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Pokémon Sword and Shield feel like an adventure made for the big screen

Dynamax and giant gym battles are spectacular on a big TV

Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield - four Trainers confront a Dynamax Pangoro Game Freak/The Pokémon Company, Nintendo
Chelsea Stark (she/her), executive editor, has been covering video games for more than a decade.

Pokémon games often feel like intimate, closed-in experiences. Due to hardware limitations on handheld platforms and their smaller screens, the visual quality of Pokémon games’ most fantastic moments — legendary monsters, hard-fought trainer battles with elemental light shows — haven’t always matched their grand ambition.

Thanks to being on the Nintendo Switch, Pokémon Sword and Shield feel like the franchise can finally deliver on its biggest promises by rendering our favorite creatures in lush HD. Pokémon battles have certainly appeared on large screens before, starting in Pokémon Stadium for the Nintendo 64 and extending through fighting game spinoff Pokkén Tournament for the Wii U and Switch. But we haven’t really ever seen traditional Pokémon battles on the big screen in a mainline game.

Game Freak, seemingly aware of the significance of this moment, plays everything big in Sword and Shield. The Galar region, where this game is set, has an obsession with holding Pokémon battles in massive stadiums packed with fans. I played the game’s E3 demo, which is set in Galar’s water gym and culminates with a battle against gym leader Nessa. There’s a breathtaking sense of scale when the camera pulls back as my character walks into the arena. Pokémon’s big leagues have never been played bigger, and gyms — or at least their final battle — finally feel like a momentous occasion.

photo of Chelsea playing Pokémon Sword and Shield on a Nintendo Switch kiosk at E3 2019, with Dynamax Grookey on the screen Chris Plante/Polygon

This battle showcased Sword and Shield’s sizable addition: Dynamax Pokémon. During my battle with Nessa, who brought a Goldeen and Drednaw, I was able to super-size one of my six Pokémon using the Dynamax skill. Dynamaxed monsters fill up the giant stadiums, looming large like parade floats as their heads push past the balcony seats into the stratosphere.

The effect is simply incredible. Dynamax is like nothing we’ve ever seen in a Pokémon game, toppling Mega Evolutions in scale. And of course, it’s exactly the kind of thing you’d want to fill a giant TV with.

Dynamax Pokémon get supercharged moves as well, instead of their normal moves. My Grookey’s attacks sent giant vines shooting from the ground, or whaled on the opposing Drednaw with a light show of effects. The Drednaw, despite its own Dynamax, didn’t stand a chance.

While I’ll always cherish playing Pokémon games handheld, these Dynamax battles — especially in the gyms or during four-player raids — seem like the events I’ll save specifically for times my Switch is docked to a TV. (Despite Let’s Go, Eevee! and Let’s Go, Pikachu! also being on the Switch, I never played my copy docked to avoid having to use motion controls for capturing wild Pokémon.)

There are likely other big-screen-friendly features for Nintendo to reveal before Pokémon Sword and Shield launch this fall. Both games come to the Switch on Nov. 15.