No matter your thoughts on it, Pokémon GO changed the way people think about Nintendo’s long-running monster catching series. People have dreamed of catching Pokémon in the real world for years, and for a while the mobile game felt like the best way to encounter ‘mon. You’re able to grab a Golbat from on top of a friend’s head or a Lickitung on your morning run — but if you ask me, it doesn’t really bring them any closer to you. That’s where this latest Switch release comes in. Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu & Eevee! looks to bring everything that makes its mobile counterpart accessible while also taking you back through your very first Pokémon journey. Along the way, you’ll build up an inseparable bond, gather up more monsters than you ever remembered, and see how changing up a formula can make things fresh while bringing along some unexpected differences.
The Let’s Go! games bring in plenty of changes, but its story plays as a fairly straight retelling of Pokémon Yellow Version, one that’s separate from the originals thanks to some key character cameos. Pending which you get, you’ll be palling around with Pikachu or embarking on a Kanto exploration with Eevee. You’ll meet Professor Oak, foster a friendly rivalry with your neighbor, stop Team Rocket, and take on the region’s eight gyms and its Elite Four. While the Alola based games shook up this aspect of the series, it’s a bit of a letdown to see how little Let’s Go! deviates from the formula. There are a few surprises to look forward to though, and the simplicity is perfect for first-timers.
It’s You and Me
What really makes these their own experience is your partner. Your bond with Pikachu or Eevee is front and center throughout the game, with them riding on your head and interacting with you in certain cutscenes. They’re more than a starter Pokémon — they’re your best friend and, thanks to some special attacks and stat buffs added to the game, they’re designed to be your most reliable and versatile battler. You can even dress up yourself and your partner to match each other, taking on the League in style and feeling like a perfect pair.
A lot of your interactions with your partner come in the form of playing with them via a similar system as Pokémon Amie. That means petting and feeding them, getting an up-close look at them, and seeing how your care and devotion increases their performances in battle. If you’re easily affected by cuteness and don’t mind hearing your Pikachu or Eevee’s voice all the time, this is a treat in and of itself. The moment my Eevee had a picked up present to give to me, or when I was able to tap its paws in a little back and forth game, I was hooked.
Gotta catch ‘em all in an all new way
That “Go” in the title isn’t just for show, as these newest trips through Kanto are influenced by the mobile take on Gotta Catch ‘Em All. You no longer battle wild Pokémon, and instead try to catch them via throwing Poké Balls and using various berries to make the job easier. It’s like if the entire region operated on Safari Zone rules, streamlining the process of catching new Pokémon. It does have the added risk of every Pokémon being able to run away if you can’t catch them fast enough, and certain ones have tricky movement patterns unless you calm them down — but all in all, this overhauled system has a lot going for it.
For one, wild Pokémon are now clearly visible in the wild — no random encounters. The setup isn’t perfect, as sometimes one will spawn right on top of you or interrupt your beeline to a desired Pokémon, but it’s heaps more convenient than randomly stumbling across ‘mon in tall grass. That also means it’s possible to consciously avoid certain Pokémon. Sick of Geodude in every cave? Have an irrational hatred of Weepinbell? No problem, just take a few steps out of your path and you won’t have to fuss with them.
Other elements and user interface decisions continue this trend of user friendliness. For one, PCs are gone completely and you instead carry a Pokémon Box with you at all times to store and manage all your captures. CP comes along from GO proper, letting you know if the Pokémon you encountered stacks up to others you have or is a cut above others of its kind. Catching Pokémon also gives you the bulk of your EXP, with bonuses awarded for getting catches quickly or with precise aim and timing. After a certain point, you can outright check IV’s at any time — though rather than EV’s or vitamins, you instead can pump each of your favorite Pokémon full of candy to raise their stats.
As someone who’s been playing Pokémon for years, it’s nice to have a way to breeze through but still be able to take the steps to tailor-make my team. I felt encouraged to cycle through Pokémon regularly rather than sit on one set team because I was constantly getting EXP from catching Pokémon again and again. Many of these features existed via items or NPCs, but by giving them to the player at all times, it makes for a mostly smooth return through Kanto’s routes the whole way through.
Keep the fighting to a minimum
That ease comes at a price though, as battling has taken a back seat this time around. As stated, you no longer regularly battle wild Pokémon. You’ll still have fellow Trainers to contend with, along with the expected trials of the Pokémon League and Team Rocket’s takeover. By and large though, most Trainers are carrying one or two Pokémon max. Several moves and TMs have also been taken out of the learnable pool, as have abilities and held items. Those, combined with the limited number of Pokémon variety (the original 151, plus newcomer Meltan and its evolution) hold back the game’s variety both during your solo trip and when battling friends.
There are a few other gripes that hold this back from being a must-have Switch title. For one, performance in handheld mode can be slowed down if too many Pokémon are on the screen at once, pending your current area. Viridian Forest, with its plentiful grass and bugs, suffers in particular, and with it being an early area it was a rude awakening from the bliss of meeting my Eevee.
Likewise, there are occasional roadblocks new to this take on Gen I, such as needing to have a Pokémon of a certain type or a specific number of caught Pokémon to progress through Gyms. The bumps were never anything too daunting, but they upset the flow I’d built up, and they forced me to play in ways that I didn’t exactly want to — especially since I’d already made several runs through Kanto in previous games. When there are already more integrated roadblocks, like receiving the Silph Scope, these stood out even more. To the game’s credit though, HMs are long gone and replaced with techniques your partner performs to fulfill the same functions without taking up precious move slots.
Where things really come to a point though is if you’re trying to catch a Pokémon with your Joy-Con. When docked, you play with a single controller and catching is handled via gestures. Flicking your Joy-Con straight ahead is simple enough, though occasionally tough to time. It’s when you get more mobile Pokémon, hopping around and shifting around the screen, that all pretense of aiming falls apart. Balls will fly to the left when you want them to go left, or they might over or undershoot the Pokémon completely. When I caught myself actually undocking the console to better catch a Gastly, I knew something wasn’t right.
Don’t let that batch of negativity mislead you though. I’ve put more time into Pokémon: Let’s Go! on the road to and through Viridian City than I ever expected. For every problem I have with it, it’s still unquestionably great or convenient in other areas. Designed to bridge the gap for GO fans, I’m finding myself wishing for certain elements to stick around whenever the eighth generation begins. It’s clear that Let’s Go! shouldn’t be the new standard, but if taken as side games, these installments could be the best in the series since the N64 era.
Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee! represent both the series’ oldest and newest generations of titles. For everything the game takes away from the equation, it tries something new — and it’s these additions and improvements that make the game addicting and enjoyable. Chaining captures, collecting 150 (or more), and doing it all with your partner beside you are all longstanding elements of Pokémon that are at their best here. If you’re more interested in training, battling, and proving you’re the very best, you’re better off waiting ‘til next year. But until then, there’s no better time to take your first journey all over again.
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System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: November 16, 2018
Category: Adventure, Role-Playing, Multiplayer
Developer: Game Freak