Nintendo Switch's Pokémon Let's Go, with its Eevee and Pikachu editions, hit shelves a few weeks ago. It's the first time that something akin to the main series of Pokémon games — Red, Blue, Yellow, and everything that came after on handheld — has been released on a home console. (The Nintendo Switch is certainly a home console, even with caveats.) It's a combination of those games that came before and the smartphone game, Pokémon Go, but how does it hold up as a mixing of the two?
Pretty well, actually. Which wasn't a guarantee at all.
See, Pokémon Go isn't really a Pokémon game, not in the strictest sense. It takes some significant liberties with the core series, and it isn't the first game to bear the name "Pokémon" while being somewhat (or totally) different. Pokemon Go was far different than the original games, and its immense and immediate popularity had an obvious effect on Pokémon Let's Go.
In fact, speculation prior to the reveal of the game's many features (and subsequent launch) had folks concerned that the game would skew too far toward Pokémon Go, creating a sort of no-win situation. The reality of it is that Pokémon Let's Go had to please two masters: fans of the mainline series of games like Pokémon Sun and Moon, and fans of Pokémon Go. The Venn diagram there isn't a total overlap, so it's fair that folks were a little worried.
The overworld is the biggest get, so to speak, from the mainline series. There's something inherently pleasing about the original Pokémon region, Kanto. Professor Oak, Brock, Misty, the original Elite Four… for many players, these are cultural touchstones that are immediately nostalgic. Updating that for the first attempt at a console Pokemon game like this was a no-brainer, and easily the biggest thing to take from the original series.
The mobile game lacks any significant story or overarching plot, and borrowing that of Pokémon Yellow — which itself borrows many points of interest from the original anime series — only serves to bolster literally everything about the game. In the same way that the overworld is nostalgic to earlier games, Pokémon Yellow is nostalgic to the anime series.
As for Pokémon Go, the game's biggest gift to Pokémon Let's Go has to be the lack of random encounters. Being able to see Pokémon walking around, including whether they are shiny, is an incredible boon, and something that perhaps all mainline games going forward should emulate. Yes, the actual chances of seeing any given Pokémon are still random, but being able to tell if you're taking on a Clefairy or yet another Zubat is a gift that keeps on giving.
Though there are legitimate criticisms of how the game incorporates motion controls and capture mechanics, it's honestly a refreshing change of pace from the typical method of "beat up your opponent to within an inch of its life, put it to sleep, then throw a bunch of Poké Balls" from the mainline series. There's still a small complexity to it with berries, when to throw, and the like, but simplifying it to basically "throw a ball, catch a Pokémon" is incredibly satisfying.
Pokémon Let's Go wisely keeps the original method of battling trainers, however. While it's not particularly fun or interesting to have your Pokemon smack around wild critters, picking and choosing moves in a turn-based battle using your trained Pokemon is another thing entirely. Pokémon Go's battling — which is really just… hitting a couple buttons, if we're being honest — isn't particularly tactical, and sometimes complexity makes for a more interactive, granular experience.
All of this only leads to one very specific problem: pleasing nobody. There's a real possibility that fans of the mainline series will find the changes applied from Pokémon Go to be too much, too clearly designed for mobile aesthetics. An oversimplification.
Meanwhile, fans of Pokémon Go may well see the adherence to the old ways as going backward, reverting to a design that's been iterated upon. Plus, while there's some somewhat significant crossover between the two, there's really no way for Pokémon Let's Go to affect Pokémon Go; it's a one-way street.
For my money, however, this first attempt is a good initial offering. It isn't perfect, by any means, but it meshes the best of both worlds into a solid single product. There's much to learn from Pokémon Go for both the developers of whatever comes next after Pokémon Sun and Moon and Pokémon Go's continued process. And honestly? That feels like the whole point.
For what amounts to an exploratory product offering, Pokémon Let's Go is shockingly effective. One might even say it's… super effective.