GameByte Review: The Crown Tundra DLC – Pokémon Sword (SWITCH)

Pokémon Sword & Shield’s two-part DLC Expansion Pass has reached its conclusion with the release of The Crown Tundra. This winter wonderland, based on the highlands of Scotland, introduces new missions, challenges and legends to the franchise. Here’s our review of Pokémon Sword The Crown Tundra.

Pokémon Sword & Shield has already been met with criticisms at every turn. From ‘Dexit’ to graphic disappointments, the introduction of a paid DLC, starting with the Isle of Armour, only fuelled more division with Pokémon fans across the globe. 

The Isle of Armour was a disappointing start to Game Freak’s new Expansion Pass, but does The Crown Tundra deliver on its promise, or was it met with a frosty reception?

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Narrative

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Credit: Nintendo

The Crown Tundra’s snowy landscape is immediately striking as you exit the train station. I admit, I groaned when I saw snowy textures – with the game’s history of frame rate problems and online lag, I thought this might be the final nail in the coffin. And yes, let’s get it out of the way now. The online overworld is still plagued with these problems. But, as a proof of concept, The Crown Tundra excels.

My awe of the gorgeously detailed environment was quickly cut short by the introduction of Peonia and Peony, The Crown Tundra’s latest dynamic father-and-daughter duo. ‘Darlin’ Nia and the rambunctious KING that is Peony need therapy more than an ‘Adven-tour’, but who are we to judge? I had issues with the way the Isle of Armour constantly interrupted the natural flow of the narrative, with quirky one-liners and unnecessary hand-holding. But, past this compulsory exchange, The Crown Tundra feels wonderfully open-world. The Crown Tundra perfectly captures the essence of what makes Pokémon truly shine. Where its predecessors may have struggled with pacing, players are invited into a shining, icy world, shimmering with adventure, Legendary Pokémon and a sense of mystery that never felt boring. 

Personality is the driving force behind The Crown Tundra. Peonia, Peony, the Legendary Pokémon Calyrex; everyone’s dialogue is wonderfully self-aware, with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. The Isle of Armour’s tasks felt entirely disconnected from its bare-bones narrative, seemingly random for the sake of being random. Without spoilers, the quests you’re sent on in The Crown Tundra tie together seamlessly and move the narrative along nicely. The multiple narrative threads have you setting off into this big wide world, perfectly reminiscent of our adventures in Kanto as children. 

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The Crown Tundra’s Graphics

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Credit: Nintendo

It’s hard to review the graphics of Pokémon Sword The Crown Tundra. As we all KNOW by this point, Pokémon Sword and Shield aren’t winning any awards for their graphics. The infamous tree textures that some players compared to graphics released 20 years ago are still in the game, speckled with a thematic frost on the hated bark. 

Combined with a poor frame rate and assets popping in and out at random, it’s understandable that some fans thought these outdated graphics were a sign that developers at Game Freak were cutting corners in the base game. However, and I’m willing to take the heat for this, The Crown Tundra uses the assets to create an amazing art style. The entire world has this mystical vibe that – dare I say it – is almost helped by the washy, inconsistent graphics Generation 8 is known for. It’s stylistically similar to Snowpoint City in Generation 4, which is my favourite area in any Pokémon game ever. With snow weighing down the pine needles and frost crawling on the mountainside, The Crown Tundra draws players into this freezing land and warms their hearts.

The Crown Tundra’s trailer introduced Galarian forms of the Legendary Birds – Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres. These redesigns are striking, with Articuno being my personal favourite with its emo mask and piercing eyes. These birds send the player across Galar, roaming the lands like they did in Generation One. Running through the Wild Area and the Isle of Armour really hammers home just how much more developed The Crown Tundra feels, Again, it’s this sense of nostalgia, perfectly blended with excitement, that makes The Crown Tundra feel like a return to what a Pokémon game ‘should’ be like.

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Considering the sheer amount of Legendary Pokémon found in The Crown Tundra, it would’ve been nice to see these redesigns across the board. The two new Regis – Regidrago and Regieleki, have great designs, further suggesting that Galarian forms of all Legendaries would really finish off The Crown Tundra.

Gameplay In The Crown Tundra

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Credit: Nintendo

When playing through The Crown Tundra, my overwhelming reaction was ‘this is what a Pokémon game should be like’. The biggest frustration with The Crown Tundra’s gameplay is that it’s filled with such promise. If the base game was more like this, Sword and Shield could’ve been the greatest Pokémon games there have ever been. 

The puzzles and investigations that are thrown your way never feel frustrating, but never too easy either. Hunting down the Legendaries and solving the clues brings back that sense of adventure I felt when learning Braille in Pokémon Gold and Silver. There’s so much packed into this adventure – Sonia makes a return and convinces the player to search the land for footprints to track down Legendary Pokémon as a mini quest. Peony sends the player off on an ‘Adven-tour’ that he planned for his daughter, who broke my heart when she stood him up. With his scribbles and b-movie riddles as your only guide, The Crown Tundra excels in the gameplay department.

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One huge thing that The Crown Tundra introduces is Dynamax Adventures. This is a brand new approach to Max Raid battles that is so ingenious and fun I would honestly take an entire game in this style. You follow Nia to a research lab, run by a team of scientists from a huge cavern. You can team up with up to three friends to take down familiar Legendary Pokémon in a new Dynamaxed form. By borrowing Pokémon from the scientists, you can work through a labyrinthine maze, each path offering different pros and cons. Your party of four must vote on a path which leads to some great strategizing and, more often than not, fierce arguments between friends. If you defeat the Pokémon in your way, you can opt to swap out your current Pokémon for it. 

Because Dynamax Adventures are vote-based, it can be frustrating if more than one player wants to keep that new Pokémon because the game will randomly allocate to a voter. You Pokémon don’t get healed between rounds (unless you come across some Berries or a friendly NPC), so it can be disheartening to lose one of your four lives for no real reason. The endless Dynamax Adventures sounds like a great idea to grind out the helpful Dynite Ore, but the rewards you reap are simply not time efficient. Other than that, this new feature is one of my favourite new things about The Crown Tundra. They’re tough, but the chance to catch a Legendary feels more rewarding than just stumbling across it in the wild like in previous Pokémon games.

The Crown Tundra’s Music

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Credit: Nintendo

The music in The Crown Tundra is one of my favourite parts of the whole experience. With its delicate chimes, reminiscent of tiptoeing through the snow on Route 216, it encapsulates the mystic nature surrounding The Crown Tundra. 

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Throughout the main narrative, you help the Legendary bunny Pokémon Calyrex reignite Freezington’s belief in the King of Bountiful Harvests and reunite with its steed. You can choose between Spectrier, the Ghost-type Pokémon or Glastrier, the Ice-type Pokémon, to be Calyrex’s noble steed. I went with Spectrier, mainly because the design is so unique (and I needed a counter for Blissey in online battles).

Without spoiling too much of the narrative, Spectrier ends up invading Freezington and threatening the townsfolk. As I rushed to help, the music swelled with dramatic horns and drums that set my heart racing. For the first time in a very long time in a Pokémon game, I felt like there was a real threat.

Is The Crown Tundra Fun To Play?

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Credit: Nintendo

I didn’t enjoy the Isle of Armour, so when it came to this Pokémon Sword The Crown Tundra review, I was a little wary. I even struggled through the base Pokémon Sword game. But The Crown Tundra has held my interest more than Pokémon games have managed to do in recent years. Whether this is because of the simple joy of hunting down Pokémon, or whether it’s being sent to explore a vibrant world to solve puzzles, I don’t know. Maybe it’s the combination of both that sparks the same sense of happiness I felt as a child playing Pokémon under my covers past my bedtime. 

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With coronavirus restrictions impacting many across the world, The Crown Tundra, with its soft and welcoming characters, the Dynamax Adventures that rely on teamwork and its intriguing puzzles, offers a welcome escape from the real world.

What Is Accessibility Like?

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Credit: Nintendo

We like to look at accessibility when we review a game, and thankfully Pokémon Sword The Crown Tundra delivered.

One huge reason why I was so interested in this two-part DLC is the fact that it makes the notoriously difficult competitive Pokémon scene a lot easier to get into. Now, instead of spending months and months breeding the perfect Pokémon, you can visit various NPCs and obtain various items that reset your stats, change your Pokémon’s nature and help you train EVs. The new Ability Patch, available by trading in Dynite Ore, finishes up this streamlining process. This is an item that changes a Pokémon’s Ability from one of its standard Abilities to its Hidden Ability. A competitively viable team has never been easier and I love it.

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Pokémon The Crown Tundra Review Summary 

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Credit: Nintendo

The most frustrating part of the whole experience was that it proves Pokémon Sword & Shield could’ve been so much better than they were. Despite its short length and graphical limitation, The Crown Tundra gives a further glimpse into how magical Galar could’ve been.

The second part of the DLC almost feels like the reward for muddling your way through Sword and Shield and the Isle of Armour. 

It’s a steep price point for an Expansion Pass where only half of it is enjoyable. Combine that with the full price of the base game, which is necessary to play The Crown Tundra, and you’re looking at a hefty price tag for very little joy. However, if you’ve already finished the base game or completed the Isle of Armour, The Crown Tundra is a very enjoyable way to spend a few hours. 

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I spent my weekend bundled up under blankets with my Player 2, hot chocolate in hand, marvelling at the vastness of this winter wonderland and arguing about which path to take in Dynamax Adventures. The stories were more engaging than many mainline Pokémon games have been in recent years and, finally, I truly believe in the magic of Pokémon again.

Pokémon Sword The Crown Tundra Expansion Pass is available now on Nintendo Switch. You’ll need the Pokémon base game in order to play it.

This review of Pokémon Sword The Crown Tundra Expansion Pass was completed on the platform it’s exclusive to: Nintendo Switch. 

Featured Image Credit: Nintendo

8/10