Today’s Pokémon Direct announced, and detailed, the new Expansion Pass DLC content for Pokémon Sword and Shield. We also got a general release date for Pokémon Home, and a remake…
It’s the calm before the storm as we head into 2020, with with a pair of next-gen consoles looming on the horizon from Sony and Microsoft. This year was more than an afterthought for games, however, and Nintendo continues to release smash hits for the Switch.
Gaming families had plenty of excellent choices this year, though you’ll definitely want to own a Switch if you don’t already have one – nearly half the games on our list are exclusive to Nintendo’s excellent handheld hybrid. Here is the (alphabetical) list of our favorite family games of 2019.
Doraemon: Story of Seasons
You may not have heard of classic 1970s anime and manga series Doraemon, but chances are the words Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley will excite you. Doraemon: Story of Seasons infuses the enjoyable farming gameplay of Harvest Moon (now called Story of Seasons) with the youthful characters of Doraemon, including the titular time-traveling cat and his helpful gadgets.
Platforms: PC (Steam), Switch
Dragon Quest Builders 2
Dragon Quest Builders mashed up two great tastes that taste great together – the colorful enemies of venerable RPG series Dragon Quest, with the building, crafting, and blocky world of Minecraft. The result was an instant hit. Dragon Quest Builders 2 adds online (and local network) co-op multiplayer, and is available on Nintendo Switch.
Platforms: PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, Switch
Kingdom Hearts 3
Kingdom Hearts fans had to wait an eternity for the return of Sora, Donald, and Goofy with this beloved mash-up series of Disney and Final Fantasy. While the gameplay in Kingdom Hearts 3 is still firmly rooted in its original early 2000s PS2 era, there’s an undeniable joy playing within the Disney and Pixar worlds like Frozen, Toy Story, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Luigi’s Mansion 3
Nintendo knocked it out of the park with this excellent follow-up to the Luigi’s Mansion series, turning the haunted mansion into an entire ghost-filled hotel. Luigi is armed with more ghost-busting abilities, such as cloning himself as Gooigi, which can also serve as a family-friendly local co-op mode. On top of a fun campaign, up to eight players can play competitively or cooperatively in various multiplayer modes.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order
It’s been ten years since we last enjoyed a Marvel Ultimate Alliance co-op brawler, and The Black Order more than satisfies our need to punch, blast, fry, and zap henchmen and villains. We love mixing and matching our team of different Marvel heroes from a roster of over 30, including Avengers, X-Men, and Guardians of the Galaxy.
As a full park sim Planet Zoo is geared more toward teens and adults, but thanks to the excellent animal AI, robust creation tools, and focus on animal conservation, it makes an excellent game for families to work together to learn about animals and their complex habitat needs. A lengthy campaign help introduces the park tools and management systems while offering a wonderful variety of biomes and locations, then you can try your hand at building your own zoo from the ground up in sandbox or franchise modes.
Platforms: PC (Steam)
Pokémon Sword and Shield
There’s little doubt that a Pokémon game will grace our list of best family games. Even with the somewhat mixed results of Pokémon Sword and Shield, there’s no denying that it provides hours and hours of catching hundreds of Pokémon and battling through the UK-inspired Galar region. The free-roaming Wild Area alone is worth the price of admission for Pokémon’s eighth generation.
Super Mario Maker 2
Super Mario Maker was a phenomenal game when it released on Wii U in 2015, finally giving us the power to create our own 2D Mario levels. The Switch sequel is basically more of the same, plus tons of new features like new enemies, components, day/night and biome themes, and the Super Mario 3D World tileset. All that along with a much improved single-player campaign and online and local multiplayer makes Super Mario Maker 2 a must-have for Mario fans.
Untitled Goose Game
The official tagline nails this quirky indie game’s description: It’s a lovely morning in the village, and you are a horrible goose. Play as a goose in Untitled Goose Game with a checklist of hilariously mischievous tasks such as stealing from a store, knocking over vases, hiding in boxes, and causing light-hearted mayhem for these poor townsfolk.
Platforms: PC (Epic Games Store), PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a much improved spin-off of the 3D platformer series that combines 3D overworld travel with 2.5D level designs, starring the chameleon Yooka and his bat companion Laylee. The result is a satisfying spiritual successor to classic 2D platformers like Donkey Kong Country.
Platforms: PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
Pokémon Sword and Shield represent the first new main series Pokémon games on a home console, and the results are mixed.
Instead of playing it safe, the series boldly introduces many new mechanics and features, such as the free roaming Wild Area, co-op Raid Battles, and Dynamax. But these new features come with some annoying growing pains. We’ve listed below everything we love – and hate, about Pokémon Sword and Shield.
LOVE The Wild Area
The wild area is the single biggest defining feature of Pokémon Sword and Shield. This area is like a mini-MMO as we’re free to wander around and get into battles with stronger Pokémon. Each area within has its own weather and native Pokémon, making it worthwhile to check back in, not to mention hunting for items and finding Max Raid Battles.
HATE Everywhere Else
As cool as the Wild Area is, it makes the other routes feel archaic in comparison. Snapping back to a fixed camera and linear paths is how Pokémon always plays, which now feels like a step backwards. We’d love future Pokémon games to fully embrace the more open-ended Wild Area regions going forward.
LOVE New Pokémon
Every generation adds new Pokémon, and Gen 8 has some of the best designs we’ve seen in awhile, like the punk-rock Electric/Poison Toxtricity, the Rock/Fire mine cart pokémon Carkol, and the epic mustachioed Fire/Bug Centiskorch.
HATE Missing Pokémon
The big controversy leading up to Gen 8’s release was the lack of a National Dex, meaning we would not be able to, you know, Catch ‘Em All. While 400 Pokémon in Pokémon Sword and Shield are plenty to enjoy the game, it’s a major bummer that another 400+ were left on the cutting room floor. Hopefully they’ll be added in future Switch releases.
LOVE Swapping Pokémon
One of the best new quality of life improvements from last year’s Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee was the ability to quickly swap Pokémon between our active party and our storage boxes anywhere in the field. It’s a much-needed feature, and we’re motivated to use many more Pokémon than ever before.
HATE Very Easy Difficulty
Pokémon games are still designed for kids and rarely present a challenge to anyone who has experience playing them. But the games have been getting steadily easier over the years. We were annoyed to see the party-wide EXP Share (added in Gen 6) built into Gen 8, and no longer an option we could turn off. That combined with getting XP when catching pokémon make it almost impossible to not become over-leveled for the majority of the campaign, where we continue to battle trainers with only one or two pokémon, and easily exploitable single-type gyms.
LOVE Max Raid Battles
A neat concept from Pokémon GO were raid battles, co-op events where multiple trainers came together to defeat super-powerful pokémon. In Gen 8, that means extra large dynamax (or unique Gigantamax) pokémon. Finding dens with limited time raid battles give a fun excuse to travel around The Wild Area, and they remain enjoyable through harrowing post-game fights. Thankfully you can play them offline as well, though NPC allies often leave a lot to be desired (Magikarp – seriously?).
HATE Online Multiplayer
The online multiplayer integration is an excellent example of a good idea that’s poorly executed. We love the idea of being able to seamlessly log on and seeing other trainers around us in the world. But the framerate suffers, trainers teleport around, and joining raid battles or trade requests is a convoluted nightmare. We’d love to see more online multiplayer features in future Pokémon games but it needs serious work.
LOVE Seeing Pokémon in the World
One of our favorite features from Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee/Pikachu was seeing Pokémon wandering around in the grass. It brings the games to life like nothing before, and we’re thrilled to see that becoming the new normal with Gen 8. Sword and Shield actually use both methods to hide rarer pokémon behind exclamation points, giving us a good reason to root around in the grass while avoiding (or seeking) wandering pokémon.
Gigantamax is another good idea that’s horribly executed. Certain pokémon can transform into more powerful unique forms when dynamaxing, called Gigantamax. But the horrible catch (pun intended) is that you have to find these specific pokémon from Max Raid Battles. That awesome Centiskorch that’s been with you since Route 3? Kick her to the curb if you want to get a special Gigantamax version. The best solution would have been to make it a rare item, like the Z-Max, or have it ingrained in all versions of that pokémon, like Mega Evolutions.
LOVE Sports Theme
The Galar Region is based on the United Kingdom,home to big FIFA sports fans, which translates nicely to the world of Pokémon. Instead of tiny buildings where trainers battle gym leaders in a back room, Galar Gym battles are a major sporting event, with gigantic stadiums and various mini-games leading up to a final showdown, with cheering crowds and epic dynamaxing pokémon.
HATE Team Yell
We get it – the sports theme means the antagonistic group in Sword and Shield are a bunch of soccer hooligans. Upset sports fans are a far cry from organized crime syndicates who want to control the world through severe climate change, or an underground resistance who want to free pokémon from their trainers, as in previous Pokémon games.
LOVE Poké Jobs
Thanks to the new Poké Jobs system, all those pokémon languishing in our storage boxes can be put to good to use. By visiting any Pokémon Center, we can see a list of jobs that require certain types of pokémon. Sending pokémon off for hours or even a full day lets them earn a significant amount of experience and generate items and money, while we enjoy catching more pokémon to feed our burgeoning business empire. Whatcha need done? I gotta pokémon for that.
Pokémon Sword and Shield have already been out for two weeks, and Nintendo and The Pokémon Company are just now officially revealing the evolutionary forms of the three starter Pokémon, as well as announcing another Gigantamax-capable Pokémon.
Grookey, the Grass-type monkey starter, evolves into Thwackey at level 16. Thwackey is known as the Beat Pokémon, and its held stick is now split in two which it wields like a drummer. At level 35 Thwackey evolves into Rillaboom, the Drummer Pokémon who is now a full-grown gorilla, who uses its sticks to beat on a tree stump drum.
The rabbit Fire-type Pokémon Scorbunny evolves into Raboot at 16 and begins specializing in kicking attacks. At level 35 it evolves again into Ciunderace, the Striker-Pokémon. Despite definitely looking like a Fighting-type hybrid, Cinderace remains a pure Fire-type Starter through all three evolutions, a rarity among Fire starters.
Finally there’s perennial sad-suck amphibian Pokémon Sobble, who evolves into an emo-lizard form at level 16 called Drizzle. Drizzle reaches its much improved potential at level 35 when it evolves into the Secret Agent Pokémon Inteleon, a suave anthropomorphic chameleon.
The newest Gigantamx Pokémon has also been revealed: Snorlax. Rarely when encountering a Snorlax in a Max Raid Battle, you’ll find one in a different form – that’s a Gigantamax Snorlax. Gigantamax Snorlax is so large and sedentary that an entire woodland park has grown on top of its belly, including a berry tree.
Giganamax Snorlax has the unique move G-Max Replenish, which replaces any of its Normal-type moves. G-Max Replenish deals damage as well as restoring any Berries that its allies have eaten during battle.
Pokémon Sword and Shield is available now on Nintendo Switch. It’s rated E for Everyone.
Galarian Weezing is a regional variant Pokémon, which were first introduced in Pokémon Sun and Moon with the Alolan Region. Regional variant Pokémon use a similar base model but have a different appearance and different typing than their base counterparts. In this case, Galarian Weezing is Poison and Fairy type.
New avatar items based on clothes from Pokémon Sword and Shield have also been added to Pokémon GO.
In addition to Galarian Weezing, Pokémon GO is hosting several events throughout November.
The Supereffective Week runs through next Tuesday, Nov. 26. During the week you’ll find more Pokémon who are particularly effective against Team Rocket. You will also earn double the Stardust from Trainer Battles and receive more potions and revives from PokéStops.
The following week, from Nov. 27 through Dec. 2, is the Friend Fest event. During that week, you will encounter more family-themed Pokémon in the wild, such as Nidoran and Nidorano. You’ll also gain an attack boost when raiding with friends, and get a 50% stardust discount on trading Pokémon with friends.
Finally, Terrakion, the Legendary Cavern Pokémon will be added to Pokémon GO later this month. Beginning Nov. 26, Terrakion will begin appearing in five-star raids, through Dec. 17.
It’s a historic day for the long-running and incredibly prolific Pokémon series. Pokémon Sword and Shield are out today on Nintendo Switch, the first main series Pokémon game ever released on a home console – though, of course, the Switch is also a handheld.
Like previous generations, Pokémon Sword and Shield present an entirely new region filled with Pokémon. The Galar Region is modeled after the United Kingdom, featuring locations and themes inspired by the sports-loving country.
Trainers can choose between three starter Pokémon: Grookey, Scorbunny, and Sobble, and embark on a journey to become the very best, like no one ever was.
In addition to the standard Pokémon catching and turn-based battling, Sword and Shield add a host of new features and gameplay elements, and of course, lots of new Pokémon. Trainers can grow their Pokémon to extreme size and power via Dynamax, while select Pokémon will transform into more powerful forms called Gigantamax.
The Wild Area stretches for the length of the Galar Region, and features free-roaming Pokémon a la Pokémon Let’s Go, as well as online co-op Max Raid Battles against super-charged Dynamax Pokémon. Other welcome features include auto-saving, swapping out Pokémon in the wild, and being able to nickname traded Pokémon. Hardcore competitive trainers should be pleased to learn that Pokémon stats and Nature can be changed by feeding Mints and supplements.
Pokémon Sword and Shield are available separately for $59.99 in physical stores and digitally on the Nintendo eShop, as well as a dual-pack that includes both games. Purchasing the double pack also includes a special offer of two codes, one per game, that allows you to face off against Dynamax Larvitar and Dynamax Jangmo-o in Max Raid Battles.
Pokémon Sword and Shield are rated E for Everyone.