For approximately the next month, while Pokémon trainers around the world anxiously await the release of Pokémon Sword & Shield on Nintendo Switch, London based players can help pass the time while they wait with something a little novel. Officially opening today, London’s Shepard’s Bush area will temporarily be home to Pokémon Center London, an idea perhaps more exciting on paper than in practice.
For anyone unaware of the concept of Pokémon Center stores, in other parts of the world, typically Asia, Pokémon Center stores basically act as the place to go if you’re after officially licensed, if a little pricey, Pokémon merchandise. Typically filled with plush toys, clothing, and other assorted items, these locations are typically designed to be sleek buildings made to fit the theming somewhat of the games, with big statues of Pokémon inside and items for sale often unique to the specific store branch.
The idea behind Pokémon Center London is basically the same, just a little less permanent. Pokémon Sword & Shield, the first core series Pokémon games coming to Nintendo Switch, release on November 15th. Because the new games are set in the Galar region, loosely based around the UK and UK culture, a UK Pokémon Center store is opening until the games are released. Simple concept.
I was able to attend an early preview visit to the venue yesterday prior to opening, and while I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting when I walked in, I felt a little disappointing by the setup. Where many more permanent Pokémon Center stores have fairly drastic visual set dressing to make them feel like part of their game worlds, with elaborate statues of Pokémon used to set the mood and rotating stock to reflect things like upcoming seasonal holidays, Pokémon Center London was missing much of that due to its status as a popup location. There were drawings of fancy British Pikachu on the walls, and a map of the new game region upstairs, but it felt like a bit of a missed opportunity. i was I think hoping to see something that felt a bit more special to walk into, but in practice it was quickly apparent that yes, this is a store, and you’re here to buy expensive items.
If you do make the trip out to Pokémon Center London, there are basically two things to do there. Upstairs in the building you’ll find some demo stations where you can play a time locked ten minute demo for Pokémon Sword & Shield. This demo sees players fight through a modified version of the game’s water gym, passing some simple puzzles, fighting a few trainers using a premade team of six monsters, then taking on a gym leader using the game’s new Dynamax mechanic, where Pokémon can temporarily grow and gain new moves. The demo is available in Handheld and Docked modes, and does a good job of selling the game’s visual design, while being linear enough to avoid showcasing much of the wider game.
Beyond that, it’s basically just a shop. There are some really nice items centered around the new starter Pokémon, as well as some London exclusive fancy British Pikachu items, but beyond that it’s just a handful of plushes and some room dedicated to selling you a Switch for Pokémon. Prices range from £15 for a small plush, up to £240 for a huge Pikachu. More medium sized plush items run closer to £50, and some new hoodies for the Sword & Shield starters run in the £50-£60 range.
While it’s a little on the pricey side, if you’ve got a bit of money to spend, and want to try a demo for Sword and Shield, the Pokémon Center London isn’t a bad place to spend an hour, but it feels like a slightly missed opportunity in terms of visual location design. Their items are undeniably well made, but they come with a price tag to match.