For many people, their first experience with Pokémon came in the Kanto region where Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow were set, and where Ash Ketchum went on his journey to qualify for the Pokémon League (and lost) in the anime adaptation. GameFreak’s latest game, Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go Eevee!, attempts to recapture some of the old nostalgic charm, but also integrate mechanics from Pokémon Go to bridge the gap between the young and newly introduced players of that augmented reality mobile game to the format of its classic RPG games. For the most part it works well.
Before getting stuck into the game, you’ll have the option of picking a way of controlling the game. Players can use the left or right Joy-Con, which basically means you can play the game’s entirety with one of these controllers, using motion controls for throwing Poké Balls at wild Pokémon, or you can play in handheld mode, which combines the gyroscope and the trigger button to throw the ball at wild Pokémon. The third option, and my favourite overall, was using the Poké Ball Plus accessory, which I did for most of the review.
The Poké Ball Plus is a nifty themed motion controller which features a clickable joystick and a second button and using shaking the ball as another input. Throughout the game it vibrates and makes sounds, and as you get stuck into the addictive Pokémon catching minigame, it really does make the player feel integrated with the catching mechanics, but just playing the entire RPG one handed is pretty impressive, even if you do opt to use the single Joy-Con. The Poké Ball is comfortable, if a little smaller than I’d have liked and with the throwing motion making your arms feel sore and tired after long sessions.
Pokémon: Let’s Go itself follows the story of the Pokémon Yellow for the most part, so you’ll start with either a Pikachu or an Eevee, depending on the version of the game you pick, and start your quest to collect badges once you’ve received your Pokédex. These starter Pokémon will actually be stronger Pokémon than other Pikachus and Eevees that players can encounter in the wild, able to learn secret techniques that make them better against more Pokémon types, but they don’t evolve. I actually managed to keep Pikachu on my team until the very last battle because of this.
If you’re new to the format, the idea is to catch and build build a team of six Pokémon with different elemental types so that you can battle and defeat all comers. One major change in Let’s Go is that you can actually see the Pokémon roaming the world, instead of having random encounters. Bump into them to trigger an encounter and you’ll see what looks like Pokémon Go’s interface, where you’re simply meant to just throw the ball at the Pokémon to catch it – It really is that simple. There’s no battling to be done against wild Pokémon, but your entire squad still gains experience, to the point that you actually earn more from catching than from trainer battles. You’re also able to pull out any Pokémon you’ve caught and add it to your team at any time without going to a Pokémon centre too, which is very welcome change.
The Kanto region’s returning towns and environments look great, even in the dated top-down view, but the game doesn’t really use the Switch’s graphical capabilities to the full. The 3D art style is nice, and Pokémon models are clean looking, making it quite lovely to see your Pokémon follow you around the region and interact with landmarks and objects within that space. The remake isn’t entirely true to the original and there are a few secrets and references to the manga, which is sure to keep the biggest of fans happy.
You’ll soon realise when playing Let’s Go that the animations and cut scenes make this experience a more personal between you and your partner of choice, but furthermore the music and returning locations balance nostalgia with a new touches. Let’s Go makes you want to explore every location and encounter every Pokémon.
Along your journey, you’ll discover that you’re able to mount certain Pokémon once you take them out of their Poké Ball. This replaces the need for a bike to ride in the game and I used an Arcanine and a Rapidash, amongst others, to travel far and wide. Taking your Pokémon out of its Poké Ball will make it friendlier and you can also feed and pet Pikachu or Eevee to increase its happiness. Increasing a Pokémon’s happiness allows it to excel in battle by dodging more and curing itself of status conditions. It’s worth noting that Pikachu or Eevee will learn Secret Techniques which were formerly HM Moves, helping players to get through obstacles without sacrificing their actual move pools.
One thing that does disappoint in battling other trainers, which feel almost irrelevant given the amount of experience you earn from simply catching Pokémon. Unless they’re a gym leader – it’s great to see these familiar faces – Elite Four member or your rival, there’s just no need to go out of your way to fight them during the main game. However, once your complete the main adventure, 150 Master Trainers come to Kanto, each specialising with a different Pokémon. They’re quite difficult to meet the requirements to even battle, such as with the Rattata trainer that requires you have a level 65 Rattata as your first Pokémon to duel with 1v1. It’s a cool idea, but adds grind instead of fun, which the game avoids almost entirely up until this point.
The 151 Pokémon collectathon naturally includes a number of legendary Pokémon, static encounters like Snorlax, the legendary birds and more. Unlike with other wild monsters, the idea for these is to battle them first and then you get the opportunity to catch them. This works really well as it’s a returning system from the older games, and makes catching the tougher Pokémon a little special as you get to test their strength before the ball throwing segment.
Pokémon: Let’s Go is very simplified take on the series, even beyond the catching mechanics and automated levelling. All the first 151 Pokémon are here, but they only feature a small selection of the moves they have in other Pokémon RPGs. I’d normally say this is a bad thing, but in the name of accessibility it means everyone can jump in and battle without worrying about the competitive meta. This game is very generous in the options of Pokémon that can appear, meaning your team will most likely be very different to a team you create in the Red, Blue or Yellow. You’re able to find starter Pokémon like Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle in the wild if you’re not so adventurous with your team.
Let’s Go also features a co-op mode which can be activated by shaking a second Joy-Con or Poké Ball Plus. When this happens, a second character spawns, turning the game into a co-op experience, but this decreases the game’s difficulty even further, which is great for young and newer players, but makes it a cakewalk for veterans and their friends. The second player essentially uses the same Pokémon as player one, so you’re still effectively raising your team with each battle or encounter regardless.
There’s no question that Pokémon Go’s success has inspired the development of this game, and with that comes a way to transfer player’s creatures from Pokémon Go. Go Park replaces the Kanto Region’s Safari Zone and allows players to pair their Go account to transfer their favourite Pokémon over to Let’s Go. A small technical factor is that Pokémon in Pokémon Go aren’t levelled, so when you transfer them to Go Park, they’ll have to be recaptured at level 1. Sadly I was unable to get my phone to connect prior to the game’s launch.
Pokémon: Let’s Go’s nostalgic charm and interactive gameplay will have both newcomers and returning trainers hooked as they explore the beloved Kanto region. Let’s Go mashes together these two different styles of Pokémon game into one streamlined format, and despite some slight annoyances, these remakes provide an intimate take on the classic Pokémon journey, especially when played with the Poké Ball Plus accessory. If you’re looking for a refreshing take on the Pokémon RPG, then this one may keep you invested until you catch ’em all. It probably won’t take long though.