For the last seven years, the Pokémon franchise has been suffering an identity crisis.
Should Pokémon focus on its casual audience or long-time fans? Should new entries become simpler for a younger audience or more complex to appease older fans? Pokémon Sword and Shield polarized audiences because it feels like it was designed for casuals. Not only was the game’s Pokédex at launch rather small, but it had a thin post-game experience, featuring mostly new legendary Pokémon.
Between The Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra expansions, Pokémon Sword and Shield has evolved into possibly the greatest Pokémon game ever, featuring over 620 Pokémon in a single game, which is more than any before it. There’s now a clear solution for the franchise’s future, and it’s one that continues to bridge the schism between audiences.
That solution is rather than making a third “complete” game encompassing both versions or making two haphazard post-games per generation, split the game up. The vanilla Pokémon Sword and Shield is designed for casuals, while the DLC is designed for those seeking something more.
A better post-game
The Crown Tundra brings you to the titular snowy expanse. Your goal is to locate all the Legendary Pokémon by exploring the area.
In addition to the main quests, the expansion has new gameplay features like Dynamax Adventures, which allow you to capture rare Pokémon through an expanded version of Max Raid Battles. Alternatively, you can try out the Galarian Star Tournament, where you can team up with and battle iconic characters from Sword and Shield.
Much like the previous expansion, The Crown Tundra rebuilds how Pokémon’s post-game content should operate going forward. Both expansions are clearly designed with hardcore Pokémon trainers in mind including heavier challenges and more Pokémon than the base game
Isle of Armor provides a laser-focused narrative experience, similar in tone to the post-game journeys found in previous generations. Meanwhile, The Crown Tundra provides immersive experiences to capture Legendary Pokémon. In previous games, these activities happened in reused spaces and felt somewhat hidden if you didn’t know where to look. By incorporating them into dedicated expansions, every activity feels more fleshed out.
Numerous Legendary Pokémon in The Crown Tundra are presented as the reward for solving unique puzzles. These short themed adventures make the actual battle encounters far more satisfying. This is particularly true with the three Legendary birds – Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres – who have been given Galarian forms. You need to stalk the trio throughout Galar before you’re allowed to catch them. The search reminds you of just how special Legendary Pokémon are compared to your average Geodude.
You’re also not bound to go after a single Legendary at a time. You can chase Legendary Pokémon as you encounter them. This flexibility in exploration is refreshing to see in a series that is so often very linear. In The Crown Tundra this flexibility comes at the cost of a story. There’s only a very minor framing of “exploration” stringing your exploits together. Luckily, the world is compelling enough that lacking a full narrative never detracts too much from the overall experience
Impressively, the latest expansion includes every single Legendary ever to grace the known Pokédex. For the purposes of adhering to the “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” mantra, The Crown Tundra will likely remain an essential playthrough for any trainer looking to fill out their Pokédex.
Dynamax Adventures go big, but it might be too much.
Unfortunately, not every Legendary Pokémon receives the same level of thoughtful implementation. Many Legendary Pokémon are relegated to bland Dynamax Adventures; they're just the Pokémon you encounter at the end of a string of Dynamax battles.
Capturing a Legendary Pokémon through Dynamax Adventures is also a mixed bag. On one hand, it feels anticlimactic. The non-descript backdrop of a Dynamax Adventure steals the usual awe you might feel when encountering a Legendary Pokémon. The whole thing feels utilitarian as if you’re just checking off a box in your Pokédex, rather than forming a bond with a Legendary creature.
Despite that, it’s exhilarating to fight each Legendary Pokémon with up to three friends or on the co-op scale that Dynamax battles provide. You’re also forced to rent the Pokémon that you use, meaning they’ll all be around the same level. This could perhaps level the playing field between the serious and casual players, again making a post-game experience more accessible to everyone.
Including Legendary Pokémon in Dynamax Adventures is ultimately a boon to the series as a whole, but it undercuts the world-building Pokémon has so diligently crafted with each generation.
Galarian Star doesn’t glow
While capturing Legendary Pokémon is where The Crown Tundra shines, the Galarian Star tournament fails to live up to the potential of an otherwise great idea. In this extra mode, you team up with various Galar trainers like Leon and Marnie. You learn new backstories and experience new interactions. It’s fun, but Pokémon has done better in the past.
It evokes Sun and Moon’s Battle Tree mode or Black and White 2’s World Pokémon Tournament. Both featured competitions between all the named characters that you’d met, but from throughout all of Pokémon’s history rather than a single game. This provided small updates on characters like Red and Blue, who were seemingly vacationing together in Sun and Moon. Excluding those extra characters makes the Galar alternative feel isolated from the rest of the Pokémon world.
Isolation isn’t new to Pokémon, but they’ve always found a way around it. In Sun and Moon old characters were able to return via a wormhole. If they can pull that sort of sci-fi mumbo jumbo in other games, why not here? Pokémon has never been above making logical leaps for fanservice.
Character interactions do feel fleshed out, albeit a bit lackluster. If all you want from Sword and Shield is more quality time with your favorite gym leader, you’ll get it in spades from the Galarian Star Tournament. But you won’t get much else.
It adds a sense of exploration, granting flexibility in task management that’s rare to find in the Pokémon series. The Crown Tundra greatly expands the Pokémon roster available in Sword and Shield. In fact, the game now boasts the single largest Pokémon roster ever, which is great if you want to fill out your Pokédex. Unfortunately, this victory comes at the cost of undercutting the elusive status of Legendary Pokémon. Nevertheless, this expansion should be how every Pokémon game crafts their post-game. Crown Tundra comes incredibly close to Poké-perfection.
The Crown Tundra is available now for Nintendo Switch
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