We’re now just over a year into the Switch’s life and, despite knowing that the core Pokémon franchise will make the leap from 3DS to the new hybrid console at some point in the future, we know absolutely nothing about how the series might evolve with the huge system differences. Keeping the Poké-dream alive on the dedicated handheld, however, is Detective Pikachu, and between its fresh approach to storytelling and wonderful visual presentation of the franchise’s world, we’d be more than happy to see some inspiration be taken from this spin-off for future titles.
The game seems to be the beginning of a new side to the franchise that The Pokémon Company deeply believes in - we already have a live-action film in the works with some pretty big names on board – and rightly so; we haven’t really seen a Pokémon game quite like this before and it shines brighter because of it. Sitting somewhere between the likes of the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games and the core series, Detective Pikachu gives you a great sense of how humans and Pokémon live together, allowing you to properly see both sides of that dynamic.
Detective Pikachu himself is undoubtedly the star of the show. While the initial shock of seeing that cute little mouse we’ve adored for 20 years suddenly turn into a gruff, heavy coffee-drinking sass machine took us slightly off guard, he soon had us chuckling away at his little patronising comments. Working alongside Pikachu is Tim Goodman, the human hero in the story, and together they make a truly likeable team that could easily work well on the big screen. There’s a bucket-load of charm shared between the pair of them, usually appearing during mini cutscenes, with Pikachu comically stealing the limelight wherever possible. You won’t be able to trigger every single one of these scenes in a single playthrough, but the giant Pikachu amiibo will allow you to unlock them all, should you be lucky enough to have one at your disposal.
The gameplay itself sees the two tackling cases together, with Tim talking to humans and Pikachu talking to other Pokémon as they explore Ryme City to find out what has happened to Tim’s father - and solve a variety of criminal mysteries along the way. Tim can understand what Pikachu is saying which, aside from working as a comedic effect, also plays a part in the grand scheme of the plot. You can ask potential witnesses questions from a menu of options, gathering little nuggets of information that will later be used to crack each case, and as you discover more and more info, you’ll also be able to go back and talk to the same people (or Pokémon) to ask them new questions based on your latest findings. Talking to everyone is key as you’ll always be able to find out the information you need from those around you.
The bottom screen of the 3DS houses menus that keep all of the information you’ve uncovered safely written down for you; if you forget what someone has said, you can just check back through all of the notes there. Once you and Pikachu have collected enough information, your electric buddy will prompt you to solve the case, tasking you with remembering what has been said and piecing different bits of the puzzle together. For the most part this is all very standard, easy stuff, but you do have to pay attention to what’s going on unless you want to just guess your way through Pikachu’s quizzes; there were times when we weren’t 100% confident on our answers, even with this approach.
Aside from this gameplay loop there are also sections that contain quick time events, tasking you with pressing the ‘A’ button at the right time to trigger the next cutscene or mashing the button to interact with objects. There is no real penalty for missing these, though, as you’ll usually just be treated to a slightly different scene if you mess up. One early example sees Pikachu falling from a great height and, should you leave it too long before pressing the button to catch him, he’ll simply bounce off you safely and carry on regardless.
The game is split up into nine different chapters, tripling in size from the initial Japanese release’s three. These vary in length from anywhere between 40 minutes and a couple of hours’ worth of playtime, and showcase a great variety of locations such as caves, laboratories, a cafe, a beach, and more. The tasks you’ll be completing over the course of the game feel pretty repetitive, so the differences in scenery are welcome - especially in certain chapters which provide you with a much larger area to explore.
Some chapters have quite a limited, linear feel to them, seeing you explore back and forth, left to right through sectioned-off areas, but the larger ones open the game up a little further, often containing maps to help you get around. The larger chapters tend to offer a wider variety of gameplay styles, too, with some traditional-feeling point-and-click style action being present on occasion where you’ll need to examine crime scenes for key evidence.
The game isn’t without its problems, though; that sense of repetition we mentioned is an ever-present issue that naturally builds and builds with each passing hour. The story is truly gripping and, when you couple that with the constant location changes, you’ll definitely want to see the game through to the end, but with most cases being a little too simple for mature audiences, you might start to lose a little of the initial excitement later on. Similarly, making any wrong guesses – or doing anything incorrect at all, in fact – has absolutely no consequence on the game. This is great for younger players who will need second chances, of course, but it means that you can just keep pressing every dialogue response with no thought whatsoever until you pick the correct answers, if you so wish.
There are moments where you’ll figure out cases early on, too – and you might even spot key items that will play a central part of the chapter – but until the game formally directs you towards that particular goal, you’ll be unable to do anything about it. It makes sense, being a narrative-driven game, but occasionally this feels like sections are being stretched a little to push up the game’s 10 to 12 hour length.
Despite these little niggles, though, we couldn’t help but come away from the game with ridiculously wide grins on our faces (even if we were surprised to see everything end so soon). Detective Pikachu presents the Pokémon world in the way many of us dreamt about growing up; people and Pokémon interact with each other just like in the anime series, with each monster having their very own unique and wonderful personality, and it is this aspect that we’d love to see make its way to the main series.
The visuals only boost the magic and wonder, too, with some of the most gorgeous character models we’ve seen in the series appearing throughout. Watching a Ludicolo waitress perform an adorable little song and dance, as well as carrying coffee mugs on her lily pad-style head, is a true wonder to behold. The game doesn’t contain any 3D visual support, which is a shame considering how pretty it can be, but you’ll likely be too soaked up in the storytelling to care.
Detective Pikachu might be described as a spin-off, but the visual and narrative direction the game has taken is an incredibly welcome one that we would love to see again. The gameplay can be a little too easy and repetitive at times, and we were surprised to see the ending appear so abruptly, but everything is presented within a very solid package that will have kids and adults alike hooked. Dedicated fans of the series will likely get the most out of the experience, with the game’s art, storytelling, and genuinely likeable cast showing the world of Pokémon in a great new light, but we’d urge anyone interested to give this one a go. Our adventure only just ended but we’re missing our Pika-pal already.