Pokemon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let's Go, Eevee! represent the first time the series has made its way to the Nintendo Switch. Players have been waiting patiently for some time for a "true" 3D version of the tried-and-true classic RPG gameplay that debuted back on the Game Boy, and now it's finally here.
Sort of, at least. The long-awaited Pokémon Switch adventure, as cute as it may be, isn’t exactly the game fanatics have been waiting for. While it’s got an abundance of fanservice by way of absolutely adorable lead characters, outfits for your Pokémon, rideable Pokémon, and Pokémon Go connectivity, it loses much of what made the original games so bombastic in the first place.
The games have been given a very cute and colorful, if basic, makeover with a fully explorable world and Pokémon models that up the adorable factor, even for the ones that weren’t that attractive to start with. As you make your way throughout the in-game world capturing Pokémon, battling trainers, and earning Gym badges to eventually face the Elite Four and become a Pokémon Champion, you’ll solve various puzzles, collect items, and face off against the nefarious Team Rocket along the way.
Both versions are enhanced remakes, of sorts, of Pokémon Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition, which took cues from the Pokémon anime series and swapped in familiar elements from the show to make changes to Red and Blue. Instead of getting a starter Pokémon like Squirtle, Charmander, or Bulbasaur, you get a Pikachu (or Eevee) for your journey this time around, like the Yellow version.
While both games are largely the same, there are a selection of different Pokémon you can capture, such as Bellsprout in the Eevee version and Oddish in the Pikachu version. Though I reviewed the Pikachu version, I also spent time with the Eevee edition after purchasing it, and these are the biggest differences you’ll face – nothing insurmountable, as you can still get either star Pokémon in both of them.
There are plenty of fun extras, such as the ability to interact with your partner Pokémon in Pikachu or Eevee, much like the games’ previous Pokémon-Amie modes, as well as the option to let any Pokémon of your choosing walk beside you, and if it’s large enough, ride on it. These are fun additions and make the game feel more personal, but largely forgettable in the scheme of things.
Unfortunately, there are a litany of issues that keep Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu from being the major Pokémon 3D release players have been clamoring for since the Nintendo 64. It somehow managed to add a slew of asinine features that don't appeal to its core audience while removing some of the most important and well-loved parts of the series.
Case in point: You cannot battle wild Pokémon before capturing them, except in some rare cases. This happens few and far between in-game, such as with Legendaries like Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres, and other cases like Snorlax and Electrode, with other examples found throughout the world. This was a cornerstone of the original games, and where most of their challenge came from. You didn't know if you'd accidentally knock out the Legendary or rare Pokémon before you could capture it, if it would run away, or if any of those things happened, if you forgot to save beforehand. Plus, whittling down health for these monsters meant you'd have an easier time of capturing them, especially if you could inflict status effects like Sleep, Poison, or Paralysis.
Let's Go, for the most part, only allows you to throw berries and Poke Balls, wasting time and Poké Balls in the process. When you do find the rare exception, the battle that takes place before you can capture the Pokémon has no bearing on whether you'll catch it or not, meaning it's completely throwaway other than the experience you receive for battling. The capture difficulty isn't consistent, either. I once used 30 Ultra Balls in a row (solo and with my co-op partner, from Nice to Great to Excellent throws) to capture Zapdos after I defeated it in battle, only to need just three Ultra Balls to eventually capture Articuno.
It's as if the success rate for various balls is completely random. It’s frustrating, not fun, and removes much of the entertainment factor that came from capturing Pokémon. Random encounters have been removed as well, natch, in favor of seeing Pokémon walking around in the tall grass and roaming around in the world.
In another truly bizarre and disappointing design decision, you may not use the Switch Pro Controller with the game. Your control input options are the Joy-Con (left or right, one at a time), the Poké Ball Plus controller, or the Switch itself in Handheld Mode. Handheld Mode is the only way to play the game with "traditional" control methods and both Joy-Con attached to the screen for the closest thing to the classic Game Boy experience.
This means that capturing Pokémon can be an extremely frustrating affair. If you're not playing in Handheld Mode, you'll be forced to rely on motion controls to throw Poké Balls at your targets. This wouldn't be a problem if the motion controls weren't borderline awful. Occasionally, the Pokémon you're trying to capture will move from side to side or jump around, which means you'll have to aim to the left or right by flicking your Joy-Con or Poké Ball Plus controller. Half the time, this does not work, and you waste a ball in the process. You can aim, clear as day, to the left or right, and it's an absolute crapshoot as to where your ball will land.
The only reliable way to bypass this is by playing in Handheld Mode, where you still have to rely on motion controls by moving the Switch itself to aim, but you don't have to physically mime "throwing" a ball to aim. If you want to play in Docked Mode, you forgo this nicety and are forced to use motion controls, which aren't up to the task. What's more, the differences between Poké Ball to Great Ball to Ultra Ball seem to make little difference, as there were times I managed to capture powerful Pokémon with a Poké Ball when they should have broken out nearly immediately.
Of course, the catch rate can be improved by performing "catch combos" as you're encouraged to capture multiples of the same Pokémon, but it's bizarre that this is the route players are expected to take if they want to better improve their chances at picking up specific monsters. It’s not exactly interesting to farm Pokémon like this (though you’ll have to if you want to improve your chances at finding Shiny Pokémon) and odd that it’s not just an option, but the game pushes it as something you should be doing.
Another frustrating (and insulting) addition are the requirements at each Gym before you may battle the Gym Leaders inside. If you don’t have a Pokémon of a certain level, or of a specific type (or haven’t even caught the correct number of monsters) you cannot enter the Gym to compete. This has never been an issue in the past, and gating off Gyms for those who want a challenge with lower-level Pokémon feels patronizing and babyish, as if the game doesn’t trust you to know your own abilities.
It's painfully simple to progress, as just about anything you do nets you an abundance of EXP. When the series began, there was no convenient way to level all six Pokémon in your party and you'd need to swap in weaker monsters to earn experience while keeping your main ready to go as a "cleaner" at all times. Now you can skip nearly every trainer battle in the game if you time it right and walk past them while they’re looking away – and many of them have this behavior when compared to the original games – and catch Pokémon over and over to farm experience.
It’s shared with everyone on your team no matter what, so you can reach your Pokémon’s most powerful forms and decimate the competition far before it’s appropriate. It’s kind of sad, really, to think that I used a Revive once or twice throughout most of the campaign, and it was because of a few errant attacks knocking my main Pokémon out, as I was never in any danger of losing a fight. You become hilariously overpowered far too quickly through what I’d consider normal play as if the game is scared to let you lose. And that’s not what the games are about or ever have been about, at least to me.
As a lifelong Pokémon fan, having played all the original games and their spin-offs it's hard to sit back and take in all the cuts (they even removed the ability to fish and play games at the Game Corner). There were no meaningful additions spliced in, save for the integration with Pokémon Go, but they’re hardly a good reason to pay full price for the game – neither is the Poké Ball Plus accessory, which is the only way to get the legendary Pokémon Mew at present.
Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! is an occasionally fun and mostly enjoyable return to the Kanto region for veteran Trainers, but it's disappointingly bereft of many of the things that made Pokémon great in the first place. There's no doubt casual players will take no issue with the watered-down mechanics, missing features, and excessive handholding, but for anyone looking for a core Pokémon game, you'll want to wait for the next Switch iteration. Take this stroll down Poké-memory lane only if you’re not expecting anything too fantastic.