Once upon a time, veteran Pokémon fans liked to argue that nothing could surpass the classic designs of the original games — especially not with the increasing number of Pokémon modeled after inanimate objects. Developer Game Freak certainly didn’t help in that regard, often opting to include or make new versions of Red and Blue mainstays within the latest installments of the games.
Even so, with time, some folks came to accept and appreciate even the garbage bag and ice cream Pokémon, which are certainly more creative than monsters based on amazing ideas such as “bird” and “goldfish.”
I am here to take this progress one step further and say that with the latest installment of Pokémon, Game Freak has absolutely outdone itself. Pokémon Sword and Shield don’t just have amazing creature designs — the monsters are complex, multi-faceted, and fun, with great lore to boot.
For a compendium to work, of course, we need some solid common monsters, and in this respect, Sword and Shield deliver. I’d argue that Wooloo, the fluffy sheep, Yamper, the charming corgi-like dog, and Snom, the cute bug, fit the bill perfectly here. Incidentally, all three creatures have entire fandoms devoted to them, and these are some of the most basic creatures on the list! Simple, of course, doesn’t mean bad. These are all good monsters with the type of Round Energy you can find on chonky animals, or baby fat. You see them, and you want to hug them.
One thing that Sword and Shield do particularly well are dynamic monsters who change mid-battle. Cramorant can, for instance, suddenly turn up with a Pikachu in its beak. Eiscue has a protective barrier on its head which can be broken to reveal a hilarious penguin with a single solitary hair on its head. Morpeko may be the obligatory Pikachu replacement which every game includes, but its alternate forms, which allow it to appear hangry, make up for that.
On that note, while many games feature “babies” or pre-evolutions, Toxel is the first buddy to look and feel like an actual toddler. Toxel crawls, it cries, it throws tantrums, and even appears to be wearing a diaper. And then, when Toxel evolves into Toxtricity, both forms look like lanky, rebellious teens — guitar riffs and all.
I’d also like to give a shoutout to both Grimsnarl and Hatterene, which are two monsters who use their “hair” to different effect. Grimsnarl goes the Bayonetta route, with its hair covering its entire body to create an uncomfortably beefy visage. Hatterene, meanwhile, hilariously obscures that it is actually a smaller alien monster who is basically controlling a mech.
Sword and Shield continue the tradition of having inanimate objects somehow be living, breathing animals, but I'd argue Stonjourner — which is based on real-world locale Stonehenge — is living in 3020 while the rest of us are in 2020. Runerigus, meanwhile, is a cursed painting containing the spirit of a Yamask. Yamask, for those who don’t know, is a shadow-like Pokémon of a former human who is looking for its face. So basically, Runerigus is a cursed painting containing a human inside of it. What.
The latest Pokémon games also add to the repertoire of monsters who, arguably, could be eaten. We’ve got Alcremie, a giant pile of whip cream with strawberries in it which can also temporarily transform into a giant cake. Applin and its evolutions are technically a dragon hiding inside of an apple... which can later turn into a pie.
Polteageist could be included in the list of potentially edible monsters, but it deserves an entry all on its own because of how brilliant it is. A tea-set critter existing within a game set in a fictional version of Britain is clever enough, especially when the “tea” is actually a ghost. But what truly sets Polteageist apart is that it is the first Pokémon who can be fake. You see, the ceramic set that forms the basis of a Polteageist is highly sought after, causing humans to make forgeries of the tea set. The only way to know if you have a counterfeit or genuine set is to check the bottom of the monster to see if it has a sticker of authenticity. And “real” Polteageist are rare to find.
Whoever came up with this deserves a raise, Game Freak.
Then we’ve got the fossil Pokémon which are based on the real-world phenomenon of people mixing together the remains of totally different creatures, a practice for which England is particularly notorious. Except in Sword and Shield, the technology is advanced enough that scientists can bring these poor Frankenstein’s monsters back to life. The inspiration behind these monsters is creative enough, but what puts Sword and Shield’s fossil abominations on another level is that the Pokedex actually tries to justify how these ancient dinosaurs must have existed. In doing so, Sword and Shield lay bare that the entire scientific community in this world doesn’t know what it’s talking about. The Pokedex is bullshit, which makes sense, given that they are all based on the observations of 11-year-olds venturing out into the world. Mind blown.
We do have the obligatory return of fan-favorites as well, but Sword and Shield reimagine them to great effect. We’ve got Cursola again, except this time, the poor coral-based monster is dead. Surprise! Climate change exists in the world of Pokémon, too. No surprise that we’ve even got a creature who is basically a giant pile of charcoal, then.
Sirfetch’d, a new evolution for Farfetch’d, takes its leek-based combat so seriously that it now has a sword and shield based on the vegetable. Sirfetch’d angry eyebrows are cute enough, but we’ve also got the lore to consider. “When this Pokémon’s leek withers, it will retire from combat,” the Pokedex reads. Truly, an honorable knight.
And then we’ve got a bewildering new version of Mr. Mime, along with its goofy new evolution, Mr. Rime. What else is there to say, except:
But even the monsters who haven’t been reimagined still stand out thanks to the fantastic new animations, which have endeared me to creatures I never gave a second thought to before. Old designs feel new.
My final argument for Sword and Shield’s genius are Gigantamax forms, which enlarge Pokémon into giant forms. Our lord and savior fat Pikachu is back. Meowth is a long cat. Eevee is cuter than ever. Garbodor turns into a freakin’ landfill. Gengar swallows you into the depths of hell. Never mind that the upcoming expansions for the Nintendo Switch games will give a Pokémon a gun.
I rest my case.