Dated Review - Pokemon Shield: The Crown Tundra

Dated Review - Pokemon Shield: The Crown Tundra

I cross old ground a lot when writing my blog posts. Snarky callbacks, dated references and even once (before the Thanos snap of losing the blog) reviewing a game from 2002. I'm not ashamed to re-tread old content, provided I can add something through my creative process. I enjoy looking critically at old content, or even just reviewing old content that got passed by or rubber stamped by the games media machine.

After all, my motivations lie outside fame and fortune. I don't do this to pay rent, I do this because I enjoy writing about my hobbies.

I had a point I was going to make here, but I lost track of it. I think the general thrust is that Game Freak and Nintendo, working together, have made an empire out of crossing old ground. The problem is that crossing old ground whilst adding nothing new doesn't make a good product. At the end of the day, when I finally unpacked my switch and fired up the Crown Tundra content, months after it was released in late 2020, I felt empty.

That shouldn't matter to you, the reading public, right. But suffice to say were it not for a dear friend of mine requesting for this review, I probably would've passed the Crown Tundra by. I'm even shaking my head writing and thinking about it for the purpose of publishing this article. The crux of the issue is that where Sword and Shield had a hacked out but functional story, and the Isle of Armor called back to that whilst adding in another direction, the Crown Tundra is positively devoid of content. This village is pretty much it.

There's an overarching story about a legendary pokemon and a father daughter combination that will one day lead to terrible daddy issues (maybe.). But the stakes are low and there's no sense of threat.

Like with the Isle of Armor, there's 'new' pokemon to catch and additional token features, like the special Dynamax Raid mode that teams you up with three other berks (good luck finding three people online to participate in that crap) to catch a legendary pokemon.

There's also some paper-thin content relating to finding the Regi- pokemon and the generation 1 legendary birds, but slightly redesigned. Of course in a subtle admission that the Crown Tundra is as desolate as the actual Russian steppe, they gate the last tiny nugget of narrative content behind catching nine pokemon with arduous encounter requirements. Much like Bunnings Warehouse, there's cheap padding everywhere.

If it sounds like I'm agitated, it's because I am. Between Sword and Shield's release and the release of the second DLC, there have been no quality of life improvements. Despite the total cost of the game being $120 with the DLC.

No updates to the awful textures. No improvements to poor quality animations. The pokemon follow mechanics being buggy as all hell. No additional modes for replayablity, like a hard mode, or a second save file. The gaming public was told that the number of Pokemon was reduced to concentrate on the quality of Sword and Shield. An excuse that was comprehensively dragged through the mud in 2019, that feels evermore hollow and bitter now that there's two DLC content packs which have delivered nothing in technical improvements to the game.

Sword and Shield is supposed to be Pokemon's current flagship product. This is where people are pointed to if they want to get into pokemon. I cannot imagine trying to convince someone that pokemon is a good franchise if I started with one of these games. Don't get after me about the technical limitations of the Switch. Nintendo's other first party titles have daylight between them and Sword and Shield.

Sure, pundits should feel free to point to the scoreboard - I mean, I did. Despite a litany of technical issues, Sword and Shield sold a whole bunch. Killer app territory. But at some point the bill comes due for all the shortcuts, poor production values and general low quality. I have interviewed a number of pundits who I would consider to be core to Pokemon's audience, who will not be purchasing the next round of gruel dumped into the feeding trough by Game Freak.

The Isle of Armor and the Crown Tundra were supposed to be the big updates that helped elevate Sword and Shield. That showed that the original development was rushed and that Game Freak knows what it's doing. Instead it was something of a final nail in the coffin - demonstrating that Game Freak is somewhat out of its depth in this new scary three dimensional world.

This never gets said enough, but dominant market share does not give you an excuse not to try. This feels very relevant in the face of the last three years of main line pokemon titles.

Back on course, The Crown Tundra just doesn't provide me with anything like enough content. And the content that is there is not engaging or compelling. The 'main' story can be blown through in about half an hour, mashing 'A' until you get RSI and the ending is deeply unsatisfying. The mythical pokemon with the ability to turn the Crown Tundra into a verdant paradise gets shoved into a pokeball. The villagers continue to have sucky lives because Game Freak will not be designing two different iterations of the same tiny wild area.

I didn't bother to catch the remaining legendary pokemon, or unlock the 2v2 battle mode. I just didn't give a damn.

What I missed from the Crown Tundra was the same thing I missed from the Isle of Armor and to a certain extent, my second playthrough of Shield. There's no depth to any of the content. The world isn't big enough. The characters and dialogue are poorly written. The game lacks a punch of challenge.

This was the most exciting thing I did in the new DLC - breeding a Dragonite:

I've made this point in previous reviews of Pokemon. At the core of the series is a need to grow with its audience. The same folks that like Pokemon and play Game Freak games now? They are overwhelmingly in their late 20s now. They're starting to have families, kids and enter the middle class properly. There needs to be something offered to that core audience. You can keep marketing to kids, sure, but that audience has largely passed you by. It's time to start aiming for a broader demographic.

I said the main game was good, then on revision it was mediocre. I said the Isle of Armor had some good ideas, but didn't have enough space. The Crown Tundra is a dismal final piece of content with barely any new ideas and somehow even less space than the Isle of Armor. The DLC isn't worth $45 - hell, it's barely worth $10. Even if the base game included this content at launch, there's still no depth of content.

$30 in 2016 bought you the War of the Chosen DLC for XCOM2. Amazing, flawless, spectaclar. $45 in 2020 buys you shitty writing, two tiny sandboxes and a handful of legendary pokemon. The gaming public were expected to eat it up with a spoon. I wonder if we did.

I grew up with pokemon. Despite the poor quality of the latest release, I still really enjoyed my time - mostly. The battle system scratches my itch despite being over-moderated by the dickheads at Smogon. The game is bright and colorful. The creatures (again, mostly) are well designed and I want to catch 'em all. But all these well developed ideas need a solid structure to build around. That didn't happen in Sword and Shield.

Game Freak and Nintendo need to do better with their next range of titles. Pokemon as a franchise, deserves better. Else it risks becoming a former franchise.

Catch you next time,
Vulkan

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Rowan Naveau

About Rowan Naveau

I'm Rowan (Vulkan) - and this is my blog. Here you'll find a stream of consciousness about video games, wargaming and just about everything else.