It’s 2am and I’m running through wintry blizzards following the cries of legendary bird Galarian Articuno. Once you track the bird down over the vast lands, the beast splits into three for a mini-game of deception - whereby you only get a chance of catching it if you identify the real Articuno. Once you finally have the Pokémon cornered, you have to enact the typical HP juggling act of catching it, while worrying about hail weather damage chipping away your chances.
It’s an irritating dance, yet one that’s distinctly Pokémon. These roaming discoveries were sorely missed in Sword and Shield’s main story, which streamlined the experience and pushed players through continuous, easy battles with little variety. The Crown Tundra, the second DLC expansion after the underwhelming Isle of Armor, brings back mystery and intriguing mythos to the world of Pokémon - which was slightly lost beneath Galar stadiums and Dynamax stomps.
New mythical Pokémon Calyrex is the bizarre standout. With a freaky bulging ‘noggin’ and the ability to possess human beings to speak, he’s one chemical accident away from well mannered, jockey super villain. Yet, his eccentric oddities are some of the most likeable from the eighth generation, with a backstory which ties him to two different steeds, Glastrier and Spectrier, who you can choose between depending which Pokémon type (or aesthetic) you prefer.
Calyrex is one of Gen 8's best (Picture: Nintendo)
The main thrust of The Crown Tundra is collecting legendary Pokémon from the franchise’s past. You have multiple quest lines to tackle over the Wild Area, ranging from Calyrex’s storyline, a hunt for the Galarian legendary birds and solving simple temple puzzles to catch the Regis.
Other Pokémon are in the wild too, involving a tedious quest to collect footprints in certain areas. It sounds monotonous on paper and it especially is in practise, resorting to mindless button spamming while roaming around on your bike.
The tasks themselves can be a chore but it’s supported by an engaging Wild Area. This is the best realisation of a 3D Pokémon game yet, with a region that’s far more expansive and intricate in design - reminiscent of the confusing, multi-floored caves of the original games. The emphasis on catching legendary beasts too turns this expansion into a marathon trial of the biggest frustrations and triumphs Pokémon can provide, as you throw endless Ultra Balls at stubborn beast after stubborn beast.
It offers the best Wild Area yet (Picture: Nintendo)
Despite how enjoyable The Crown Tundra is, there’s constant reminders of Sword and Shield’s limitations. Connecting online slows the game drastically, Pokémon often feel buggy when popping into the environment, and areas still feel stilted and lifeless outside of towns.
The new mode Dynamax Adventures, which allows you to team-up with three other players in a sequence of raid battles, also feels slightly short-changed - only allowing you to use rental Pokémon and limiting movement to a branching tree where you collectively decide your opponent.
The Crown Tundra feels like the culmination of what’s possible inside Sword and Shield’s confines, although there’s the sense developer Game Freak are slowly, or hesitantly, stepping towards the 3D Pokémon RPG experience the fanbase wants. The next mainline Pokémon titles are likely a few years away, but this is an exciting, if flawed, step towards what Sword and Shield should have delivered to begin with.
Pokemon Sword and Shield is available on Nintendo Switch.