Suffice to say, fans were suitably surprised when Nintendo lifted the lid on Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee!; instead of the follow-up generation to Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon that many expected, Nintendo teased a reimagining of one of the first games, with some Pokémon GO mechanics thrown in for good measure. It was concerning, considering that this is the first time that the main Pokémon series has been available on a home console, but after our recent demo session, it feels safe to say that Game Freak knows what it’s doing.
Our demo saw us exploring the Viridian Forest, the first environment that you encounter upon setting foot outside Pallet Town. Indeed, the years have certainly been kind to the locale; sunlight filters between the leaves and casts convincing shadows on the grassy floor, and the forest feels more alive than ever with myriad Pokémon flitting about between trees and darting around playfully in the grass. This is the Viridian Forest as you imagined it when playing through Pokémon Red and Blue all those years ago, but this time your imagination isn't having to fill in the gaps. Though the new art style and graphical look may not be the kind to blow anyone away, the colourful aesthetic is both enticing and cute, just like it’s always been. But it’s clear, too, that Game Freak doesn’t want to simply repaint Pokémon Yellow and call it a day.
Much noise has been made about how wild Pokémon battles will be handled, but we find that it’s a change for the better. Rather than being assaulted by an army of Rattata every time you take three steps in tall grass, you can now see the Pokémon on the overworld map and walk away from them if you so wish. Catching the Pokémon is handled exactly as you remember it from Niantic’s Pokémon GO; you can soften up the ‘mon with some berries, and then it’s a matter of watching that famous contracting circle before tossing the ball at the right moment.
Now, catching is done entirely via motion controls — docked or undocked — but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do it in style. The Poké Ball Plus — a fancy Joy-Con reimagined as a real Poké Ball — goes a long way towards building immersion in this process, and is simply a joy to use. Tossing the ball at the screen (hopefully without letting go of it), triggers a gyro sensor that makes your trainer toss the ball at the Pokémon.
In that tense moment when it shakes, an LED light on the front flashes yellow before turning to a satisfying green and proudly playing a soundbite of the Pokémon’s cry, as if it were really trapped inside the ball. This is just as cool as it sounds, and the build quality of the ball feels surprisingly premium. It’s weighty, the buttons click nicely, and the sound of a Pokémon’s cry doesn’t sound too tinny. Indeed, it certainly makes catching Pokémon more enjoyable and immersive and makes it rather easy to forget that you don’t actually fight the Pokémon at any point.
Many have decried this removal of battle mechanics, but it really is more of a streamlining of the catching process than it is a step backwards. Your team still gains the same experience that it would if the Pokémon were knocked out, but this time, you don’t have to sift through menus a handful of times and spam some attacks to make it happen. Wild Pokémon battles were never about the battle itself anyway; they were always about catching the prey or gaining experience for your party, both of which are amply covered by this new system.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper Pokémon game if there weren’t some form of battling action, and that aspect is handled through the trainer battles. Just like in the old games, walking across a trainer’s line of sight will trigger a fight, and the ensuing conflicts are exactly as you remember them from past games (four moves each, turn-based, rock-paper-scissors, etc.). Although this battle format feels so dated by this point that you can practically hear it creak, the simplicity still has a certain enduring charm, and none of it has been lost here. If anything, it’s better than ever.
The Pokémon models are obviously of the highest quality they’ve ever been, and little features like being able to see the texture and detail of Pikachu’s fur show that the developers took their time to do things right; this isn’t a simple upscale of the models that were used in Pokémon Sun and Moon. The new art style used here feels simultaneously nostalgic and new; there’s no enormous overhaul of how Pokémon, characters, or environments look, but they have a sort of stylized appearance to them that no previous game has managed to capture.
Pokémon: Let’s Go! Pikachu and Let’s Go! Eevee feel far more like the original games than one would think, something which may be a positive or negative depending on where your opinions rest on the franchise. Though technically spin-offs, we didn’t see much here that set them apart from their predecessors — other than the reworking of how Pokémon are encountered and caught — and there were some parts (like the overall design of the Virdian Forest) that feel straight out of 1996, in the “Wow, this place is a lot smaller than I remember” kind of way.
This does admittedly raise some concerns, as Nintendo plans on selling these in the fall for sixty bucks (or more, with the Poké Ball). Considering that you can buy Pokémon Yellow for a tenner on the 3DS eShop, we’d hope there’s more to this reimagining than pretty graphics, streamlined catching, and a real Poké Ball; it’s hard to see how a reskinned Game Boy game is worth the price of a modern console game. Still, we’d be willing to bet there’s more to the experience than Nintendo was willing to show, so fingers crossed that more, new content is revealed in the coming months. Connectivity with Pokémon GO is a big deal, for instance.
Pokémon: Let’s Go! Pikachu and Let’s Go! Eevee may not have been the Gen 8 that fans were expecting, but make no mistake, these feel every bit as worthy of the core Pokémon franchise. Though it may be worrying that the games are adhering a little too tightly to the game they’re based on, new changes like the streamlining of Pokémon encounters show that there’s still some fresh ideas to be imbued in this classic. Kanto has never looked this good, and this is a revisit that we’re sure will be worth taking.