You know what? Pokémon didn’t need a new formula. It had a perfectly fine formula already. You wake up to your mother screaming at you to go out and see the world on your own (as a pre-teen, of course) while also capturing dangerous wild animals to use in bloodsport. You go out to see the kooky professor on the hill, grab your first monster with magic powers, and then use that to conquer your rival and eventually become the Champion of the Pokémon League.
Along the way, you accidentally stumble across some world-ending plot and equally as accidentally foil the big baddie through teamwork and dedication and friendship. Or whatever.
From getting your first ‘Mon to League Champion is a fairly linear path of encounters. You battle wild Pokémon, trainers, gym leaders, and eventually the league champions. Your rival is mixed in there too, but you beat him (or her, but never “they") just as soundly as you would anyone else.
Sword & Shield changes things. You no longer have a rival, just a best friend named Hop who follows you around on your journey. Which by the way, is less about exploration and the thrill of discovery, and more about achieving fame and notoriety in the Pokémon League. You don’t want to “catch ‘em all” (which you can’t do anymore even if you wanted to), you only “want to be the very best.”
And that’s sad. Sure, Sword & Shield adds new features, like vast open worlds which can arguably provide as much exploration and discovery as an entire game dedicated to those two words, but it just isn’t the same. You have to go looking for that discovery instead of having it spoon-fed to you like an infant. Sword & Shield assumes more of its fans, believing they’ll want to see the world without boundaries or rules.
Well, they’re wrong. Maybe I’m an old man shouting at clouds here, but Pokémon didn’t need open worlds and evolving narratives. All you ever needed was a rival, a professor, a pushy mom that wanted the house to herself, and a straight line from zero to champion. You can sprinkle in a little Team Rocket, or whatever they’re calling themselves these days, but other than that, just an endlessly growing list of Pokémon to capture and bend to your will. That’s what Pokémon is all about.
Sword & Shield — it ain’t my Pokémon.