Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu Review

Pokemon: Let’s go Pikachu! Is essentially a remake of Red/Blue/Yellow from 20 years ago, but mixes in a few nice modern mechanics that make the game very accessible and enjoyable for todays generation of games.

The game starts with the player being able to choose whether they are a girl or a boy, with 3 visual options for each, and then you wake up in your room on the day that you are due to get your first Pokemon from the local Pokemon authority, Professor Oak. Shortly thereafter you will get your first Pokemon, and begin your journey to learn more about the world and the Pokemon that inhabit it, battle the gym leaders to earn their badges to earn your right to enter, and overcome the greatest challenge in the region, the Elite 4. Throughout your journey you will also overcome a criminal group known as Team Rocket. The story was made for younger players, so there’s not too much in the way of adult themes or heavy subject matter, but there are at times some emotional moments that characters can share.

The main difference between the older Pokemon games and this one is that random encounters have been removed entirely in favor of a more Pokemon GO-like system, where the Pokemon appear on the map, and then move around. The player will then need to collide with them to initiate an encounter. Once said encounter has begun, the player will have the option of throwing Pokeballs at the wild Pokemon, or using berries to make them easier to capture. As wild Pokemon can no longer battled to earn experience, the entire party of Pokemon earn experience for catching Pokemon. As this new experience mechanic will result in catching far more Pokemon, Pokeballs are cheaper, and you even earn Pokeballs from trainer battles in addition to money. The extra Pokemon that are caught are sent to a Pokemon box which is accessed from the player’s bag at any time, and these can then added to the active party or be sent back to Professor Oak, which will be traded in for candies, which can be used to improve your Pokemon stats even further.

Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu Screenshot
Pikachu leaps into battle from your shoulder!

This new capture mechanic is probably the most controversial point of the reboot, and the team at GameHEART were concerned that it would make the games less enjoyable. However we would like to allay fears. The capture system feels refreshing, on it’s own, it stands as a fun mechanic, as it’s intuitive, and fast, but it also allows Pokemon to level quickly which reduces grind that exists in the core series’ random encounters.

Although combat has been removed from the random encounters with wild Pokemon, combat is still an important part of the Let’s Go games. When another Pokemon trainer is encountered, combat will start. Combat is turn-based, with both trainers choosing a move for their Pokemon, and then the turn resolving. Pokemon with the highest speed stat will go first, and then the other will go next. There are a bunch of status affects, and moves have type bonuses that might be super effective, or not very effective depending on the Pokemon type. Pokemon also gain experience for battling and will gain stats for levelling up just as they always have.
Pokemon can learn new moves through a variety of means, such as levelling up, evolving, or by using an item in the game known as a technical machine, or TM for short. In the original games, TMs were single use, but more modern games allow them to be used multiple times, giving the player far more freedom to use them liberally, and that freedom has been brought into the remake too.
Pokemon can learn tens of moves, but only allowing 4 at a time means that the move system remains varied, but never becomes overwhelming.
The player can have up to 6 Pokemon in a party, and with 4 moves each, it provides a lot of strategic options for the combat.

Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu Screenshot
Pokemon are now caught similarly to Pokemon GO

For fans who are familiar with the type advantages and disadvantages, the Let’s Go games might be a little easy. From our experience, even if the player Pokemon are at the same level as an opposing gym leader’s, the opposition can generally be Knocked Out in one or two moves.
Nintendo have marketed the Let’s Go games as accessible games that anyone can play. The back of the box reads “a first Pokemon adventure for everyone”, and it is likely that the difficulty choice and ease of gaining experience is a choice Nintendo made to ensure younger and less-skilled players are able to get through the game without too much difficulty. If the player is looking for a challenge, it can be worth turning the battle style in the game options from “switch” to “fixed”, which forces the player to stick with their current Pokemon after defeating an opposing Pokemon.

Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu Screenshot
Your partner Pokemon can use special moves in battle

Exploring the world is also a joy to experience. The recent 3DS versions of Pokemon have all looked nice, but these are the best-looking Pokemon games to-date, thanks to the High-Def resolution and detailed Pokemon and environments. The visuals alone make up for a lot of the experience, but the world also feels alive thanks to your buddy Pokemon that follows you around whilst you explore. When they see something of interest they will run up to and stare at it, and if you interact with the buddy you will get some flavor text about how the Pokemon is enjoying the scenery.
In addition to that, the partner Pokemon that you have out, as well as the wild Pokemon that you encounter in the field are at least somewhat to-scale (No one here is an expert on Pokemon sizing), meaning that large Pokemon will take up more space on screen, and you’ll be able to ride some of the larger ones around instead of them trailing behind you. Small details like these add to the overall feel of the game, and it’s always fun to see what unexpected ways you can interact with various Pokemon. If you own the game, and haven’t tried it yet, set Snorlax to be your buddy, you can thank us later.

Pokemon Let's Go screenshot
The buddy Pokemon Arcanine in action

The controls for the Let’s Go games are varied. You are able to use the entire system as a handheld with both Joy-Con controllers plugged in, which works very well. There is no motion control used in this mode, but the gyroscope is used to aim Pokeballs when catching wild Pokemon. Interacting with your partner pokemon is also different in this mode, as normally Pikachu would sit on the ground when in another control method, but when using the touch screen, Pikachu remained on my shoulder, mimicking the player distance from the console, which is a really nice touch.

If the console is docked, the player can choose to use a single Joy-Con to control the game, however the Switch isn’t happy with a single Joy-Con being used, and will try to encourage you to turn on the second one, until you enter the game, at which point it will behave correctly. I personally used the right-side Joy-Con, which has the control stick above the buttons. The layout prevents the player from having control of the control stick and buttons at the same time, and although this sounds difficult, it didn’t take long at all for this control scheme to feel natural, and comfortable.
All actions are done with the joystick and the button, with the exception of throwing Pokeballs and patting your Pokemon partner, which are done with motion controls. Thankfully, throwing the Pokeballs is extremely easy, and actually feels really good, and patting the Pokemon is a very small part of the game. Whilst the team at GameHEART generally find motion controls to be a detriment to most game experiences, we generally agree that in Let’s Go, the system actually works really well, and we don’t have any grievances with the implementation in this case.

Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu Screenshot
The intro cutscene is adorable

The final control scheme allows the player to play with a new Pokeball controller peripheral. This controller has a joystick, which can also be clicked in to be the confirm button. In addition to this there is a menu / cancel button on the top of the Pokeball. The Pokeball has the same basic functions as the Joy-Con, but with less face buttons, there are actions that are bound to the “Y” button when playing with the Joy-Con that need to be done by shaking the ball. Whilst this is perfectly functional most of the time, shaking the ball to inspect moves in combat does nothing, which feels like a bug, as there is no other action that shaking the ball completes on this screen.

Although the Pokeball does have the aforementioned drawbacks, it also has some really nice features. When catching a Pokemon, the Pokeball vibrates with every ball wobble, with the centre ring lighting up in time with how it appears on the screen. When a Pokemon is caught, the ring light turns green and the Pokemon’s cry can be heard coming from ball. From the save menu, you are able to choose a Pokemon to place into the ball, and that Pokemon will gain experience and happiness just by being carried around, but you can also press and hold the ball button to “wake” the Pokemon, which lights the centre ring in a color that represents the stored Pokemon, and then you may shake the ball to play with them.
These additions add some extra charm to the games, and although for an adult, it really could be seen as a gimmick, through the wondrous eyes of a child, this peripheral could unlock an entirely new level of enjoyment.

Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu Screenshot
Dressing and playing with your partner is a great way to bond with them

The Let’s Go games also have local co-op, where another player is able to drop in and out of the game simply by shaking another valid controller that is connected to the console. This new player will be able to run around the map, help catch Pokemon, and participate in battles in support of the main player character. The second player is subject to some limitations however; They can’t interact with non-player characters, they aren’t able to initiate random Pokemon encounters, nor can they start a trainer battle or initiate movement into a new area. It seems as though the co-op has been made with the idea that the main player will be the primary decision maker, with the second player being able to assist in non-interruptive ways only. For example, they can assist the main player by throwing Pokeballs to help catch Pokemon, and in this case, either player’s Pokeball can catch the Pokemon, but if both players throw their ball at the same time, the Pokemon is more likely to be captured. In trainer battles, the second player uses the second Pokemon in the party, so there doesn’t need to be any preparation, and battles will be played 2-on-1, which means that the primary player is provided with an advantage, and no downside. This second player can be added or removed at any time, just by shaking the controller that they are playing with. I feel like this is the perfect opportunity for the primary player to play with younger or less experienced players without hindering the game experience by triggering lots of encounters, or running in and out of doors constantly.

Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu Screenshot
The co-op is a great way to share the Pokemon experience

In summary, the Pokemon: Let’s Go games are a joy to play. Whilst more casual than previous games in the series, these games are definitely worth playing, whether or not you enjoy Pokemon GO. The visuals, sound design, combat, and pace make for an enjoyable and family-friendly experience that will entertain for hours on end.

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