With the Switch gearing up for its second holiday season on the market, the time has finally come for the hybrid machine to get its first taste of core series Pokémon action. Acting as a reimagining of Pokémon Yellow – an already enhanced version of the series’ first titles Pokémon Red and Blue – Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee! have taken all of the nostalgia-filled loveliness of their origins, added a healthy sprinkling of modern flavourings and preservatives and cooked up a brand new entry full of fan service, bold changes and plenty of intrigue. So, without further ado, let’s go (ahem) and explore everything that these games have to offer.
For fans of the original titles, walking around this reimagined version of Kanto is a dream come true; seeing all the cities and characters come to life thanks to a new HD makeover and cutesy animations brings back memories of our first experiences with the franchise, fully realising the level of detail we imagined in our heads rather than the blurry pixels present on our monochrome Game Boy screens. It isn’t just the overall art style that impresses, either; little details like Pokémon posters in bedroom walls, adorable Oddish vases in living spaces and paintings lining the walls of the much more majestic S.S. Anne make the world feel more alive than ever before.
Having said that, everything has been meticulously recreated to ensure that even the most diehard fans of the originals will be pleased. The creepy man standing outside of the Celadon City Gym? He’s there. The singing Jigglypuff in the Pewter City Pokémon Center? Present and correct. As fans of the original games who know Kanto like the back of our hands, we couldn’t help but smile seeing all of these moments reintroduced, and we wish that the feature-length movie’s worth of trailers that have appeared over the last few months hadn’t spoilt quite so many of the world’s familiar scenes.
Of course, there are some very significant changes in the actual gameplay – including the way in which you now catch your Pokémon friends – and this has more of an impact than you might expect. You'll still be working your way through the Pokémon League, earning Gym badges on the road to becoming Champion, but Pokémon: Let’s Go takes heavy inspiration from the mobile sensation Pokémon GO, scrapping the usual 'battle, weaken, and capture' mechanic for a simpler 'throw-the-ball-only' catching scenario. A coloured ring appears in front of your target monster (with the colour in question letting you know how difficult the capture will be to perform) and it’s your job to simply throw a Poké Ball into it as it steadily shrinks, hoping for a successful catch. The smaller the ring is when you hurl your ball through it, the bigger the bonus will be.
If you’re playing docked, your throws are performed by swinging your Joy-Con or Poké Ball Plus controller forward, as if you really were throwing a ball. In the early stages of the game, we quite enjoyed this technique, with each successful capture feeling incredibly satisfying; as time went on, though, it became clear that the new control method brought with it several issues which slowly but surely started to frustrate. If a Pokémon jumps to the left or right of the screen, you’ll likely find yourself needing to throw the ball in that direction, but getting your controller to register a diagonal throw is easier said than done; sometimes we even found our ball flying to the side rather than straight as we had intended. On top of this, the on-screen throwing action will sometimes be slightly delayed from when you moved the controller, annoyingly ruining what could have been an ‘excellent’ throw and proving that it just can’t be as accurate as the touchscreen catching in its mobile counterpart.
This actually provides us with a nice chance to quickly explain the differences between the available controller setups. If you want to play on the TV, you can either use a single Joy-Con or the new Poké Ball Plus controller. The Poké Ball controller is fun, has a lovely, high-quality feel to it and can even be used to take your Pokémon out for a walk in the real world, but it can actually be pretty frustrating to use. The ‘A’ button (which selects options from menus) is mapped to a press of the control stick, making it all too easy to accidentally move the stick just before pressing it and select the wrong option, and navigating menus takes longer with access to just two buttons. The single Joy-Con approach is much more comfortable in many ways, with no mistakes occurring from button placement, and performing actions in the game’s menus is effortlessly quick and easy – we found ourselves favouring the Joy-Con for the most part, if we're honest.
If you sacrifice the magic of having your Pokémon on the big screen, playing in handheld mode feels much closer to games gone by and is perhaps the ideal interface. The catching mechanic is tremendously improved, too; you throw a ball with the ‘A’ button rather than swinging anything, and you can follow the Pokémon around on screen using either gyro movements or with the left stick. The gyro is always turned on, so subtle movements will make your aim wobble, but we found this so, so much easier to use when catching trickier Pokémon later in the game. There are pros and cons to each setup, and we usually found ourselves switching from single Joy-Con to handheld and back again, depending on our in-game situation.
An awful lot has been said about how the new games seem easier to beat than previous instalments in the series and this is very true, although this change in difficulty presents itself in multiple ways that are usually for the better. For example, a second player can join the game at almost any time to give newcomers a helping hand – whether by doubling up in battle or helping to catch a Pokémon – but this is completely optional and very nicely executed. The second player can effortlessly drop in or drop out with a shake of a Joy-Con, allowing a more experienced player to take control of a second Pokémon in a tricky battle if their friend (or younger family member) is struggling, but there’s never any need to do this if you’d prefer to play alone.
A lot of the ease also comes from simple refinement, which actually helps the now 20-year-old game feel less of a chore to play through. Wild Pokémon can now be seen in the overworld rather than simply existing as random encounters, meaning that you can actually travel through Rock Tunnel and Mt. Moon without triggering approximately 80 billion Zubat battles along the way. Similarly, you can now access your Pokémon storage directly from your bag and switch your party on the fly, negating the need to travel to a Pokémon Center. The changes might take a little getting used to for those who have played these games for years, but after a handful of hours you’ll wonder how on Earth you managed to live without them, and the game moves at a much quicker pace as a result.
Having said that, some of the changes do take away some of the challenge in slightly unnecessary ways. The affection stat first introduced in Pokémon X and Y appears in Kanto for the first time, with your Pokémon now sometimes able to dodge attacks, land more critical hits in battle, and even shrug off poison and paralysis effects if your bond is high enough, and key NPCs arrive to offer guidance (and even offer to take you to the next location in the story) in any parts of the game where you’d usually be left to your own devices. Essentially, for better or worse, Pokémon: Let’s Go removes all the menacing RPG elements that feel like a chore (we never had to grind for XP to take on battles, either, as opponents never caused us too much trouble until post-game), and we imagine different players will like and dislike different changes depending on their playstyle, lifestyle and experience with the franchise.
So, does this mean that the so-called ‘hardcore’ audience won’t have anything to enjoy here? Absolutely not. While we’d urge any seasoned fans of the series to think of the main story as a more chilled out version of games gone by, there are still plenty of things to get stuck into. For starters, each Pokémon still has its own, unique IVs and EVs (values which alter the potential stats of a Pokémon behind the scenes) and these can actually be worked with in much clearer ways than ever before. Catching Pokémon, or transferring them to Professor Oak, earns you Candy, and this can be used to bump up individual stats. You can even use a ‘Judge’ ability to have each of your Pokémon’s stats assessed, giving you an instant look at which Pokémon might be suitable for competitive play without getting out the calculator and graph paper and scrolling through online databases for the rest of time.
If you keep catching the same Pokémon over and over again in succession, you’ll also start to build up a catch combo. If you keep this combo up (having a Pokémon flee or accidentally walking into another Pokémon on the map will break it), you’ll notice that the Pokémon you encounter start to get much better stats – and this also increases your chances of finding a shiny Pokémon, too. You might also be interested to know that even legendary Pokémon still have their own unique stats, and soft-resetting the game before an encounter allows you to keep catching them to assess their potential.
If those last couple of paragraphs just went way over your head – don’t worry. The games cater to people of all experience levels nicely, and players can play the game at the level which they choose, ignoring aspects which don’t appeal to them. Another heavy dose of challenge that’s much easier to understand is the post-game Master Trainers – 151 different trainers who challenge you to one-on-one battles with a chosen Pokémon. Each one has a level 75 version of one Pokémon in the Pokédex, and you must face them with the same Pokémon – no items allowed. Catching all 151 Pokémon, training them all up to that high a level, and working on tactics to beat each opponent is an incredible task to work towards, and one that we envision taking hundreds of hours. If you want the challenge, it’s there for the taking.
Before we wrap things up, there are just a couple of things left to mention. Firstly, you may already be aware that Pokémon: Let’s Go can sync up with your Pokémon GO mobile account. Unfortunately, this service is yet to go live at the time of writing, but expect to be able to transfer your smartphone critters over to the main game to snag Alolan forms, version exclusives and even play around in minigames. Similarly, the main online functionality isn’t currently accessible, but players can either trade or battle (in single or double matches) with other users over the internet or local communication. To do so, players must enter the same three-character code, and a Nintendo Switch Online subscription is needed for any online play. If there are any major issues experienced with these features, we’ll be sure to update our review accordingly.
Finally, a quick note on performance. The game plays beautifully in docked mode, with a silky smooth frame rate running throughout and gorgeous settings and character models. We noticed the occasional bit of slowdown while playing in handheld mode (always in the more heavily populated areas such as Viridian Forest, where lots of Pokémon can spawn on screen at the same time) although this didn’t have any real impact on our enjoyment.
Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee! are beautiful reimaginings of a video game classic, updating a 20-year-old game in ways which make it infinitely more accessible and user-friendly for a modern audience, while keeping the magic first discovered all those years ago. On the downside, the newly-introduced motion control mechanic is fun but flawed, forcing us to shift from one play style to another to get the best experience, and while efforts have been made to bring the game up to the standard of more recent entries when it comes to depth and complexity, hardcore fans may consider the whole experience too much of a cakewalk. Still, the game does a superb job of striking a balance between being an easy route of entry for newcomers to the series and offering just enough post-game challenge and competitive play elements (and nostalgia, of course) to please series veterans; as a result, these new titles really do offer something for everyone, which can't always be said of the mainline Pokémon entries. They might not be an absolute masterpiece, but we’d urge any Poké-fans out there to give these ones a go – if a Let’s Go Johto sequel is on the cards, we’ll happily be there waiting in line.
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