For as long as there have been Pokémon games, there have been spinoffs. From Pinball and photography, to dungeon crawling and racing, they’ve seen varying degrees of success on the platform of choice. One of the strangest is Detective Pikachu, in which a gruff Pikachu solves crimes, which has now finally been localised. With a movie also in the works, is this a spinoff that breaks that mould into its own series?
Things begin with a mysterious disappearance of a detective, prompting Tim Goodman to travel to the city to search for his father. Along the way, he comes across a Pikachu with a deer stalker cap that he can somehow communicate with, and who also has amnesia. Together with a wide cast of characters, they investigate many cases, including the activities of an evil organisation that seem connected with Tim’s father’s disappearance.
Detective games tend to live or die by the quality of the cases. Sadly, Detective Pikachu’s cases come across as a bit simple, only really testing player’s memories of testimonies and side comments. Most can be solved by talking to everyone and matching their testimonies to the puzzle’s question. They even have a sort of deus ex machina moment where Pikachu has a “Bolt of Brilliance”, basically solving the mystery instead of having the player resolve the case themselves.
It’s slightly lazy design in that respect, though since Pokémon has a kid friendly demographic, this simplified approach does ensure players of all ages can resolve each case. Some revolve around finding lost items, others investigating the actions of a sinister organisation, and it’s arguable that the main drive of Tim’s character to find his father quickly becomes overshadowed by every other problem. Certainly for me, the story fell flat as this tonal shift occurred.
That isn’t to say that it isn’t well told in places, with a vast amount of in-engine cutscenes that bring the world of Pokémon to life, which is complemented by the large amount of dialogue being fully and competently voiced. This goes as far as to including the Pokémon themselves saying their name rather than using Pokémon cries. Detective Pikachu sounds appropriately gruff and as a character is incredibly well realised, being the highlight of the game.
While most Pokémon games tend to have an anime aesthetic, Detective Pikachu’s human characters are rendered in a Pixar-like style rather than anime Cel-Shaded. It’s an odd choice to be frank, since the human characters have always had a Japanese anime style, either when rendered in 3D or shown in sprites, while Detective Pikachu has a distinctly more Western feel. It’s by no means bad though, as everything looks especially nice on the 3DS; just otherwise different and slightly jarring.
On top of questioning both people and Pokémon to find the answers for questions in a case, the only other thing Detective Pikachu has for gameplay are Quick Time Events, which are either mashing on the A button or pressing the A button in time with a circle. It does change the gameplay, but these sequences really don’t really add anything compelling to the game. There is a sequence where you participate in a mini-game later on, but there’s little reward should you succeed.
Detective Pikachu is a deceptively small game with simple cases and not a heck of a lot else. As someone whose detective itch is usually scratched by the Phoenix Wright games, this felt like solving the really easy introduction cases in each, rather than challenging logic and reason. It certainly has the presentation chops, but the people who’ll get the most out of Detective Pikachu are diehard Pokémon fans and younger gamers.