‘The Crown Tundra’ Review – Giving Old Fans The Cold Shoulder

Pokémon is a series I hold very close to my heart. Pokémon Blue was the first time a video game ever belonged to me, and even though I couldn’t read and barely understood what was going on, I loved it. I spent hours wandering around Kanto and even though I never fully completed the game as a child, the memories I made with that game influence my love for the series to this day. A lot has changed in Pokémon since then. Though the series has remained stagnant in many ways it’s also made a lot of changes. My theory is that whichever version of Pokémon you grew up with ends up becoming one of, if not fully, your favorite one. The first two generations are my favorite, whereas my nephew who grew up with Generation IV prefers Platinum. My youngest nephew, whose first game was Sword and Shield firmly believes the games don’t get any better than this. The Crown Tundra is here now, for better or worse, to presumably close up the DLC for this generation of Pokémon games.

Sword & Shield are the first Pokémon games to feature DLC. Instead of a third, definitive version of the game, something the series did away with some time ago (kind of), we get additional content for Sword and Shield at an additional price. There’s lots of debate over whether or not this is better than the third game system. I don’t see the point in arguing that, this is simply how it is now. Sword and Shield have been stuck in controversy since the announcement that they wouldn’t have the entirety of the Pokédex available, and in a way, the games are still under a lot of scrutiny. If you love Sword and Shield, and you loved The Isle Of Armor then you’re probably going to love this. If, like me, you’re having a rough time getting past some of the changes the series has undergone this may very well push you over the edge…

Legendary City

I wish I could start this off by saying there’s a cool story to tie this whole thing together, but it’s forgettable at best. This isn’t surprising though since Pokémon has never been about the plot, not really. The games shine when it focused on the titular monsters. The plot is there just to push you through to find the next goal or in this case the next Legendary. The Crown Tundra is all about the Legendary Pokémon this time around, with some parts succeeding more than others. You’d think that being able to battle and catch a large selection of legendary creatures would make for some exciting content, right? But GameFreak made some seriously questionable choices when setting this up.

Most of the older legendaries are found through a new thing you can do referred to as Dynamax Adventures. It sounds cool in theory, and I even understand why certain choices were made but the entire thing just kind of falls flat for me. The best way I can think to describe it is as a gauntlet of raid battles. On paper, this sounds incredible. Raids were easily the most fun I had with the vanilla version of the game. GameFreak couldn’t even get this right, though. You don’t get to take your own Pokémon into the Dynamax adventures with you. You have to use rented Pokémon. You have the option to switch with Pokémon you find in the Dynamax Adventure but in the end, you can only bring one of them home. To make matters worse every single Pokémon in there has a 100% capture rate. I should also mention that though there are dozens of legendaries available you can only catch one per save. That means if you re-encounter a legendary you’ve already caught on your save file, you can battle it but not capture it. You also didn’t misread. I mentioned the 100% catch rate is a con. Let me explain why.

I’m also going to ask you to remember, again, that this is just my opinion.

Traditionally, catching legendaries is meant to be one of the most exciting parts of a Pokémon game. You come prepared with your team of Pokémon, you’re ready to go. There’s cool music, you save beforehand and begin the battle of your life. Catching a legendary is one of the few things you can actually feel accomplished about in Pokémon games. It’s not necessarily difficult, almost nothing in these games is, but it’s something at least. Now, not only do you have to use completely random Pokémon you also just throw a ball and automatically catch the Pokémon. What’s the point? You’re going to get it no matter what you do. And when you don’t, it’s even more frustrating because it could easily be because you got stuck with a lame rental Pokémon. Or even worse, it could be because your stupid AI partners suck really bad. Yeah. Make sure you bring friends along to do these.

I still had fun doing these. Not with the AI, but when my best friend joined me we had a much easier time killing them. Dynamax adventures aren’t inherently bad. I can understand why this is the system GameFreak chose to use. Leveling up is already absurdly easy, so no doubt if we’d been allowed to bring our own Pokémon the entire thing would have been a cakewalk every time. I still don’t like it though. I put in the work to level up my Pokémon and I should be allowed to bring them with me. Pokémon has been making a lot of things irrelevant and it’s either been a source of contention or celebration for years. Things like shiny hunting or competitive Pokémon making have been getting easier for years. I kind of fall in the middle.

What’s the point in having a shiny Pokémon if all of a sudden they’re not even rare anymore? Finding a shiny in Gold and Silver was a big deal. In the Crown Tundra it’s nothing. The whole raid den exploits made shinies easier than ever to find and distribute and even then there are hacked ones everywhere. Competitive Pokémon are a dime a dozen, and Crown Tundra only aggravates the problem. Doing Dynamax Adventures gets you a new currency called Dynamite Ore. You can trade these for items to increase EV’s and they’re relatively cheap. You can switch natures now with items, and now you even have an item that will give a Pokémon their hidden ability. It’s not that I’m a fan of gatekeeping but I also like to have to put at least something of an effort.

I think this all boils down to when you started Pokémon. The older crowd seems to be against this whereas the newer crowd seems to love it. I still maintain it’s not necessarily bad, I just wish there was still a sense of accomplishment in Pokémon. The Crown Tundra leaves me more worried about the future of the series than I’ve ever been. I’m wondering if maybe I’ve just outgrown Pokémon. Not in the sense that I don’t like it anymore, I’m always going to love the series. Maybe the series just isn’t for me anymore. It certainly feels like it isn’t and Crown Tundra made me feel like GameFreak was turning their back on all the people who’ve been here since the beginning. I wasn’t super happy while playing this like I usually am. The last time I had the feeling while playing my annual Pokémon game was when X and Y came out. Those games weren’t perfect either, but the jump to 3D was still pretty exciting.

Look, if you love all these changes, good on you. I think it’s awesome you’re loving the game. I just have a hard time because not only am I not having fun with the content, but the amount of money I paid for these expansions wasn’t worth it in my opinion. I don’t think the solution is necessarily a third, superior version of the games either. DLC can work, it can be amazing but only if it is done properly. Both the Crown Tundra and the Isle of Armor didn’t feel like they were worth their price point. Maybe if both together were only $20, but at $40? No way.

It makes me sad too. I’m fine with Pokémon having subpar graphics, a less engaging story, and being a little more kid-friendly. Those are fine, but the games have lost some of their magic and each generation finds me hoping that they find it again.

The Rest Of The Experience

After you unlock Dynamax Adventures you can tackle the rest of the DLC, which also revolves around exploring the legendary Pokémon. This part of the game is probably where I had the most fun and that’s probably because it, finally, felt like classic Pokémon. There’s three – well, four –  parts to this. The first revolves around the new legendary Pokémon Calyrax. You’ll embark on a little story to restore his power and find his mighty steed, which is conveniently enough another Legendary. The other two parts have you hunting the Regi’s and new Galarian form Kanto birds respectively.

The Regi’s in particular was a real treat for me because it was very reminiscent of finding the original Regi’s if a little simpler. Crown Tundra has you find the different shrines where the Regi’s are located and complete a little puzzle in order to access the shrine. Once inside you engage in battle with the Regi you’ve locates and can catch it. If you kill it, you can just restart the battle. That change, for the record, I’m fine with. It’s also now new to Sword & Shield. Once you catch the original three you get a chance to catch one of the new Regi’s.

The birds are kind of similar. You’ll unlock them and then have to chase them through the world in order to battle and catch them. If you complete all three of these events you’ll unlock the Ultra Beasts, which will start appearing in the Dynamax Adventure. This entire thing can be completed in only a few hours and once you’re done you’ll basically be going through the Dynamax Adventure to catch legendaries repeatedly.

It’s… fine. The Crown Tundra is fine. It just sort of exists. If all you want is more Sword & Shield, you’ll probably have a grand old time. If, however, you’re like me and were hoping for something a little more substantial, or if even all you wanted was to fight legendaries with your own Pokémon and catch them, you might be better off skipping this one. That’s something that actually hurts to say because despite all its flaws… I still have fun with Pokémon Sword & Shield. The Crown Tundra was fun in some parts. It’s just not enough for me to feel like I got my money’s worth though.

Also, don’t bother completing the Pokédex this time around. I could be wrong, but reportedly the reward is a hat and some items. Not a charm like it has been before. That entire thing, honestly, feels like the perfect metaphor for the Crown Tundra. I didn’t even mention the Galarian Star tournament yet, and that’s because there isn’t much to mention. It’s a battle-tower-like feature and I guess you can earn some decent money from it, but like most other things in this game, it’s a feature similar to something a previous game has had and done better. I’m looking at you Black 2 & White 2.

I’ll always be grateful to Pokémon and I’ll always respect its legacy, but it is entirely possible the series has moved on without me. And that’s okay. I can always revisit the older games whenever I want. Galar just wasn’t for me, but at least tons of people will at least find something to love about this expansion. At the end of the day there at least is a ton of new legendaries to catch, some new battles, returning Pokémon and as always the goal remains the same. To catch ’em all. Most of ’em, anyway.

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