It’s safe to say the upcoming Pokémon Let’s Go games have garnered quite the bit of attention since they were announced in the Nintendo Direct just before E3. While both games have been mostly well-received, there have been some concerns over the smaller changes to the traditional Pokémon RPG formula. So as you could imagine, I was over the moon to discover a playable demo booth at the Nintendo’s Smash Bros. Invitational event and to see what the fuss was all about.
Prior to playing the demo, a Nintendo employee strapped this rather cool Poké Ball Plus accessory to my hand, taught me simple throwing techniques and explained that I’d be exploring Viridian Forest using the Poké Ball centrepiece as an analogue stick. This actually felt really nice to use as it was much lighter than a controller, and your hand is also in a more relaxed position. It was very innovative, but quite unintuitive when it came to actually catching things.
The Viridian Forest area follows the same layout with some slight differences to patches of grass, the obvious improvement in overall graphics and general lighting. The games keep the same angled, top-down camera but the image quality for models is much sharper, but this time you have one of your Pokémon running behind you, and you see some Pokémon roaming through patches of grass that you can approach and battle. Some of these are colour coded in a way which indicates their size, where they can either be small, tiny, or big which means they have stat advantages depending on their size.
In addition to variety in the size of Pokémon, the actual Pokémon encounters are different too. Players are able to find Oddish, Bulbasaur and many more in the area, which wasn’t the case in Red, Blue, Yellow, Fire Red or Leaf Green. Game Freak wanted to make this game feel new, while still taking inspiration and region layout from the classic games, so it covers the bases very well for both new players and those returning to the region. Squirtle and Charmander can also be found in the wild, but not in Viridian Forest which is Bulbasaur’s domain. This change in Pokémon locations also means that returning players can run these games with a whole new team, with new discoveries and surprises always to be found.
Actually catching these Pokémon with the Poké Ball does take a bit of getting used to. Even a mere Caterpie or Weedles is impossible to catch if you can’t hit them with the ball, and you need to find the right motion and rhythm to do so. The Poké Ball takes a moment to calibrate once you click the stick to let you throw, and going too quickly can result in a shockingly wonky throw. It is something that’s still being worked on and optimised before release, we were told.
After a few failed catching attempts, our guide suggested that the red part of the ball also had to be facing the screen for improved execution, and so I combined this tip with a steady over-arm throw and seemed to be getting great and excellent captures more frequently, with the odd hiccup in-between. You can also throw under-arm, if you prefer, while twisting the ball when in motion doesn’t spin the ball as in Pokémon Go, but is rather how you angle the throw if you’re trying to catch a moving Pokémon.
There will be button controls, if you prefer, but playing with the Poké Ball felt surprisingly natural despite this initial hurdle. It’s a cute accessory, especially when you learn that you can store a Pokémon within it and take it with you.
After each successful throw though, every Pokémon in your party gets EXP, which is much more efficient way to level up than decimating the population of Pidgey and Rattata in Kanto. Within this area, it left us massively overpowered for the trainer battles, so it will be interesting to see how this is balanced.
Another unexpected thing I noticed during wild encounters in Let’s Go is that when you throw a Razz Berry, which Pokémon Go players know makes things easier to catch; the Pokémon will sometimes run away after being fed. This doesn’t happen in Pokémon Go as they only flee after a ball has been thrown at them and they break out suddenly. While it’s not overly important, I did waste a few berries this way and I feel it defies the point of using a Razz Berry.
In trainer battles, the game feels like the traditional turn-based franchise we’ve grown up with, but with Pokémon looking much sharper and trainers and their teams being adjusted with more variety across the whole forest. A lot of the attack animations have been reworked from the 3DS games, and not necessarily for the better, but the graphical improvement does help them to look much better.
I didn’t notice Pokémon having abilities in the demo we played, as my Pikachu didn’t have Static which paralyzes on contact and a Nidoran didn’t have the Poison Point ability, which poisons on contact. This feature may have been removed from the demo, but it’s one of those competitive features from the other games that works very well and I’m hoping to see this in the full release.
Despite Pokémon Let’s Go reimagining of the original Pokémon games, there’s something that feels new and refreshing about it, drawing you in to explore and discover for both new and returning players. The Poké Ball accessory is a cool idea, if a tad temperamental at this point, and you can obviously ignore it and just play with Joy-Con instead. Importantly it’s something that has led to a more accessible game, which has been redesigned to remove much of the unrewarding grind of wild battles, which I’m certain a lot of people will welcome when the game launches in November.