Pokemon Sword And Shield Review: Not Quite next Generation

fI’ve finally had a chance to play the highly anticipated and controversy-ridden Pokemon Sword and Shield. Pokemon Sword and Shield exist in the 8th generation of the mainline Pokemon RPG games. I’m nearing completion of my first play-through of the base game and it’s clear to me why this game has been so divisive amongst the fanbase. While there are no perfect games, and there are also no games that have no value to anyone, I won’t leave you guys in suspense regarding my overall feelings on the game. I like Pokemon Sword and Shield. I enjoyed playing this game. To be fair, I also love Pokemon. I think that love has a lot to do with my final feelings on this game. My love for this franchise goes back for well over 20 years. Game Freak and the Pokemon company certainly benefit from my near-blind nostalgia and optimism. I, however, was let down time and time again, expecting this franchise to finally evolve into the series that long-time fans have been begging for. Again for the record, I like this game. I’m excited to continue into the post-game and maybe the competitive scene. I do however believe it’s important to discuss what the game got right, and where the series has plateaued, and what that means for the future of Pokemon. 

Pros of Generation 8

Sword and Shield are the first mainline Pokemon games to be released on a proper home console (Well, The Nintendo Switch is a Hybrid). The Nintendo Switch boasts an enormous advantage over the Nintendo 3DS in terms of raw power. The 3DS was the previous home for mainline Pokemon games. Fittingly, Sword and Shield are the best looking and graphically impressive mainline Pokemon games to date. The game’s resolution is also the highest it’s been. The Games run at a dynamic 1080p HD while docked and 720p when being played in handheld mode. Pokemon is fast approaching 1000 unique monsters, and some of these Pokemon have various forms and special evolutions ( Mega Evolution & Gigantamax). Even with so many Pokemon in existence, the designers at Game Freak are still able to produce amazing new Pokemon designs that are sure to become fan favorites. 

Some may consider my next “pro” to be a con, but it’s all about perspective. I think it’s a good thing that Pokemon’s core formula is unchanged. Pokemon is still a simple and accessible turn-based RPG that has various mechanics tacked on top to add depth and strategy. Playing a Pokemon game is like riding a bike, once you learn it’s easy to jump into a future game, no matter how long it’s been since you played. Even though the core gameplay of Pokemon is simple enough, there is a robust competitive scene where only the most seasoned Pokemon veterans should even attempt. 

The Wild Area is the undisputed biggest and most revolutionary change to this generation of Pokemon games. The Wild Area is an open-world segment of the latest Pokemon games. In this area, players have full control of the camera and have a relatively large area to explore and catch Pokemon. The addition of the Wild Area is a sure sign of the Pokemon company attempting to step out of their comfort zone and provide new experiences for their games. 

Where Pokemon Sword and Shield Miss the Mark 

While again, I feel the need to stress the point that I ultimately enjoyed Pokemon Shield (The version I played), the game is not perfect, actually far from it. My first con with the game is that it feels incomplete. Due to the nature of the Pokemon franchise as a whole (the games, anime, trading cards, and other merchandise all need to come out around the same time), it is clear that these games were on a very tight release schedule. As a result, the game feels like it was rushed. During development, fans for the series were quick to criticize certain aspects of the games as more details were revealed. The most infamous was the removal of half of the entire roster of monsters in the Pokemon universe. This single decision outraged millions of fans worldwide and rumbles of discontent continued up until the game’s release. The Pokemon companies’ response to these complains did little to ward off concerns of the fans. Their explanation for the removal of Pokemon was so they could focus on improving animations for a smaller pool of Pokemon and improve the overall quality of the games. Again, as more information from the games was revealed fans were quick to point out inconsistencies with the Pokemon company’s claims of a higher quality game. Within a promotional trailer of the game, a tree in the wild area was shown to have a very low-resolution texture. Many fans and critics likened the tree’s appearance to an asset that might have been made for an N64 game. Fans complained that the image of the tree was far too low of a resolution to existing in a modern game being released in 2019. Regarding that point, I do have to agree. Unfortunately, there are low-resolution textures all over the game. Overall the game falls short of the standards that most gamers expect for a home console game released in 2019.

In the animation department, there is little indication that Game freak was aware that they were developing on a platform that is an entirely different league than the 3DS. Battle animations are your standard Pokemon fare, just a higher resolution than 3DS. It would have been nice for Game Freak to have added some variety to battle animations, for example when Pokemon reach different stages of their health during a battle there could be a more obvious sign that Pokemon is reaching exhaustion (besides their standard animation slowing down).

Aside from the moments of disappointing graphics, another con of these games was a very bland story. Major plot points concerning the legendary Pokemon and the heroes of legend were merely glossed over. Many of the characters in the main storyline just weren’t interesting. Your three rivals during the game were one dimensional and attempts at minor story arcs were not consequential. Given the resources and talent Game Freak has at their disposal its disappointing more effort wasn’t given into providing a more enriching story.

The scope and scale of the game are quite diminished from what one would expect from looking at the world map. When you are venturing outside of the wild area, paths are very linear and only serve to lead from one location to the next. There are hidden items scattered about in the few deviations from the beaten path. I do wish there was more to explore, and what is here to explore, I wish that was simply more interesting. The art design for Pokemon games has been overly simplistic for far too long. Before, those design choices had to consider the current handheld hardware. On the Nintendo Switch, however, Game freak could have used their imagination to lead us through extraordinary landscapes. Instead, we were treated to bare open fields, sparse trees, and rocks here and there. These scenes bare little resemblance to the high fantasy landscapes that can be found in most JRPGs.

The Pokemon game’s improvements have always been iterative. So no one should be shocked that Pokemon Sword and Shield are more of the same. Can we be blamed for expecting more? Nearly every other game developer is pushing the boundaries of their beloved franchises, and those risks have been more than rewarded. Just take the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The Zelda games have been formulaic for decades, but Nintendo decided to take a risk and make a Zelda game for the modern age, that still felt like Zelda. Pokemon Sword and Shield are by all accounts still Pokemon games. They have visually improved, and have received a plethora of quality of life changes that were only for the better. The problem is that even though I enjoyed this game, the changes weren’t enough for me to love this game. Modern gamers expect developers to push the boundaries of software and the hardware it is run on. Game Freak received a message loudly and with fury during the development of Sword and Shield that they had failed to deliver. Only time will tell if Game Freak and the Pokemon Company can find a balance between their vision of the trajectory of the Pokemon franchise and the future long-time players will continue to demand of the series. 

Microsoft Gives Up Windows in Favor of Android for its 2020 Foldable Phone

This week at their annual press conference, Microsoft unveiled a wide variety of devices for its customers. Unsurprisingly the company showed off its latest laptops and tablets, which, as you would expect, are running the latest versions of Windows. In a surprise move, however, Microsoft announced it is launching a new phone during the holiday season of 2020. This phone is going to be a new type of dual-screen foldable device Called the Microsoft Duo. What’s more surprising that Microsoft launching a new phone? Well, this phone won’t run a mobile version of Windows. (Microsofts own OS) The Duo will run Android OS.

This isn’t Microsoft’s first attempt to capture a portion of the smartphone market. Their brand of Windows phones was a commercial failure. This failure was due in part to the companies inability to convince developers to make apps for their mobile version of Windows.

This time Microsoft has a different strategy. Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, said “the company needs to meet customers where they are. The predominant operating system for smartphone users is Android, and it makes more sense for Microsoft to utilize this Open source platform for their devices.

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Photo Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft does have the advantage of utilizing the world’s most used Operating system. Microsoft, however, has to contend with other Android phone manufacturers who are well established and have a proven track record of producing high-quality phones with innovative designs. The design of the Microsoft Duo, in my opinion, already looks dated. Though its dual-screen design isn’t widespread, it’s very thick bezels leave much to be desired. The design of the Microsoft Duo might have customers thinking the device is obsolete upon arrival.

Even though the Duo will use Android OS, Microsoft still needs developers to update their apps to utilize the dual-screen setup in innovative ways. Microsoft announced this phone so early for that very reason, so developers can start thinking of ways to bring their apps to the Duo. As the Duo is still in development, it will likely be midway through 2020 before we get more information like specs and camera information.

Should You Update to the latest iPhones?

On September 10th, Apple held its annual iPhone update event. The company unveiled three different models of phones for its customers to choose from. These phones included the iPhone 11, the iPhone 11 Pro, and the iPhone 11 Pro Max. As reactions from this event pour in, the consensus seems to be that these phones are incremental upgrades from last year’s models. Before we discuss if you upgrade your phone this year, we will cover what is new with these iPhones.

iPhone 11

Apple’s naming strategy for their phones has been unpredictable as of late. You might think the iPhone 11 would become the direct successor of the iPhone 10s (Xs). In terms of the processor, yes, there is an upgrade there. However, the screen resolution is much lower on the iPhone 11 over the Xs. Also, the XS uses an OLED display while the iPhone 11 still uses an LED display. In essence, the iPhone 11’s purpose is to be a comparable phone to last year’s extremely popular iPhone XR. The XR was a successful attempt by Apple to introduce another budget model of its iPhone. The iPhone 11 hopes to continue that trend and hopefully persuade cost-conscious customers to upgrade their aging iPhones finally. So what does the iPhone 11 offer?

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Photo Credit: Apple

First, we will cover what is the same as last year’s XR. The iPhone 11 still has its 6.1-inch Liquid Retina Display. The display has a roughly 720p resolution, which sounds disappointing on paper. However, the display is very sharp and showcases vibrant and accurate colors. Users of the iPhone XR have been satisfied with the display, and keeping the resolution the same is an efficient way for Apple to keep the cost of the phone lower. Speaking of the costs, the price for the iPhone 11 is about $50 cheaper than last year’s XR. This strategy is exciting news for budget wary customers as the iPhone 11 is priced at $699 to start instead of the $749 starting price of the XR last year.

It’s not all the same with the iPhone 11. This time the iPhone 11 gets a dual camera set up like the iPhone 10. Only this time the iPhone 11 is getting a wide-angle lens and an ultra-wide lens. If you want the extra zoom of the telephoto lens, you need to pick up an iPhone 11 Pro.

iPhone 11 Pro (Max)

Like the iPhone 11 and XR, much hasn’t changed between this year’s flagships from last year’s model. The iPhone 11 Pro models are the direct successors to last year’s XS phones. As you might expect, the phones are physically very similar to the XS. The display sizes remain the same at 5.8 in for the 11 Pro and 6.5 in for the 11 Pro Max. The resolution for the phones also stays the same. The iPhone 11 Pro’s display does get significantly brighter. The phones can sustain a brightness of around 800 nits, and reach a peak brightness of about 1200 nits. The 1200 nit peak cannot be sustained for extended periods, and will only trigger in specific situations. The Cameras on the iPhone 11 Pro have also changed. The phones now sport a triple-lens setup. All of the lenses are 12 MP but have different functions. The primary shooter is a wide-angle lens. The telephoto lens has also returned to provide a 2x optical zoom. This time, however, the telephoto lens will have a much wider aperture to let in more light. This wider aperture should significantly improve low light photography when taking macro photos. Finally, the third lens on the new iPhone is the ultra-wide camera. This lens will allow the iPhone to take a much better landscape or pictures of large groups of people.

Aside from the significant camera improvements, the iPhone 11’s battery life has been noticeably improved. The iPhone 11 Pro is expected to achieve four hours more battery life than the XS, and the 11 Pro Max should receive five more hours than the XS Max.
While the changes presented here are significant, in the grand scheme of things they may seem incremental.
Should You Upgrade?

The decision to upgrade or rather my endorsement to upgrade depends mostly on what your current device is. If you are using a phone older than the iPhone X I would highly suggest upgrading. The speed, battery, and camera improvements will be monumental for your user experience. If you have an iPhone X or newer, it depends on if you want the best iPhone you can get. Full disclosure, I am an iPhone XS Max user, and I am upgrading to the 11 Pro Max. I love taking photos on my iPhone. I, however, was beginning to fall out of love with the camera experience on the iPhone. The more I saw pictures from Googles Pixel 3. The new camera updates to the 11 Pro have me excited again, and I’m eager to have a comparable camera experience to Google’s phones.

If you don’t primarily use your iPhone for photography, and the battery life is exceptional on your current iPhone, I would hold off and wait for the 2020 iPhone. In 2020 Apple should be ready to refresh the design of the iPhone significantly and finally make some changes to the notch.

Apple Needs A Bundling Option for its Upcoming Services 

 

Apple has numerous new services slated to become available later this Fall. Apple Arcade and Apple TV + (Plus) will be joining the ranks of Apple Music, News (+), and iCloud. These services are here to provide content and experiences for iOS and MacOS users across a variety of Apple devices. Apple is shifting much of its branding power behind these services in an attempt to bring in new streams of revenue for the company. It’s no secret that smartphone sales are becoming stagnant across the spectrum, including the iPhone. With customers demanding more and more features from phones, the cost of making them has intern gone up dramatically, as have the prices that customers pay. Smartphone users are holding on to their phones longer and not upgrading as often as they used to. Apple and investors are hoping that this push for services will help recoup revenue lost from stagnant iPhone sales.

As of June 2019, Apple has persuaded 60 million people to sign up for their Apple Music subscription service. Those numbers are in contrast to Apples biggest competition in the music streaming industry, Spotify, which has over 200 million active users. Spotify, however, has a free ad-supported option for music streaming and about half of their user base is using their free model. Spotify still has a remarkable 100 million paid subscribers to its premium service.

Apple isn’t only trying to get a slice of the music streaming pie. Apple is also gunning for the likes of Netflix and Amazon and the video streaming industry. Apple intends to compete with these media giants by creating their original content and releasing it on their streaming platform, Apple TV +. Unlike Apple Music, Apple has to create its content, which, as Netflix and Amazon have discovered costs billions of dollars. Not only is creating this programming expensive but its also a massive risk. These shows and movies have to resonate with audiences, develop a following, and most importantly be critically acclaimed and win awards. Unlike Apple TV+ Netflix and Amazon have TV shows and movies that aren’t their original content. This means all they had to do is pay for a license to run the show. The Alternative would have been funding the show from the ground up, which is significantly more expensive. Of course, Apple is free to pursue this route as well, however, the owners of popular content like Disney want their segment of the streaming market. At the end of their contract with Netflix, Disney is pulling all of their properties from the platform and is launching their own this Fall called Disney +

Disney knows the steaming industry is crowded and highly competitive. If you look at Disney’s acquisitions over the past couple years like Marvel, Star Wars, 20th Century Fox, and ESPN, it should all be clear as to their motives. Owning these properties means they own the rights to stream them without having to pay licensing fees. Disney is taking full advantage of the properties they have control over and are bundling them into one easily accessible package.

Apple is spending an estimated 6 billion dollars on it’s streaming and services efforts. Apple certainly has the cash in excess to take these kinds of risks. I, however, think Apple should follow in Disney’s footsteps to their approach to services, and that is bundling! For a limited time like Disney Plus, or more of a permanent fixture, Apple should bundle a few of their various services with each other. For example, I am a subscriber to Apple Music myself and a Publisher on Apple News, I, however, am not subscribed to Apple news plus. However, if Apple offered a bundle of both news and music for $15 a month instead of the $20, it would be separately, I would likely go for that option. I can see parents considering an Apple TV + subscription, and perhaps their children want Apple Arcade. I feel more parents would more likely add Apple Arcade if they could get access in a bundle. Who knows, Apple customers might have been waiting in mass for these services and won’t require any packages or other offers. I, however, am on a tight budget, and with all the new players entering the streaming market, each company needs to persuade customers as to why theirs is the best.

Samsung Unveils The Expensive Galaxy Note 10 Plus, But it’s Still Cheaper Than Last Years iPhone XS Max.

 
It’s no secret, flagship smartphone prices are on the rise and climbing to extraordinary heights. Apple started this trend with its first thousand-dollar iPhone back when the iPhone X released. Apple pressed its customers, even more, then Apple announced the follow up to the iPhone X, the Xs Max and Xs. The top of the line iPhone XS Max with Max storage of 512 GB will cost potential buyers about $1500 after taxes and fees. Samsung has been trying to increase its prices as well, most likely trying to improve its profit margins. Samsung, however, has taken a different approach to their pricing. Their prices continue to climb with Apple, but they seem to undercut them by about $100-$200 consistently. For comparison, Samsung’s new Galaxy Note Plus with 512GB and 5G compatible is 1399.99 concerning Apples iPhone XS Max with 512 GB and no 5G option priced at $1449. Contrary to Apple’s Pricing Strategy, Samsung feels compelled to assure you that your money is well spent. Let’s go over what all Samsung is offering this fall.

Galaxy Note 10 (Not Plus)
This year Samsung decided it would try offering two different models of its Note phones. The first and more affordable option is the Base Galaxy Note 10. The note 10 features a 6.3″ 1080p AMOLED display with very minimal bezels. The Note 10 uses the infinity “O” variant of its display meaning it has a single small circular cutout placed directly centered near the top pf the phone. This camera layout is in contrast to the Galaxy S 10 (Plus) which has a dual camera cutout in the shape of a pill in the right-hand corner of the phone. Speaking of Cameras both the Galaxy S 10 and the Note 10 have triple-lens cameras on the rear of the device. The Note 10 has two 12MP ( Mega Pixel) cameras one has a wide-angle lens, and the other utilizes a telephoto lens. The final lens has a 16MP sensor that is used to take ultra-wide photos. The handsets will also come in a variety of colors with an iridescent gloss continuing their psychedelic phone aesthetic. Instead of facial recognition, the Note 10 will continue to use an ultrasonic fingerprint reader that is embedded in the bottom of the display. The base model of the Note 10 ships with an impressive 256 GB of storage, it, however, does not feature a Micro SD card slot. Pricing for the Note 10 Starts at $949.

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Photo Credit: Samsung

Galaxy Note 10 Plus
The Note 10 Plus is nearly the same with its smaller counterpart, but this version of the phone does have a few key differences. First is the screen size. The Note 10 Plus features a 6.8″ display and a Quad HD resolution. Also different from its smaller brother is the option to utilize a Micro SD card for expandable storage. Samsung is finally making its user base pay a premium for that feature. Another feature that is exclusive to the Note 10 Plus is the depth sensing camera on the back, a 512 GB storage option, and the option to have a 5G modem in the phone. The Smaller Note 10 won’t have a 5G option. Pricing for the Note 10 Plus is as follows. $1099 256 GB, $1199 512 GB, and $1399 512GB and 5G. Again I have to reiterate even the fully specked Note 10 Plus with 5G capabilities is cheaper than the maxed out iPhone XS Max nearly a year after its release. Hopefully, this years’ iPhone 11 will have killer features that will justify its sticker price. Otherwise, I fear many looking to upgrade will jump to Samsung’s more affordable offering.

Buyers Beware: Nintendo Has Unveiled Two New Switch Models

 

Rumors about the now confirmed Switch Lite and a potential “pro” upgrade to the Switch have been circulating the internet for over a year now. Finally, these rumors have proven to be at least partially true. In a series of minimal press announcements, Nintendo has announced the upcoming Switch Lite. The Switch Lite will be a smaller console that can only be used in handheld mode. The Switch Lite will not be able to interface with the Joy-con controllers like its bigger sibling physically. There are a few games that can only be played in docked or tabletop mode, and the Switch Lite won’t be able to play those games. Thankfully the Switch Lite has more than just caveats. The console will get a significant boost to its battery life ranging anywhere from 3-7 hours depending on the game being played. The system will also come in three new colors. These colors will include grey, yellow, turquoise, and a special edition Pokemon Sword and Shield color variant with a graphic on the rear displaying the new legendary Pokemon. Most impressive Nintendo has managed to shave $100 off the MSRB of the Switch Lite meaning it will retail for $199 instead of $299 which is the price of the base switch model. The Switch Lite will be released this Autumn on September 20th. 

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Photo Credit: Nintendo 

 

Nintendo didn’t Stop with the Switch Lite. They have also announced a new version of their base switch model will be rolling out this fall. This Switch will be branded identically to the previous Switch model, which means consumers are going to have to be vigilant to make sure they are getting the updated console. The updates to this version of the Switch aren’t significant enough to warrant a new name or even the “NEW” moniker Nintendo has used in the past for their 3DS systems. This newer model Switch is confirmed to have better battery life than the previous Switch and its new Lite variant. The battery life for this Switch will range anywhere from 4.5-9 hours of gameplay depending on the game being played. The updated Switch unit will be priced at $299, the same price as the original Switch. It’s safe to assume the older Switch models with the inferior battery life will also still be priced at $299. To avoid buying the older units, shoppers should look at the serial numbers on the boxes. The code for the newer units should begin with the letters “XKW.”

I wouldn’t be too concerned over this as the holiday season is approaching. I anticipate Nintendo will flood store shelves with the newer switch models and Switch Lite, so chances are you will get the newer models if you buy one this fall.

If you have been holding out on a Switch I would recommend waiting until this fall so you can get the best that is being offered, and if you currently already own a switch I don’t see much need to upgrade. If you are worried about battery life, I recommend spending less money and getting an external battery pack.

As for those holding out for a Switch Pro rest assured it isn’t coming out this year or likely next year, so go ahead and find a good deal on a Switch when you find one.