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Pokémon Sword or Shield: version differences and exclusives explained

Pokémon Sword or Shield: which is the very best for you?

Pokémon Sword or Shield: version differences and exclusives explained
(Image: © The Pokemon Company)

Pokémon Sword or Shield? It’s a tough decision. At least, it’s a tough decision if you’ve been thinking about jumping into the eighth generation of the Pokémon games. 

Offering a choice between two versions of the same game is a long-standing tradition for the Pokémon series. It started with Red and Green in Japan for the GameBoy in 1996 and it continues through to these latest releases on Nintendo Switch. Then and now, the overall game is pretty much the same regardless of which version you choose. But there are some differences and it’s definitely not a bad idea to know what they are before you commit to Pokémon Sword or Shield.

There are actually more version differences in Pokémon Sword and Shield than previous generations. There have always been version-exclusive Pokémon, maybe some version-exclusive locations, but Pokémon Sword and Shield take that even further with version-exclusive Gyms, characters and curry ingredients. These are things that it’s really worth looking into. 

To help you decide whether you want Pokémon Sword or Shield, then, we’ve detailed the differences between both versions of the latest Pokémon games, as well as both DLC releases below. 

Pokémon Sword or Shield: version-exclusive Pokémon

Pokémon Sword or Shield: Galarian Ponyta

Galarian Ponyta can be caught in Pokémon Shield (Image credit: The Pokemon Company/Game Freak)

From the early days, the main difference between the Pokémon releases has been that one version will have Pokémon the other doesn’t and vice versa. The same is still true for Sword and Shield. 

For some players this won’t make an iota of difference, but if you have a favorite creature that the game just isn't worth playing without, it’s worth making sure they won't be exclusive to a particular version before you make that Pokémon Sword or Shield decision. It's always possible to find someone to trade with if you have missed out – and you can always buy both versions, if you want to – but that's a bit of a rigmarole and can be avoided if you want an easier life. 

Below are the version exclusive Pokémon for Sword and Shield, with their respective types. 

Pokémon Sword exclusives:

  • Deino (Dark/Dragon)
  • Hydreigon (Dark/Dragon)
  • Jangmo-o (Dragon)
  • Kommo-o (Dragon/Fighting)
  • Hakamo-o (Dragon/Fighting)
  • Farfetch'd (Normal/Flying)
  • Sirfetch'd (Fighting)
  • Zweilous (Dark/Dragon)
  • Gothita (Psychic)
  • Gothorita (Psychic)
  • Gothitelle (Psychic)
  • Turtonator (Fire/Dragon)
  • Seedot (Grass)
  • Nuzleaf (Grass/Dark)
  • Shiftry (Grass/Dark)
  • Mawile (Steel/Fairy)
  • Solrock (Rock/Psychic)
  • Basculin (Water)
  • Darumaka (Ice)
  • Darmanitan (Ice)
  • Scraggy (Dark/Fighting)
  • Scrafty (Dark/Fighting)
  • Rufflet (Normal/Flying)
  • Braviary (Normal/Flying)
  • Swirlix (Fairy)
  • Slurpuff (Fairy)
  • Passimian (Fighting)
  • Coalossal, Gigantamax Raid native to Sword but can be shared (Rock/Fire) 
  • Flapple, Gigantamax Raid native to Sword but can be shared (Grass/Dragon)
  • Stonjourner (Rock)
  • Indeedee, Male (Psychic/Normal)

Pokémon Shield exclusives:

  • Goomy (Dragon)
  • Sliggo (Dragon)
  • Goodra (Dragon)
  • Larvitar (Rock/Ground)
  • Pupitar (Rock/Ground)
  • Tyranitar (Rock/Ground)
  • Galarian Ponyta (Psychic)
  • Solosis (Psychic)
  • Duosion (Psychic)
  • Reuniclus (Psychic)
  • Drampa (Normal/Dragon)
  • Vullaby (Dark/Flying)
  • Mandibuzz (Dark/Flying)
  • Gengar, Gigantamax Raid native to Shield but can be shared (Ghost/Poison)
  • Lapras, Gigantamax Raid native to Shield but can be shared (Water/Ice)
  • Cursola (Ghost)
  • Lotad (Water/Grass)
  • Lombre (Water/Grass)
  • Ludicolo (Water/Grass)
  • Sableye (Dark/Ghost)
  • Lunatone (Rock/Psychic)
  • Croagunk (Poison/Fight)
  • Toxicroak (Poisin/Fight)
  • Basculin, Blue-stripe form (Water)
  • Spritzee (Fairy)
  • Aromatisse (Fairy)
  • Oranguru (Normal/Psychic)
  • Appletun Gigantamax Raid native to Shield but can be shared (Grass/Dragon)
  • Eiscue (Ice)
  • Indeedee, Female (Psychic/Normal)

Pokémon Sword or Shield: version-exclusive Gyms

Pokémon Sword or Shield: Gym Leaders Bea and Allister

Different versions have different Gym Leaders (Image credit: The Pokémon Company)

Sword and Shield also have version-exclusive gyms so, depending on which version you pick, you will find yourself facing an exclusive Gym Leader with their own type-focus.

Pokémon Black and White had a similar scenario where, depending on which version you picked, you found yourself battling either Drayden or Iris. That said, both Drayden and Iris used Dragon-types, so you likely weren't having a hugely different experience. 

This time, though, the version-exclusive Gym Leaders are different people who also use different types.

Pokémon Sword's exclusive gyms are:

  • Bea, the Fighting-type leader
  • Gordie, the Rock-type leader

While in Pokémon Shield you'll be battling against:

  • Allister, the Ghost-type leader
  • Melony, the Ice-type leader

If facing off against any of these particular Pokémon types makes you break out in hives, then it could really help you in your decision whether to go for Pokémon Sword or Shield. If you hate them all then we don’t know what to say – go for the lesser of two evils?

Pokémon Sword or Shield: Legendary Pokémon

Pokémon Sword or Shield: trainer throwing PokéBall

(Image credit: The Pokemon Company)

Another classic version difference is in the Legendary Pokémon that plays the biggest part in your Pokémon adventure. Traditionally, the Legendary Pokémon featured on the cover of the game is a Pokémon you’ll be able to catch in your version of the game and this remains true in Pokémon Sword and Shield. 

For Pokémon Sword, this is Zacian, a Pokémon carrying a sword in its mouth that can cut through opponents. For Pokémon Shield it’s Zamazenta, a defence-based Pokémon whose shield-like body can reflect attacks back on opponents.

The Pokémon Company is providing players an opportunity to get the Shiny version of the legendary they didn’t have access to in their original game as part of a temporary promotion starting October 22 2021 and running through November 2021. Yes, that’s right. If you’ve got Pokémon Sword, you could get your hands on a Shiny Zamazenta while Pokémon Shield players can get Shiny Zacian. The Pokémon will be free and can be added to your game via a code that’s claimed in-game in the Mystery Gift menu. Where and when you can get that code depends on where you’re living. 

In North America, it’s an in-store GameStop offer. In the US, Zacian is available until 11 November while Zamazenta’s code can be obtained between November 12 and 26. In Canada Zacian is only available until 4 November with Zamazenta available from November 5 to 18. In the UK and Ireland, both Pokémon are available at the same time in GAME and GameStop stores respectively. 

Pokémon Sword or Shield: version-exclusive curry ingredients

These exclusives are more minor than the others but there are version-exclusive curry ingredients in Pokémon Sword and Shield. Fortunately, there's only two total. 

Those playing with Pokémon Sword get Bob's food tin to cook with, while those playing with Shield get Bach's food tin. Both can be bought from the ingredients sellers in the Rolling Hills and Hammerlocke sections of the Wild Area in your version of the game.

For those who want to experiment with the ingredient that's not in their version in order to expand their CurryDex, you can either trade Pokémon to get one holding that ingredient, or you can cook with a player who has the opposite version of the game as recipes you create while cooking with others will be added to your CurryDex. 

Pokémon Sword or Shield: Isle of Armor DLC differences

Pokémon Sword or Shield: Isle of Armor artwork

Isle of Armor  (Image credit: Nintendo)

Pokémon Sword and Shield's first expansion, Isle of Armor, is out now and is available for both versions of the game. The Pokémon DLC brings with it a new mentor, dogo master Mustard, new Pokémon (including the return of some old favorites) and new rivals. 

But, while the Isle of Armor content for Pokémon Sword and Shield is pretty much the same, which version of the game you have will determine which rival you face-off against. 

Owners of Pokémon Sword will get Klara, a poison-type trainer, as their rival; while owners of Pokémon Shield will face-off against Avery, a psychic-type-trainer.

Pokémon Sword or Shield: Crown Tundra DLC differences

Pokémon Sword or Shield: The Crown Tundra artwork

The Crown Tundra (Image credit: Nintendo)

Pokémon Sword and Shield’s second expansion, The Crown Tundra, is out now and is available for both versions of the game. Larger than Isle of Armor, The Crown Tundra takes players to colder climes where they’ll be appointed as the leader of an exploration team tasked with investigating the far reaches of the land, including its underground Pokémon Dens. 

Like Isle of Armor, the content in The Crown Tundra is quite similar for Pokémon Sword and Shield. In terms of version exclusive Pokémon, Sword players will be able to catch Omanyte, Omastar, Bagon, Shelgon, Salamence.  Shield players on the other hand will be able to watch Kabuto, Kabutops, Gible, Gabite, Garchomp.

A more notable difference between the Sword and Shield versions are the Legendary Pokémon you’ll be able to encounter in the game’s new Dynamax Adventures. Sword has the legendaries Ho-Oh, Latios, Groudon, Dialga, Tornadus, Reshiram, Xerneas and Solgaleo, while Shield has Lugia, Latias, Kyogre, Palkia, Thundurus, Zekrom, Yveltal and Lunala.

This can be worked around, though, as you can simply join in the Dynamax Adventure of someone with the opposite version to you in order to try and catch that version’s exclusive Legendaries in a team Dynamax Adventure.

Best Pokémon Sword and Shield deals

Do you now have a better idea of whether Pokémon Sword or Shield is for you? Maybe it's both? Either way, we've included the best prices on both Pokémon Sword and Shield below: