer; as you explore Galar with your chosen Pokémon, you’ll encounter wild Pokémon which must be fought and defeated (or captured to be added to your team) and other Pokémon Trainers.

Battle other Pokémon to level-up, learn new moves, and increase your Pokémon’s stats.

Battling other Pokémon earns your Pokémon both experience points (EXP) and effort value points (EVP); you can track your EXP using a handy gauge beneath your Pokémon’s hit point (HP) bar and, once it is full, your Pokémon will grow a level and its statistics (Attack, Defence, Speed, and the like) will grow depending on what sort of Pokémon you battled and the otherwise-hidden EVP you gained from each battle. When your Pokémon level-up, they may learn new moves; since each Pokémon can only know four moves at a time, it pays to think ahead about what moves you want your Pokémon to have. For example, you might have a Pokémon with a high Special Attack stat; if this is the case, it’s probably better to not load it up with Attack moves as it won’t deal as much damage. Conversely, your Pokémon may have a low Defence or Speed stat so you might want to invest in a few moves that raise these stats in battle (Iron Defence, Dragon Dance, etc). Through proper EVP training, though, you can tailor Pokémon to battle how you wish but it does take more effort; personally, I like my Pokémon to be proactive and aggressive, with a range of attacks suited to their strengths rather than worrying about raising stats. In the course of levelling-up, your Pokémon may also evolve; this process allows some Pokémon to assume an entirely new form, gaining significant stat boosts at the same time. Evolution is sometimes tied to other factors, such as using special stones, bonding with your Pokémon, having them hold a special item, the weather and time of day, or through trading them with a friend. Battling, capturing, and levelling-up Pokémon is essential not just to making your team stronger and earning Pokémon Dollars to spend on various items but also to complete the PokéDex. Each time you encounter a Pokémon, some of its data will be recorded so you know where to find it and what “Type” of Pokémon it is but you’ll only complete its PokéDex entry by capturing it yourself.

Always ensure that you have the type advantage and make full use of your Pokémon’s abilities.

I mentioned Pokémon “Types” just then so I’ll get into that now; each Pokémon can be either one or a combination of two types and using type advantage is key to becoming a stronger and more capable Pokémon Trainer. Because of the tried-and-tested type mechanic, Pokémon battling is, essentially, like a game of rock, paper, scissors: Fire-type Pokémon are super effective against Grass- and Ice-types, for example, while Grass-types have the edge over Water- and Rock-types, and Water-types will make short work of Fire- and Ground-types. It’s a simple system that you can usually gauge by considering the colour and location of the Pokémon you encounter (a blue-coloured Pokémon on or in water is probably going to be a Water-type, for example) but one neat addition to this game is that the next time you encounter a Pokémon, whether you’ve caught it or not, the game will tell you which of your moves are effective or ineffective against it, making battling much less a case of trial, error, and experience. Being that Game Freak love to mix things up with each new generation and region, familiar Pokémon have also been given new typings in Pokémon Shield (Rapidash, for example, is traditionally a Fire-type Pokémon but is now a duel Psychic/Fairy-type Pokémon so it’s better to use Ghost- or Dark-type attacks) and, as is the standard now, Pokémon also come with different “Natures” and “Abilities” which give them slightly different traits or abilities in battle (such as raising stats causing or removing weather effects, or powering up certain moves).

Inflate your Pokémon to giant size with the new “Dynamax” mechanic.

Pokémon Shield’s big new thing is the “Dynamax” mechanic and the game’s Wild Area; normally in Pokémon games, you travel from town to town using “Routes”, passing through caves and forests and such along the way and, while you still do that here, Pokémon Shield introduces a vast open area filled with a variety of wild Pokémon and shifting weather patterns. Here, you can catch and train up your team but you’ll also encounter glowing Pokémon Dens; if these have a shaft of red light coming from them, you can participate (alone or with computer-controlled or online players) in a “Max Raid Battle” against a Pokémon that has entered the Dynamax state and grown to gigantic size. In these battles, which also occur in each of the game’s Gym Leader battles, you have the opportunity to Dynamax one of your own Pokémon; essentially the same thing as “Mega Evolution” from the previous games, Dynamaxing may allow you to perform more elaborate moves but it only lasts a few turns and you can just as easily defeat a Dynamax Pokémon with a normal Pokémon. It adds a slight wrinkle to the usual gameplay, though, as you’ll earn better rewards from such battles, like Technical Machines (TMs) and Technical Records (TRs) to teach your Pokémon new moves, special stones and items, and Watts (which is, annoyingly, a separate form of currency).

It’s easier than ever to find, battle, and capture wild Pokémon.

I glossed over it earlier but, as always, one of the main aims of the game is to capture Pokémon; you won’t get very far without a diverse team of at least four different Pokémon types (though it is conceivable) so it’s highly advised that you catch a variety of Pokémon and teach them diverse moves to make things easier on yourself. Thankfully, you can now see wild Pokémon on the map, meaning random battles are a thing of the past; you can choose to avoid or run past wild Pokémon, sneak up on them to battle rarer ones, or whistle or ring your bike’s bell to attract them, which is all very helpful if you’re in a rush or want to grind for levels. Pokémon are caught in the usual way; you battle a wild Pokémon until its HP is low (preferably in the red and with a status effect (paralyse, sleep, etc) inflicted upon them) and then throw one of the game’s many different Poké Balls. The lower the level of the Pokémon, the easier it is to catch and you’ll be able to catch higher level Pokémon as you defeat the Galar Gym Leaders; however, it has to be said that capturing Pokémon has become pathetically easy over the years. Back in the day, I would waste my entire stock of Poke Balls on some Pokémon but, now, you can often capture a Pokémon with your first ball without even weakening it, which severely reduces the fun and challenge of the game.

There’s so much hand-holding that it’s almost insulting.

Speaking of which, Pokémon Shield has to include some of the most annoying and unnecessary hand-holding I’ve ever experienced; Pokémon games have often employed mini tutorials and hand-holding techniques but Pokémon Shield really takes the cake as you’ll be constantly lectured on how to battle, how to capture Pokémon, what each building is in a town, where to go, and what to do. There’s never any danger of you getting lost or not knowing where to go next as characters spell it out for you, force you where you need to go, block your exit until you’ve fulfilled an objective, and your handy-dandy map constantly displays your current objective and where you need to go. I’m sure it’s helpful for young or new players but I’ve been playing Pokémon since the start so it would have been nice to be able to turn this feature off.

Graphics and Sound:
Thanks to the power of the Nintendo Switch, Pokémon has never looked better; no longer forced into the classic top-down RPG perspective, the game makes full use of its engine to display a number of dynamic camera angles (even giving you full camera control in the Wild Area), and every time you visit a new town or area, you get a nice little look at what the location has to offer.

Locations draw heavily from the varied architecture and landscapes of the UK.

Locations are based on those from right here in the UK; accordingly, there’s a lot of beautiful countryside (most of it barraged by ever-changing weather conditions), farm land, little towns and villages, and large, industrial towns based on the likes of London. Like the UK, Galar is united through a comprehensive rail system that allows you to quickly travel between towns; the stations are reminiscent of those here in the UK and you’ll also see other similar landmarks and familiar elements, such as a clock tower, an ostentatious ferries wheel, red phone booths, and Victorian/Gothic architecture. I guess because of this UK-influence, there’s a heavy emphasis on football and football-inspired iconography, meaning you’ll take on the Gym Leaders in massive stadiums packed with cheering crowds which really helps up the scale of these battles. The whole game has the usual anime-inspired aesthetic that Pokémon has been known for only now it’s heavily infused with some steampunk influences because of the nature of the region as well as being sleek and modern when in Galar’s bigger towns and featuring crystalline mines and more fantastical locations like Glimwood Tangle. Characters are all well modelled and expressive; while the game still doesn’t use voice acting, their personalities are all expressed through their dialogue boxes (featuring an abundance of British slang which really appealed to me; characters often casually call each other “Mate” or “Luv” and speak with recognisable British quirks and expressions) and their body language.

We’ve got some funky Pokémon designs, as is to be expected at this point.

Though the base game “only” features four hundred of the eight hundred available Pokémon, each one has their own fully-rendered model with unique animations; add to that the various different regional forms, new evolutions, and the Dynamax and Gigantamax forms and you have plenty of little critters to choose from and keep you busy. As mentioned, they all appear on the overworld as well, making the Pokémon world finally feel large and alive, and they all have their own unique cries (with Pikachu still being the only one to speak its name, such is its popularity and appeal) and the new Pokémon and forms available here aren’t too bad. We’ve got such things as a football-loving rabbit, a bongo-drumming ape, fluffy sheep, cute little electric puppies, chubby chipmunks, and anthropomorphic lumps of glowing coal. Then there’s weird shit like a haunted teapot, an animated apple, and penguins with ice cubes on their heads! I have to say, though, that I remain unimpressed with a lot of the names for these new Pokémon; I mean, come on, a Fire-type rabbit and you call it “Cinderace” instead of “Hareblazer”!? The legendary Pokémon aren’t all that much to shout about either; the mascots, Zacian and Zamazenta, are okay, I guess, and Eternatus is pretty bad-ass but the majority of the other legendaries are locked behind the pay wall of the game’s expansion pass. In terms of sound, not much really jumped out at me; the classic Pokémon games were full of catchy little tunes that brought Routes, towns, and battles to life and while that is true of Pokémon Shield, none of it really stuck with me…with the exception of the Gym Leader battle theme! This rocking, energetic piece changes tempo depending on how well you are doing and ramps up once the Gym Leader busts out their Pokémon’s Dynamax form; this theme alone really got the blood pumping for those battles and worked with the stadium setting and roaring crowd to really make the stakes feel high for a change.

Enemies and Bosses:
As you explore Galar, you can choose to battle the various Wild Pokémon that are wandering throughout the overworld; these will hide in grass or underwater, run out into the street, chase you (or run from you), or more powerful variants may pop up in the Wild Area. In each instance, you have much more flexibility about engaging or fleeing from these battles; when you battle, you’ll still earn EXP even if you capture the Pokémon and, in a change that I’m sure irked many, all of your Pokémon will gain some EXP from every battle (but only those that actually participate will gain the most and the EVP from each battle). Like all Pokémon regions, Galar is also populated by other Pokémon Trainers; these days, the game clearly shows you a fellow Trainer’s line of sight so you can try to sneak past or avoid them but I recommend battling every one you come across to level-up your team faster and earn more money. Pokémon Trainers are generally armed with only one or two Pokémon in the early going but eventually have more (and far stronger) Pokémon in their team.

Team Yell are not Team Rocket, that’s for sure; they’re just a bunch of try-hard fanboys.

When battling, be sure to keep an eye on the Power Points (PP) of your Pokémon’s moves; each move has a certain amount of PP and, when it’s spent, you can’t use that move anymore and may be reduced to literally struggling to survive. Similarly, as with many Pokémon games, you may have to battle two trainers at once in a double battle either alone (with two of your Pokémon) or with a computer-controlled partner (usually Hop). In these battles, it’s important to consider the effect your attacks may have on your partner and the game encourages players to use moves like Helping Hand or Wide Guard to help protect or buff your partner (of course, because I adopt an aggressive approach to battling, I don’t do this). As in every other Pokémon game, you’ll also run afoul of a team; in this case, it’s the punk-rock-inspired Team Yell. Unlike other teams, though, Team Yell aren’t out to steal or manipulate Pokémon or to destroy the world; instead, they are the cheerleaders and groupies for one of your rivals, Marnie. Led by Marnie’s older brother (and Gym Leader), Piers, Team Yell generally cause a nuisance by blocking your path or forcing you into a single or double battle at various points but are little threat compared to the likes of Team Rocket or Team Magma/Aqua.

Hop, your childhood friend and rival, makes up for his lack of skill with enthusiasm.

As I alluded to above, the game also includes the standard rival mechanic; for the most part, your rival is Hop, your childhood friend, with whom you have a friendly rivalry with. Hop will accompany you into new locations and areas, often battling alongside you or while you’re battling someone else, and is extremely enthusiastic in following in his brother’s footsteps and besting the Gym Leaders before you. As a result, when you encounter Hop he will generally challenge you to a Pokémon battle but, as the plot eventually reveals, Hop is no Blue or Silver; hell, he isn’t even a good substitute for May! You’ll have no trouble at all wiping the floor with Hop each and every time you battle him and he actually drags you down in double battles since he’s so useless; the only time he’s a threat is right at the end of the post-game when he’s captured Zacian and, even then, it is that legendary Pokémon that causes you the most trouble as opposed to Hop himself. Marnie and Bede are also two of your rivals, though you encounter and battle them far more infrequently than Hop. Both share the same desire as you and Hop to conquer the Gym Challenge and, though Bede is disqualified from the Challenge after he steals a bunch of Wishing Stars, he returns to interrupt the finals of the Champion Cup to battle you once more. However, if you have a well-balanced team at a high level, neither of these rivals will really cause you much of a headache.

Before you can take on the Gym Leaders, you’ll have to complete their various missions…

That strategy also applies to the game’s Gym Leaders, who act, as always, as the closest thing Pokémon has to “bosses”. You must defeat each of the eight Gym Leaders to earn Badges and qualify for the Champion Cup; each time you defeat a Gym Leader, they award you with a TM, some clothes to wear, and you earn the right to capture and own Pokémon of a higher level. There’s a pretty big gap between the start of the game and your first battle against Milo, meaning that, if you’re anything like me, you run the risk of your Pokémon being over-levelled and thus ignoring your commands so, again, it’s best to have a diverse team at different levels to ensure that doesn’t happen until you have acquired the right badge. Before you can battle a Gym Leader, you’ll have to take on their Gym Mission; before, you used to just walk into the Pokémon Gym and battle the Gym Leader’s disciples, maybe solving a puzzle or two, but the games have increased the puzzles and requirements to reach the Gym Leader over the years and Pokémon Shield is the culmination of that. As a result, you’ll be herding Wooloo around, solving a water puzzle, earning points in double battles while your partner tries to scuttle you, navigate a maze, answering questions and battling a gauntlet of Trainers like it’s a stage audition, battle members of Team Yell down a dingy alleyway block by Mr. Mimes, and having to conquer three Trainers in double battles. The challenge of these missions varies and ranges from ridiculously easy to unnecessarily annoying but the end result is the same; eventually, you’ll get dressed into your special stadium attire and head out onto the Gym Leader’s stadium to challenge for a Gym Badge.

Even with their Gigantamax Pokémon, the Gym Leaders are easily bested.

When battling Gym Leaders, the battles are given more variety thanks to the use of more dynamic camera angles which alternate between shots of the battle and the crowd and include televised shots. Again, though, anyone who has played Pokémon before has a distinct advantage in these battles; if you’re anything like me, you’ll grind and train between Gym battles and ensure that your team is as strong as possible to take full advantage of each Gym Leader’s chosen type. Milo uses Grass-types, Nessa uses Water, Kabu uses Fire, Allister uses Ghost-types, Opal and Bede favour Fairy-types, Melony uses Ice-types, Piers and Marnie use Dark, and Raihan uses Dragon-types. You always know which type each Gym Leader uses before you challenge them and the game smartly places wild Pokémon in the nearby region that will give you an advantage in battle that, and your training, means that you can easily sweep through each of the Gym Leaders without breaking a sweat even when they bust out their Gigantamax Pokémon. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Pokémon game without some kind of nefarious deed going on; in this case, Rose, president of Macro Cosmos and the chairman of the Galar Pokémon League, has been gathering the Wishing Stars than enable Dynamaxing in order to bring about the fabled Darkest Day through mass Dynamaxing and the awakening of the legendary Pokémon, Eternatus. Before you can stop him, you’ll have to battle his co-conspirator and secretary, Oleana, who leads you on a wild goose chase that sees you battling corrupted League Staff in order to get a key to confront Rose; you’ll then have to battle Oleana herself who, despite the diversity of her team, is easily bested if your team is well-trained and varied enough to match her Pokémon.

When Rose awakens Eternatus, only you (and some Legendary Pokémon) can quell the beast.

When you finally confront Chairman Rose deep within the Hammerlocke Energy Plant, you won’t be faced with much of a challenge since all of his Pokémon are Steel-types; this means that he is easily decimated with a Fire-type Pokémon but, after he is defeated, you are forced to battle the enraged Eternatus after Leon fails to capture it. Eternatus appears in two forms, its regular form and its horrific Eternamax form; you can’t capture it in its base form or use Dynamax when battling either of its forms and you’re forced to team up with Hop, Zamazenta, and Zacian to whittle its HP down and capture it (with, again, a ridiculous amount of ease; time was that legendary Pokémon were nigh-on impossible to catch but modern Pokémon games make them a breeze!) After all that palaver is taken care of, you finally get to finish off the Champion Cup; in a change of pace, rather than tackling the Elite Four of the region and the regional champion, Pokémon Shield has you participate in a three round, single-elimination tournament against the other Gym Leaders to earn the right to face Leon. This is a bit disappointing as, rather than facing off with Galar’s best and brightest Trainers, you end up doing what is, essentially, a “boss rush”. On the plus side, Leon can actually be a tough battle thanks to the strength and variety of his Pokémon (though, to be fair, I only found this because I started with the wrong Pokémon in the lead of my team). Once you defeat Leon and become the Champion, the credits play pretty much right away (there’s no Hall of Fame ceremony here) and you move on to the post-game.

Some of the game’s toughest challenges await in the post-game.

In the post-game, you have to travel all around Galar revisiting the Pokémon Gyms to quell the anger of various out-of-control Dynamax Pokémon; for the first few battles, you’ll fight alongside Piers, Hop, and another Gym Leader but, for the rest, you go it alone. Luckily, though, by this point your team should be well in the late-level-fifty or early-sixties so these battles aren’t much of a hassle. You’re also introduced to two new antagonists, the ridiculously-named Sordward and Shielbert, who see themselves as the rightful kings of Galar and are actually pretty tough since their Pokémon are at level sixty. It’s actually beneficial, for the first time ever, when you battle them alongside Hop, and once you defeat them you’ll get to battle and capture Zamazenta. Unlike Eternatus, Zamazenta is not so easily caught in the usual assortment of Poké Balls but, luckily, you can just toss your Master Ball at it to snag it without any effort at all.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you explore Galar, keep an eye out for red and yellow Poké Ball-like items on the ground and twinkles of light; picking these up will award you with items, TMs, ingredients, and other helpful pick-ups to aid you in your battles. You can also use for Pokémon Dollars and Watts to spend in various ways; Poké Marts are now a thing of the past, with these shops now being located inside of Pokémon Centers, but you can also spend your money at various travelling merchants across the map and in clothing stores. You can buy and pick up helpful items that will heal a certain amount (or all) of a chosen Pokémon’s HP, restore their PP, revive them from fainting, or heal them of any detrimental status effects. You can also acquire different types of Poké Balls; the standard variant is decent enough in the early going but you may need to utilise the Great and Ultra Balls to capture higher-level Pokémon or use special balls to increase your chances (Dive Balls for Pokémon caught while fishing, for example, or Net Balls for Bug-types). You can also get your hands on items that increase your Pokémon’s level, Dynamax level, stats, PP, and EXP or which can be used once in a battle to raise certain stats or increase certain abilities.

You have many different options for travelling around Galar.

These days, Hidden Machines (HMs) aren’t really a thing anymore so you don’t need to worry about wasting a move slot or a member of your team with moves like Surf or Fly. Instead, you can call upon a Flying Taxi to fly around the map and upgrade your Rotom Bike to cross over water; the Rotom Bike is far faster than your usual jog, as well, and can be further upgraded to go even faster. You can still get TMs, though, which can be used multiple times to teach new moves to your Pokémon. TRs are a new addition and are primarily earned through Max Raid Battles and spending Watts; these break after use, though, so be sure to spend your Watts wisely.

Dynamaxing is cool but somewhat limited and hardly a requirement.

Your biggest power-up in Pokémon Shield, besides the usual evolution mechanic, is the new Dynamax mechanic. However, Dynamaxing is quite limited; unlike Mega Evolution, you can only Dynamax at certain specific points in the game and it is, honestly, rather pointless. It’s impressive to see and fun to behold two giant, goofy-looking Pokémon butting heads but, as I mentioned, you can defeat Dynamax Pokémon with a regular Pokémon as long as you’re strong enough and have the type advantage. Some Dynamax Pokémon make things difficult by putting up a barrier that must be whittled down but, otherwise, it’s a fun and interesting new feature that, I feel, is a bit squandered and wasted because of its limitations.

Additional Features:
It’s a Pokémon game so, naturally, there is a lot to do; most of these additional features are holdovers from previous Pokémon games: battling, capturing, and evolving Pokémon; any Poké Ball having a random chance of capturing a Pokémon without fail; leaving Pokémon at the Day Care to breed new Pokémon; customising your avatar’s gender, hair style, and clothing at the start of the game and throughout by buying new clothing; meeting the game developers in a hotel; using the menu screen to save, view items and your map; and customising your Pokémon team placement, moves, and markings, and acquire various items through the online Mystery Gift function.

I must have skipped or missed the point of collecting League Cards…

There are, however, some changes, as you might expect; characters will award you with their League Cards (though I’m not sure of their purpose; it seems you can swap and trade them online, though) and you can also customise your own League Card using the PC in the Pokémon Center. You’ll also find the Name Rater, Move Deleter, and Move Reminder non-playable character (NPC) in the Pokémon Center; amalgamated into one character, you can change your Pokémon’s nickname and delete and relearn moves as often as you like with this NPC. Furthermore, you can press Y during battles to see what your moves will do and get a snapshot of any status and type ailments you need to be aware of and press X to throw a Poké Ball without having to access the in-game menu; your PokéDex even offers you recommendations for Pokémon to catch in the immediate area to help you take on upcoming Trainers and Gym Battles and every time you acquire an item for the first time, a little text box tells you what it is in another case of helpful hand-holding. Some of the game’s additional features are more fun and useful than others; when it’s your birthday, the Pokémon Centre NPCs will make a big fuss of you, which is a nice touch, but then you can also sit on chairs and benches for absolutely no reason or benefit other than immersion. You eventually acquire the ability to access your PC boxes remotely so you can swap your team out on the go, which is useful, and, while you can retake the Champion Cup over and over and even invite specific characters to compete against you in it, you still can’t rebattle previously defeated Pokémon Trainers.

Toss it all in a pan, whip up a curry, and get a fancy medal for your troubles.

There is a startling amount of online connectivity in Pokémon Shield; when connected to the internet and in the Wild Area, other players will spontaneously appear to join you in Max Raid Battles and offer helpful items. You can also battle and trade with others players online, as usual, but you’ll need to pay for the Switch’s online service to do any and all of these things, which is a real greedy move on Nintendo’s part as you never had to do that in the previous games! You can also set up a tent at any time, and may encounter other player’s Pokémon Camps; here, you can “speak to” and play with the Pokémon in your team to improve your bond with them. Doing this, and being a good, consistent trainer, means your Pokémon try harder in battle and will land more critical hits, keep themselves from fainting, or even shake off status effects to please you. In the Pokémon Camp, you can also take part in the game’s newest mini game: curry making. By exploring the overworld and shaking trees, you’ll acquire a variety of berries and other ingredients to throw into a cauldron and whip up a variety of curries. While camping gains your team some EXP by default, curry will provide them with a lot more EXP and also restore their HP; certain NPCs will also rate and reward your curry-making skills and you can make curry with other players if they join you in a camp. Furthermore, by accessing the PC, you can send your Pokémon off on jobs to earn them some EXP outside of battling (though I never actually bothered with this).

To get the most out of the post-game, you’ll need to pay for the expansion pass…

You can also acquire rewards by using the Lotto ID on any PC, which will randomly check the identification numbers of your Pokémon and award a prize if it matches, take part in the Rotom Rally to race through the Wild Area collecting balloons for boosts and time, or visit the various cafés across Galar once a day to compete in a double battle for additional rewards. As you conquer the Gym Leaders, you’ll also acquire fans; NPCs will cheer you on when you roll into the stadium and congratulate you after each victory, which is nice, and you are often given the choice of a couple of responses to in-game dialogue but it doesn’t really affect the story in any meaningful way so go nuts and tell that loser Hop what you really think about him! As mentioned, Pokémon Shield also continues the tradition of featuring some post-game content; this sees you revisiting the Galar Gyms to battle Dynamax Pokémon, opposing Sordward and Shielbert, and mainly exists to give you the chance to capture Zamazenta. While you can still use fossils to resurrect long-extinct Pokémon, there are no roaming legendaries to be found in the base game and the closest the game has to a powerful Super Boss is the aforementioned battles against Zamazenta and Hop. Once you clear the post-game, the Battle Tower opens up and you can take on its level-capped challenges to rise up the ranks, earn Battle Points (BP), and acquire rarer items but I’ve never liked the Battle Tower so I didn’t spend much time there. Honestly, Pokémon Shield’s post-game is severely lacking, especially compared to other Pokémon games; this may be because Nintendo are charging players £20 to expand the Galar region with new areas, Pokémon, forms, and challenges with their expansion passes, which is a bit of a piss-take and I am honestly shocked at how greedy Nintendo have become!

The Summary:
It’s been a while since I played a main series Pokémon game; I was pretty happy to be all but done with the franchise before I got my Nintendo Switch but revisiting the world of Pokémon is like meeting an old friend you’ve lost touch with. While there are a few new mechanics here and there to make things interesting for long-time players, Pokémon remains as accessible as ever thanks to the core gameplay mechanics staying largely the same even all these years later. All that’s really changed is the presentation and, to be fair, Pokémon Shield looks fantastic and really increases the scope and size of its world to make you finally feel totally immersed in a live, breathing environment. Unfortunately, for every good idea Pokémon Shield has, there are a few nitpicks that drag it down a bit: Dynamax is an interesting mechanic and I do prefer it to Mega Evolution in a lot of ways but it’s far too limited, there’s way too much hand-holding for my tastes, you still cannot have rematches with NPCs and, while you can encounter other players in the Wild Area, Nintendo still refuse to let you download an NPC of your friends into the game to act as a rival, and the game is maybe too helpful with all of its new features, meaning that there really isn’t much challenge for veterans of the franchise. Still, the presentation is great, especially in the way the game handles battles against Gym Leaders, and it is a top-class game in its own right…I just wish Nintendo hadn’t gotten so greedy and forced you to pay for the online features and post-game content.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What are your thoughts on Pokémon Shield? Perhaps you bought Pokémon Sword instead; if so, why was that and which of the two do you prefer? Which starter did you pick and why, and who made it on to your final team? What did you think to the Dynamax mechanic and the way the game presented Gym battles? What features did you like, or dislike, or would you like to see return to the series? Were you also annoyed at the hand-holding in the game or do you like always knowing exactly what to do and where to go? What did you think to Hop and the post-game content? Are you planning on buying the expansion pass? Which Pokémon game, generation, and creature is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating National Pokémon Day today? Whatever your thoughts, drop them in the comments below.