If you were worried about Pokémon Sword and Shield’s new Dynamaxing mechanic, which makes your Pokémon super big and super powerful for a limited amount of time, being an empty gimmick, you can calm down. I played a 20-minute demo at E3 yesterday, and it actually adds to the game’s complexity.
Being an adult fan of the Pokémon franchise is hard. Though the games have remained fun through the franchise’s 20-year run, you’re often confronted by the fact that you, as an adult, are not their primary audience. In more recent games, there have been flashy gimmicks and new powers that may be impressive to children but noticeably throw off the balance of the game if you’ve grown up. Mega Evolutions and Z-Moves look cool—I especially love the Mega Evolved designs for Pokémon like Charizard or Mewtwo—but in practice, I’ve found that they either lack in practical applications or are overpowered to the degree that they can make some battles really boring.
Dynamaxing is different. Unlike Mega Evolutions, any Pokémon can be Dynamaxed, and unlike Z Moves, they can only be used in very specific contexts. You can only turn your Pokémon into a huge, super powerful version of themselves during gym battles or during the new Max Raid Battles. While playing, I had a battle against the gym leader Nessa, who is also my wife.
I found that choosing when to Dynamax lends the game an additional wrinkle that makes you have to think about strategy in a new way. You can only Dynamax a Pokémon once during a battle, and it only lasts for three turns. In gym battles, your opposing gym leader can also Dynamax their Pokémon, so choosing when to use it depends on what you’re willing to risk. Is it better to Dynamax straight away, so you can power through early portions of a gym battle, or should you wait so that your Dynamaxed Pokémon can match up against your opponents’?
“We’re very cognizant of not betraying the expectations of long term fans,” Shigeru Ohmori, the director of Pokémon Sword and Shield, told Kotaku. “We view it as a way to get every Pokémon to shine in battle. Even if they weren’t as viable in the past, this is their time to shine, and we’re balancing the battle system around that.”
In my battle with Nessa, she Dynamaxed her water type Dreadnaw just before I Dynamaxed my Yamper, a newly announced Pokémon for Sword and Shield that’s an electric-type corgi. In that battle, Yamper had a type advantage, so I was sure that it would just destroy the Dreadnaw. I even set the stage by using a move that changed the weather of the stadium we were battling in, making it wet so that Yamper’s electric-type moves would deal more damage.
Alas, it was not to be. If Dreadnaw hadn’t also been Dynamaxed, I’m sure my strategy would have worked. But because Dynamaxing also makes all your moves more powerful, the Dreadnaw’s attacks knocked out my Yamper in two turns.
I’ve been replaying that battle in my head, trying to think about how I could take better advantage of a Dynamaxed Pokémon. It’s been a while since I’ve had to think so much about Pokémon strategy—in most battles, a higher level and a type advantage are enough to power through. I’m glad that Ohmori considered the needs of older players in this game. And for the kids, well, Dynamaxing makes your Pokémon really big, and they look really cool.