Pokemon has been around for 21 years in North America. During this time, the series focused primarily on the handheld market. Now, Nintendo is bringing the latest incarnation of the series, Pokemon Sword and Shield, to the company’s hit console the Nintendo Switch. We had the opportunity to preview Pokemon Sword and Shield at E32019 and while the demo itself was underwhelming, the game oozes with potential. We were limited to the Water Gym for our demo, which didn’t show the game’s full potential. The Galar region is based on Great Britain. The gym was a lot of fun and the puzzles were rather involved, but it felt like more of the same. The new Pokemon were masterfully designed and the brand new animations were terrific, but we’ve already been through this routine. A touch up graphically doesn’t mean a whole lot; gameplay mechanics do. While this was only a small taste of the game, the latest entry in the Pokemon franchise appears to be stellar, but this demo left us wanting for more. Pokemon Sword and Shield Preview: Brand New Starters Scorbunny, Sobble, and Grookey are the starting Pokemon in Pokemon Sword and Shield. They are three of the playable Pokemon in the demo, which is great actually; we got to go hands-on with all of them. There are three more Pokemon I cannot name off the top of my head, but one was an electric-type Corgi, keeping with the British-styled theme. The new starters are charming. The trainers in the gym give you an opportunity to utilize all three starter Pokemon and utilize all of their moves. One thing I noticed that was interesting was the balance in combat. I once used a move I thought would be successful, but my opponent countered with an ability that made my status attack null. It’s these subtleties in the battle system that made the game fairly balanced compared to previous Pokemon titles. The only problem is, the battle system hasn’t changed all that much. It feels like I’m playing classic Pokemon with upgraded graphics. This may be due in part because the demo was limited to a gym, but still, a little more innovation would have been nice. Regardless, the starters are fantastic. Their character designs are the best since the original three starters in Blue and Red, and that’s saying something. Water Gym Puzzles The Water Gym is riddled with one of the intricate puzzles in any Pokemon gym in recent memory. You have to navigate the gym and turn a series of knobs in order to turn waterfalls off and on which block your way. There is sure to be an order to this, but when you’re scrambling through a 15-minute demo, you just want to get to the gym leader. It took some time, and backtracking, but we finally made our way through, while fighting a multitude of trainers along our way. Here you not only utilize the Pokemon starters, as we earlier stated in our preview, but have the opportunity to utilize all of our Pokemon. You don’t have to, but it’s extremely beneficial if you want to reach the Gym leader, and, experiencing the Galar Pokemon for the first time is magical. After you defeat all the trainers and figure out the puzzle, the waterfalls at the top open up and you’re able to access the gym leader, Nessa. Pokemon Sword and Shield Preview: Nessa This gym leader battle was a lot of fun. Ironically, I was fighting the gym leader when the power went out at E3, yet the Nintendo Switch saved me and I didn’t lose my progress! Nessa has three Pokemon if I remember. The first was fairly easy to knock out, and while on the second I wanted to use the new Dynamax mechanic, you can only use it once per battle. I didn’t want to use it before Nessa did, so I waited until we were both down to one Pokemon a piece. I could have beaten her easily earlier in the battle, but I both wanted to use all of my Pokemon and try out the Dynamax mechanic. This brand new mechanic is very cool and introduces killer moves alongside special abilities, but I couldn’t help but feel it was simply a gimmick. It was fun and all, but, it didn’t entice me. I let my Pokemon Grookey faint in Dynamax mode simply so I could see how a standard Pokemon would stand up against a Dynamax Pokemon. In Dynamax Mode, each Pokemon is limited to three turns. For a turn or so, I fought against a Dynamax Pokemon, with their health nearly depleted, and took a ton of damage, but it didn’t knock me out. The Pokemon then reverted to normal mode and I KO’d them on the next turn. The gym battle was fun, but fairly easy. The animations were great but it was a standard Pokemon battle, save the Dynamax gimmick. Final Impressions While the Pokemon Sword and Shield demo was fun, it was more of the same. The combat hasn’t evolved much at all since the originals, although puzzle-solving elements in the gym were incredibly rewarding. When I asked a Nintendo rep whether or not the puzzles in the game would be more involved than in previous titles, he stated that this may not even appear in the final build, so it’s up in the air. We only had a small glimpse of Pokemon Sword and Shield though. We didn’t get to explore or get a taste of the open world. There may be more gameplay mechanics that have yet to be revealed. The Galar region may be full of surprises and it’s too soon to write this installment of Pokemon off just yet. Right now it could go either way; a disappointment to hardcore fans, or a masterpiece that distinguishes self as the best Pokemon game yet. Only time will tell, when the game hits game shelves on November 15.