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Pokémon Sword and Shield beta has unprecedented leak

Folks are still playing these games

The fire starter Pokémon in Sword and Shield. Image: Game Freak, The Pokémon Company/Nintendo

Security at Nintendo has resembled Swiss cheese in 2020, letting loose a number of leaks showcasing early builds of classic games. Most of what we’ve seen before, however, has been for titles that are years if not decades old. But now, the internet has gotten its hands on an apparent development build of a modern Nintendo game running on the Switch.

According to several hackers, what’s floating around right now hails from the same source of all other Pokémon leaks this year — a hacker who breached Nintendo’s servers in 2018. This latest release, which first started percolating on web forum 4chan, contains a version of Pokémon Sword and Shield that dates back to March 2018. Many of these screenshots were then relayed to social media sites by folks uninvolved with the hack.

One of the first notable things about the build, which hackers got in a playable working state in mid-October, is that it contains several Pokémon who are not in the final game. Legendaries like Rayquaza can be spotted in placeholder art, while in-game models showcase cut creatures such as Greninja and Ekans in battle and roaming the wild, as you can see in the tweets below by YouTuber Lewchube. Previously, there was a lot of controversy over which creatures in the compendium made it into the game, though Game Freak has worked to fill out the roster with expansions.

Notably, many of these cut monsters don’t display correctly in this build of the game, sometimes showing up with technical hitches like garbled animations and sound effects. A Twitch streamer briefly running the beta build had their game crash more than once. All of this has led modders to believe that Game Freak may have cut some pocket monsters from Sword and Shield for the purposes of optimization.

Nintendo did not respond in time for press.

Inexplicably, there is also an art asset that shows off a more feminine version of Rotom:

Folks have also found alternate versions of in-game music, like this hype take on the battle theme:

Most of the finds, however, seem to be a mishmash of slightly different UI elements, blockmesh layouts, developer menus, placeholder art and other minutiae that may only be of interest to die-hards.

There’s nothing groundbreaking in the nitty-gritty of it — but even so, there’s some awe and discomfort over the fact that this exists at all. Nintendo is notoriously tight-lipped as a general rule, and if the public is given any kind of behind-the-scenes look at the company’s projects, it tends to be curated. The 2020 leaks are anything but polished.

On a more philosophical level, a couple of hackers and modders I spoke to about this say that the community feels slightly uncomfortable that the leak revolves around a modern game that people are still playing. It was easier to rationalize the importance of preserving the history behind iconic older games contained within the so-called Gigaleak, but Sword and Shield are way more recent than that. To wit, Sword and Shield will get a new expansion at the end of October, so the release cycle of the game isn’t even done yet.

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