Who would've thought that Pikachu was such a big fan of curry?
I love camping. I love hiking, finding the right spot, clearing a space for a tent, putting up the tent, unrolling the sleeping bags, making a fire, cooking a meal, chatting with friends while surrounded by nature, and eventually going to bed with no sounds other than bugs and potentially a nearby raccoon if we didn't pack up our food well enough. Camping is the best and I've done it ever since I was a little kid, and so, when they announced that Pokémon Sword/Shield would allow you to camp out and play with your 'mons, the game went from being an "Eh, I'm sure I'll play it eventually just as I'll eventually play all Pokémon games" to "Day 1 purchase."
And now that I've actually gotten a chance to try it, it's so simple and fun. Sure, exploring the Wild Area is great and traversing the Galar region is exciting and creating a competent team requires both engaging strategy and resisting the urge to fill my six slots with dragons, but nothing has compared so far to camping. And while I'm not sure how Sword/Shield stand in my ranking of Pokémon games yet, I can say that camping is the most fun new option that the games have introduced since Generation 2.
See, as soon as Gen 2 (Gold/Silver/Crystal) rolled around, the Pokémon franchise had begun to solidify itself. Red/Blue/Yellow were great drafts of games, but on the trip to Johto, Game Freak was able to add numerous slice-of-life mechanics and sand off any jagged edges, making Pokémon a smooth experience from start to finish. In fact, Crystal is still my favorite game in the series and remains the game I think of when I think of what a Pokémon game should be. From then on, all other sizable changes (natures, adding HM moves or removing them, various contests, etc.) have been nice, but I've never put too much stock into them. Even the series' move to 3D didn't really add to the immersion.
Camping has been different, though. I camp any time I get the chance to. Wild area? Obviously. Middle of the street? If I'm allowed to, for sure. And I think it's because camping feels so effortless. There's no hidden secrets to it, aside from learning new curry recipes. It's literally me, sitting on the ground, waving a stick at or throwing a ball with my Pokémon. Often, I talk to 'em. Sometimes I'll call them over just to watch their walk animations. I figure out which of the other Pokémon they get along with and which ones they feel wary about. But mostly, I just see them ambling about, stretching their legs and probably waiting to be fed.
Pokémon games have had features like this before. I spent a long time in Pokémon Sun/Moon grooming my critters and feeding them beans. In Let's Go, you can pet Pikachu or Eevee and watch them light up after they receive little scratches on the head. But none of these have allowed for the closeness of camping.
See, camping has a weird way of creating and strengthening bonds. If I can camp with a friend, I know that's a good friend, because camping requires that you be a good friend. It requires that you help construct the tent, or grab kindling for the fire, or get water for cooking, because you'll look like a total jerk if you don't. No other vacation has those kinds of stakes. And you'd never willingly go camping with someone that you hate, or if you do, you usually end up with outsized stories about how awful they were on the trip. You can go to the beach with someone you dislike. You just have to avoid them for most of the time. But you can't do that with camping, because when night comes, everybody comes back to camp. That's why camping is for good pals and dang ol' friends.
And Pokémon are dang ol' friends. If you have any Pokémon on your Sword/Shield team that you're unsure about, any Impidimps or Cramorants that you side-eye and think "I'm not so sure about you, little one," take them camping. Seeing them frolic and just hang around the other members of your team will likely endear them to you. For example, I didn't really want a Pikachu on my team at first (I got one because I have Let's Go Pikachu data on my Switch), but after I saw him pacing about in the camp site, I couldn't get rid of him. I'd been camping with him. He was a bro now.
Finally, it just strengthens the entire idea of the Wild Area. This place is cool to explore and is often hilariously terrifying, given how many Pokémon will run after you if you happen to walk near them. But being able to camp out in a "wild" area makes me feel like I did when I was a kid watching the anime. Ash, Brock, Misty and Pikachu were CONSTANTLY wrapped up in sleeping bags and snoozing around a fire in the middle of nowhere. Now, as a thirty-year-old dork, I can kinda be like Ash. Sadly, I don't have the same great taste in hats.
Obviously, if you don't like camping, this new option might not appeal to you in the same way that it does to me. But finally, the franchise's shift to 3D has paid off, and the slow addition of modes where you can play with your Pokémon has reached its goal. Sword/Shield is a great RPG, but an even better Pokémon camping game.
Have you played Pokémon Sword/Shield? Do you like the camping aspects? Let us know in the comments!
Daniel Dockery is a writer and editor for Crunchyroll. You should follow him on Twitter!
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