A born and bred American lass, I lived in Newcastle, UK for a few years not too long ago. I unabashedly loved the experience – probably too much, as I unknowingly started speaking with a bizarre hybrid accent – and as a self-proclaimed expert on Great Britain, I hereby declare Pokemon Sword and Shield the pixel-perfect representation of British culture.
An Anglophile even before my brief tenure across the pond, my love for the problematic older brother to my home country only grew stronger during my time there. The drinking culture, the footy culture, the lad culture, the Tesco Meal Deals, and the Northern slang – all of it was so quirky and quaint, such a far cry from the gruff and tough New York life I was used to, I couldn't help but obsess over it then and pine for it now.
When I picked up Pokemon Sword and Shield, it was like visiting my other home country again, from the more obvious references to the almost-imperceptible nods. I don't think you could find a more British game if you tried.
Taking a gander down memory lane
I spend a lot of my time wondering aloud when I play Pokemon Sword and Shield, a habit that begins as soon as my character bids farewell to her 'Mum' and steps out into the countryside of Postwick. "Oooo, where is this supposed to be?" I ask. The answer is: nowhere really, but also everywhere. Postwick is the picturesque ideal of rural England, with cottages covered in ivy and dirt roads everywhere. I can practically smell the fresh-cut grass.
There are references to British cities, towns, and natural spaces that I never made it to during my time there. There's Sherwood Forest – which inspired the legend of Robin Hood – represented in the mystical glowing mushrooms of Glimwood Tangle. There's Cumbria and the gorgeous, sprawling Lake District mirrored in the massive Wild Area, which I'm told is subjected to rain as often as its inspiration is. And despite the location of GamesRadar's central HQ, I've never been to Bath – but I run around its in-game twin Circhester with glee, marvelling at the steam coming off of the hot baths and the Roman architecture encircling them.
There are so many other English locales that I have visited that are represented in Pokemon Sword and Shield, winking knowingly at me from behind the Pokemon filter, whispering "don't you miss getting mortal here?" Motostoke is Manchester, the enterprising industrial city where I fell off a sidewalk (excuse me, path) and into a cobblestone street after having one too many at The Goose. Hulbury is Liverpool, the windy port city where I fell down the steps leading to a Beatles bar after having one too many while visiting a Scouse friend.
The battlements of Hammerlocke are a bit of York and a bit of Edinburgh, two cities with architecture spanning centuries – I blindly ate my first black pudding after having one too many at York's House of Trembling Madness, and I got lost on the way back to my hotel after having one too many during Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebration. As you can probably tell by now, there's a theme here... funnily enough, the only English thing missing from Pokemon Sword and Shield is a proper pint.
Cheeky bit of culture
English culture is its own character in Pokemon Sword and Shield. When I first moved to "the Toon" I was gobsmacked by the cultural differences; I knew it was a different country, but naively expected the gaps between the US and UK to be rather narrow due to us speaking the same language. On my first night in Newcastle, I learned how very wrong I was. I was walking up the narrow stairs at my AirBnb when I overheard my host ask her dog, Duchess, if she wanted "tea". I did a triple take and froze on the steps, wondering, "are English people that English that even their dogs drink tea?"
Embarrassed to ask, I stored it away until a few weeks later when I was having a pint with some friends. "Do you guys give your dogs tea?" I blurted out from over the rim of my Peroni. I explained the story for context, and the woman who would become my best friend looked up to the heavens and guffawed. "No, that's just a Northern term for dinner! Ahaha did you hear that?! She thought we gave our dogs tea!"
Pokemon Sword and Shield is peppered with British-isms similar to "tea" that would make a non-British person think the characters are taking the piss. When you beat Hop, your childhood mate, several times in battle, he'll exclaim "it's all gone to pot!" Before that, he tells you his brother is "pants at directions." The Professor's granddaughter, Sonia, is "having a chin-wag" and Marnie seems to be invoking some no-nonsense Manchester slang ("shut your gob"), though her lackeys have a bit more of an EastEnders vibe (the Team Yell grubs love a good "crikey").
And then there's the legacy of British cuisine. The Brits love themselves a cheeky bit of curry, so naturally you can make it while camping with your Pokemon. There's a Currydex that rates your recipes like some sort of Pokemon Paul Hollywood – it's out of control. There's even a curry spot in Circhester. And the battle cafes are 100% just Costa Coffee shops, the interior looks almost exactly like a Costa, from the circular logo to the tiled floor to the abundance of warm brown tones and plush red chairs. When I first walked into one in-game, I found myself transported back to Newcastle, sitting at a table drinking out of reusable dish ware (unheard of in the US), hunched over my uni work – although I'll be honest, I prefer Caffe Nero.
While it's painfully obvious to point this out, I feel that I must for fear of retribution: there are so many footy references. The Pokemon stadiums look like repurposed football stadiums (try and tell me that Wyndon Stadium isn't a replica of Wembley), the gym uniforms all look like they belong on the pitch, and there's a damn Pokemon that basically just does footy moves (Cinderace).
There's no denying that Game Freak did their research when making Pokemon Sword and Shield. It feels like a love letter to England, and I'm happily reading through it while I play. And yes, the country is as deserving of scrutiny as it is affection, but since I'm often myopically looking back at my time there and pining for it, I can't tell you how much joy travelling through Galar has brought me.
If you've ever wondered what the UK is like outside of the Cornetto trilogy and are upset you can't travel right now, maybe Pokemon Sword and Shield will do the same for you as it has for me.