Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! (2018)
Nintendo | Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
A blast from the past
Just before the release of Mystery Dungeon on Friday, it’s another Pokemon review! My sister got a new Switch Lite for Christmas, and bought herself a copy of Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! to play. When she had finished it (she blazed through it in about 3 or 4 days) she let me borrow it. With mechanics that blend the gameplay of both the staple Pokemon franchise, and the new style of Pokemon Go, Let’s Go, Pikachu! is a fun, if not terribly unique, rendition of the original games. The Kanto region is back in its third feature game, and sees you progress through the newly stylized world on your way to becoming a better Pokemon trainer. However, in this version, you’ll have a designated partner Pokemon that will be your closest friend on your journey: you have a choice between Pikachu or Eevee (depending on the game you buy). Pikachu will stay out of its pokeball, and be with you every step of the way (a la Pokemon Yellow). With the help of your partner, you’ll take on Team Rocket, the Gym Challenge, and become the first ever Champion of the Pokemon League – so let’s go!
You’ve got a friend in me
I love Pikachu. Kidd, specifically – my Pikachu. All the cutscenes with him were absolutely adorable, and they did a fantastic job of integrating him into the story. I didn’t think he would feel that special to me, but he really did. And useful? God bless whoever decided to make the HM moves all usable by your partner Pokemon – they take up no slots, and are all available at any time – so no more need for an HM slave in your party. The Partner Play feature was also particularly enjoyable. Similar to the Amie function from X/Y, you can play with your partner in this specific mode in order to boost your friendship, and get more benefits while battling. The other Pokemon on your team can get similar boosts from walking with you outside of their pokeballs, so make sure you give each member a chance! I always have, and always will, love any kind of mechanic that encourages your Pokemon to work harder by being friendlier to them; having a strong bond reflect their capabilities in battle is a fantastic element, and it’s certainly welcome in this title, which emphasizes these bonds above all.
Battling has taken a slight backseat in Let’s Go! which incorporates the catching mechanics of Pokemon Go, rather than having you fight wild Pokemon. While you’ll still be squaring up against other Pokemon trainers along the routes between towns, wild encounters are now exclusively catch-only. The coloured rings indicate how difficult a Pokemon will be to capture (green for easy, red for hard) and some are inherently easier to capture than others. The berries from Pokemon Go are also present, some making Pokemon friendlier and easier to catch (Razz), while others will calm a Pokemon’s sporadic movement (Nanab), making it calmer. You can tilt the Nintendo Switch around to aim your throws, depending on how and where the Pokemon moves. I found it pretty hilarious to tilt the Switch around (especially in public) so I didn’t mind this mechanic too much. The modern inclusion of overworld Pokemon was also a huge improvement to random encounters, and made going through caves and other grassy areas much less annoying.
Gotta catch ’em all
The only aspect of the catching system that really bothered me was the non-effect that Great or Excellent throws seemed to have on your chances of a successful capture. Allegedly, getting these quality throws (when the circle is at its smallest, and you’re able to hit the center) increases the capture rate, but it sure didn’t seem like it. I would get something like 5 Excellent throws in a row, all of which the Pokemon would arbitrarily escape from, only to biff my next throw, and capture it immediately. Lovely. This was an ongoing situation throughout the game, and I did find it frustrating, mainly because of the way EXP is calculated. Regardless of how many Excellent throws I managed to get, it never seemed to make capturing a Pokemon any faster, or easier, than if I just carelessly lobbed normal throws.
This game is STINGY in the way EXP is doled out. While giving too much per capture would make it too easy to become overpowered, beyond the first quarter of the game, it really felt like catching Pokemon was a waste of time. This is problematic given that catching ‘mons is one of the main pulls of this particular title. If you’ve caught a Pokemon before (i.e. it’s not your first time encountering it), and you don’t get a Great or Excellent throw, nor do you capture one that has a ‘special’ size (some have auras that indicate they’re either Tiny or Huge) you’ll be getting around 200 EXP. Obviously, when your Pokemon are at higher levels, this is absolutely nothing. Getting a reasonable amount depends on a) capturing a Pokemon for the first time, and b) getting an Excellent throw. With my above complaint, about missing out on Excellent throws, it made capturing Pokemon feel kind of pointless. Once you’ve caught one, there is no point in catching any more of that species – unless you’re hunting for shinies. I occasionally felt like my Pokemon were underleveled, simply because battling trainers seemed to be the only reliable way to get a reasonable amount of EXP. The game does provide ‘Candies’ to help improve your stats, but that’s no fun.
First generation problems
It’s hard to have underleveled Pokemon when you have to face down the Gym challenge, but I had a balanced enough team that I didn’t struggle too much when facing the Gym Leaders. I loved the Gym re-designs, and the 3D models for the Leaders were all rendered phenomenally well. Sabrina has always been my favourite leader in Kanto (mostly because of the anime, she was scary as hell) and her fight was still my favourite. Misty, Erika, and Blaine’s gym’s all got overhauled as well, and I enjoyed getting to revisit the original leaders to see what kinds of changes had been made. Kanto in general looks fantastic in this title; getting to see Gary Oak, and Jessie and James in all their glory, as well as the Lavender Tower scene with Marowak was incredible with the improved graphics.
Though graphics are a significant step up in this title compared to past iterations of the original games, I can’t say that other older elements didn’t frustrate me. In fact, the outdated elements stood out as even more glaring, because of all the other improvements. I’d forgotten how awful the level-up moves learned by the starter Pokemon were – though it’s great to be able to have all three on a single team (you bet your ass I had a Venusaur, Blastoise, and Charizard) I went through about 50% of the game with Charizard’s only Fire-type move being Ember. Unless you hold back their evolutions for several levels, all their moves are hot garbage. For context, my Charizard was at level 56 upon completing the game, and it doesn’t learn Flamethrower until level 47. LEVEL 47.
I experienced similar issues with Venusaur and Blastoise. Pikachu, however, gets access to several exclusive moves, like Zippy Zap, and Splishy Splash, which are actually really good, despite their horrendous names. Also, dude, where’s my bike? Getting to ride Charizard was a great substitute, but I didn’t have a Charizard until the final third of the game. Mostly, these complaints just made me think about the quality of life improvements that have been made in the games since Red/Blue’s release over a decade ago. Some of these issues (like the lack of held items) simply made me miss the newer games.
Back to Route 1
I’m not sure how many times I can make the argument that “while this game wasn’t particularly unique, I think it’s a great title to get new players/kids into the franchise” until we accept that everyone has played Pokemon, and these newer, hand-holdy titles aren’t needed anymore. I do understand that this particular title is geared more toward children, but it simply didn’t bring anything exceptional to the table. It was very cute, and very wholesome. But the customization options aren’t as extensive as other titles, the Pokemon selection is limited, and the catching mechanics (and lack of reward for doing it) get old very quickly. While I enjoyed the partner-Pokemon aspects, this Kanto re-tread didn’t do enough to make me love the game itself. I certainly enjoyed my time with it, and had forgotten how much I loved the OG Pokemon story (that Marowak section still hits hard, man) but I think we can put the Kanto games to bed now. I think we’ve all walked these routes, and battled these Gym Leaders enough times now. While Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! is a solid, perfectly adequate Pokemon game, it’s just that – nothing more, nothing less.
A final thanks to my excellent team, as always: to Kidd (Pikachu) Ragnar (Charizard), Biorr (Venusaur), Lucatiel (Pidgeot), Hadrian (Blastoise), and Atreus (Marowak) – ya’ll the real MVP’s.