Joe Serebii Merrick goes hands on with the intriguing eShop release that recently arrived in Japan.
Back in October 2013, when the NHK television show The Professionals focused on The Pokémon Company President, Tsunekazu Ishihara, it showed him going through the early work for two titles. One title became Pokémon Link! Battle on the 3DS just months later, but the other just disappeared. We knew very little about this game from the TV show, just that it starred a talking Pikachu that was a detective and that they used facial recognition in order to help make the Pikachu talk. This image of the Pikachu has caused over half the Pokémon community to end up waking up screaming from nightmare ever since, but to me it stirred my curiosity. With so long having passed, I feared this game had been cancelled, until it was confirmed to be released for the 3DS as a download title.
Detective Pikachu is much what you would expect. You play as a human character called Tim Goodman who has gone to Rhyme City in order to investigate the disappearance of his father, Harry Goodman. As soon as he arrives, he is pulled into an investigation when a group of Aipom steal some items from him and nearby humans. Instantly, he encounters a Pikachu and discovers that he can understand what the Pikachu is saying. Teaming up with Pikachu, he joins the Baker Detective Agency to try and uncover the mystery behind his father's disappearance.
The game is listed as a Cinematic Adventure Game in the official listings and, after playing it through to the end, it's clear as to why. It's incredibly story focused to the point that I'm reluctant to put too much of the plot here. The game is best experienced without knowing too much of the plot and you'd really need a grasp of Japanese if you wish to play the Japanese version. The plot itself is smartly written and is quite mature; it's also a departure from what you typically know of Pokémon. Aside from a couple of Pokémon using attacks, and Tim commanding Pikachu to use Thunderbolt once, there are very few references to battles, moves and types in the game; that's a good thing as we get to see more about the overall world of Pokémon.
The gameplay is as you'd expect with a detective game. You explore areas and have to talk to people and Pokémon in order to get items and clues to solve puzzles and cases. Often, you then have to put these clues together in order to get to the overall deduction. Unfortunately, this does mean the game can sometimes feel like a bit of a fetch quest and there is a desire for more puzzles, but helping make the story unfold is a very satisfying thing. There are also regular quick-time events in order to continue the story, too - failing these won't change the story, but will just change the progress of that little scene; so it's the difference from catching Pikachu from falling out of a tree, or having Pikachu crash into you.
The presentation of the game is absolute solid. The graphics are amongst the best that I have seen on the Nintendo 3DS, and rarely have any issues except for a minor frame-rate issue in a small part of the game. The facial recognition for Pikachu is also done really well. The mouth movements are perfect with the dialogue and you can often just turn to Pikachu for small little silly animations of it trying to use attacks, using a magnifying glass on a Shuckle and so forth, adding a further level of humour to the game. The human movement is also very fluid. It's the best that characters and Pokémon have looked in a Pokémon game to date, at least until Pokkén Tournament comes out.
Due to the fact it's a Cinematic Adventure game this is what you'd expect, but it is done particularly well.
There is a notable issue with the game, however. It's unfortunately a bit short. As it's a download title, going in expecting a 20 hour adventure was of course a ridiculous idea, but if you know what you're doing you can probably beat the story in a few hours. Doing so however may make you realise why it's so short, but of course, no spoilers.
Detective Pikachu: Birth of a New Duo is a solid title. While it could use a few more gameplay aspects to break up the monotony of going back and forth between characters in an area, it has the foundations for something that can be absolutely masterful, and as a sequel is likely based on how the story plays out, the prospect of future instalments of the game is very exciting. It's definitely a series to watch.