Catch ’em all again
I don’t remember exactly what compelled me to rush out and buy Pokémon Red before the craze began, but I vividly recall the day I went to Toys”R”Us after school and picked it up. I got to Mt. Moon in one sitting and promptly turned off the game, forgetting to save: what a first day!
From there I’d go on to collect all 151, hosting all sorts of local trainer parties as the resident link cable owner and Pokémon Master. It’s one of my most-played games of all time and it’s the main reason why I’m always willing to give new entries a shake.
Pokémon Let’s Go isn’t for everyone, but from the perspective of someone who only recently became a parent, this is going to be a perfect entry point for some.
Pokémon: Let’s Go Eevee & Pikachu (Switch)
Developer: Game Freak
Released: November 16, 2018
MSRP: $59.99 (game), $49.99 (Poké Ball Plus), $99.99 (Poké Ball Plus and game bundle)
Let’s Go serves a bridge between the more casual Pokémon Go and the mainline series. Remember how Pokémon Yellow sort of retrofitted the anime? Go (not to be confused with the mobile Go) is like a super-charged version of that. I’m talking Team Rocket with Jesse/James/Meowth shenanigans, the whole nine yards.
That’s awesome in theory, but this dynamic duo is going to really confuse some long-term fans. It is basically an alternate generation-one journey, complete with small geographic and narrative twists. Let’s Go is also a bit of an odd duck as far as its control schemes go. As I espoused in our Super Mario Party review, I’ve come to really admire Nintendo for increasing our options in the Wii U and Switch eras compared to the forced waggle of the Wii, but not every game adheres to that standard. Let’s Go completely removes Pro Controller support in favor of adding a new object into the mix: the Poké Ball Plus.
Now I sorely missed the Pro Controller (it’s one of the best remotes on the market right now), but I did have access to the one-handed device for this review and it grew on me (here’s a closeup). That tiny little bit where the Poké Ball button is? That’s an analog stick that presses in for menu confirmations and world exploration. The top button (which is kind of hidden on the red part of the ball) opens the menu. Given that Pokémon games are RPGs with a heavy emphasis on turn-based combat, it makes sense why it would work. I went on to play roughly half the game with it, finishing the rest in portable mode and with the Joy-Con.
So there are three aspects of the Poké Ball Plus: the aforementioned controller option, the chance to place creatures in the ball and walk around with them (Pokéwalker anyone?), and Pokémon Go connectivity. Although I wasn’t able to extensively test the latter out as it wasn’t readily available for some time, the walking aspect is a cute little extra and tapping the ball to cue a Poké voiceover is a nice touch. Just know that the little thing is a whopping $50 and is basically only applicable to Let’s Go, so maybe don’t get too excited. I sincerely felt the hit of not using the Pro Controller, and if you do opt for a Joy-Con, only one is supported — and only in the upright position. Now if this was Bayonetta I’m sure people would be angry to no end, but again, it’s Pokémon: I can make do. It also comes with a level-one Mew if that gets you going.
Digging a little deeper, I’ll get the “big nope” out of the way (I can hear the figurative right-clicks already!): open-world battles don’t exist as they’re just capture encounters, not unlike those you’d find in Pokémon Go. I get that it’s not going to appeal to people who wanted a full 3D generation-one remake, but there’s an upside. Taking the focus off of wild battles seems trivial but it cuts out the grinding, a mentality you slowly adapt to while playing Let’s Go. I lament that there are fewer chances to try out my Pokémon in the wild (and that the strategy of whittling down their health for a greater capture chance is now reduced to chucking berries), but it’s a give and take.
That streamlined approach gives way to universally positive improvements. Pokémon are kept in a convenient bag without the need to go to boxes to swap party members. Really good Pokémon like Beedrill (a straight-up Beedrill, fully evolved) can be caught very early on. That’s great! I know a ton of people are going to espouse the virtues of leveling up Pokémon from level one to 100 and how you should “earn” evolutions, but this is not that kind of game.
Mechanical talk aside I think everyone is going to fall in love with Let’s Go‘s aesthetics. Kanto is a delightful Arcadia and has never looked this good. Watching the camera pan over the quiet hamlet of Pallet Town gets the nostalgia endorphins going, yes, but Let’s Go‘s sleek visuals sell all of those familiar locations. Game Freak also nails the scale of each Pokémon to make it feel more like the anime: seeing a gigantic Onix tower over his foes is something else. The same thing goes for random environmental cuteness like napping Meowths. It all adds flavor to the world. Its sense of scale is its biggest strength. Gym battles more accurately mirror the anime with their grand halls, and random trainers (even throwaways) are more emotive.
As far as the big picture is concerned there is some wasted potential. No Pokémon Bank connectivity at launch, or possibly ever, is a bummer; especially when Game Freak and Nintendo are collectively asking you to catch the same Pokémon that have been around for ages (you can nab Alolan forms through Pokémon Go but that’s not a big enough incentive). The ability to play it solely in the Switch’s portable mode is fantastic (thus not betraying the original “pocket monster” mantra), but you can’t help but think that some basic features we’ve come to expect from the series were held back in favor of a more explosive entrance for the next mainline entry.
I can’t believe it took Game Freak over 20 years to give us an RPG-oriented console Pokémon game, but with the ever-changing mobile landscape and the success of the Switch, the opportunity finally presented itself. No, Let’s Go is not the mainline entry that EV/IV min-maxers hoped for, but that’s still on the way. If you happen to miss this return to Kanto, that’s perfectly fine, but I was mostly delighted to go back.
Pokemon: Let’s Go Eevee – 7.5/10
Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu – 7.5/10
[This review is based on a retail build of the game and the Poké Ball Plus, provided by the publisher.]