I’ll be honest, I was a massive Pokemon fan back in the Gameboy and Gameboy Advance days. I’ve tried to play almost every core game since, but just haven’t found myself getting addicted in the same way that I did in the Yellow, Red, Blue or Gold and Silver days. Even with Pokemon GO, I was super obsessed for a week or two, but as soon as the second and third generation of Pokemon were introduced. I found my interest falling away.
Well, Pokemon Let’s GO Pikachu and Eevee — I played Eevee to my initial dismay — takes everything good about Pokemon and puts it into a nice little bundle that will feel familiar to anybody who has played Pokemon GO or some of the earlier Pokemon games.
The game starts out almost exactly how the originals did, with you choosing either Pikachu or Eevee to brilliantly sit on your shoulder for the rest of the game. It’s when you come across your first wild Pokemon encounter that you’ll realise that this game is wildly different. Instead of battling wild Pokemon (there will still be the odd wild battle here and there), you’ll go straight to catching them. It feels very familiar to Pokemon GO in the sense that you just need to aim your Pokeball at the Pokemon with the likelihood of you catching it depending on your timing as well as the outer colour of the circle. You can also feed the Pokemon berries or use better Pokeballs in order to increase your chance.
Upon catching a Pokemon, you’ll get EXP based on whether the Pokemon is a new encounter, how accurately you managed to hurl the Pokeball and the level of the Pokemon. Each of the six Pokemon in your party will all gain experience if you’re levelling up, too.
There’s still a tonne of trainer battles within the game, so for those that are worried about the game no longer having Pokemon battles, it’s definitely not the case. At least initially, these trainer battles seemed a little bit easier, but I honestly appreciate the ease of not having to battle every single wild Pokemon that you come across. It means that there’s some variety in gameplay rather than just battling Pokemon over and over again.
It’s also just a really great way to bring over Pokemon GO players without compromising the core experience for traditional players. My mother and partner were sat behind me a lot of the weekend whilst I was playing and normally they wouldn’t bat an eyelid whilst I’m playing a game, but they both remained intrigued every time I’d run into a wild Pokemon just based on their recognition from the original 151 Pokemon and my mother’s really odd obsession with Pokemon GO. It didn’t even seem to bother her that there was a bunch of other new mechanics not in the mobile iteration present in Pokemon GO. It was the fact that the catching mechanics were so familiar, that she instantly wanted a go on a device, namely the Switch, that she’d never shown an interest in before.
This is mostly due to the Poke Ball Plus, the game’s bundled in peripheral, which I’m actually mixed on. It’s a really fun way to play the game, and great for casually catching Pokemon whilst sitting on the couch or doing something else with your Switch in handheld mode, but it’s missing some key buttons and is actually a bit of a pain to use. Because of its round shape, you’ll often lose positioning of it in your hands, which means you’ll often run in the wrong direction. Also, because the select button is tied to the analogue stick, I would often accidentally select something completely different to what I was intending to. Bizarrely, the Pro controller doesn’t work with Pokemon Let’s GO and I’m not too sure why.
When in handheld mode, you can use the gyroscope in order to catch Pokemon, and this functionality is present in the Pro controller so it makes for an odd omission. I will say that one thing I noticed in handheld mode, was that the game chugged along in certain areas. When there were more than a few Pokemon on-screen, or I was trying to zip around the menus, I’d notice a little stuttering every now and then.
It does have its clever little quirks though. For instance, you can put any Pokemon in the Poke Ball Plus, take the ball out into the real world with you and when you return to your game, you’ll be able to return your Pokemon to the game and it will gain experience and a number of items to help you in your journey. Similarly, it vibrates, lights up and you just feel like a genuine badass using it. You also get Mew using the Poke Ball Plus and this is apparently the only way to get him, so your hands are kind of tied.
Co-op is also a brand new addition to the Pokemon series and it works about as well as expected. It’s literally drop-in/drop-out and plays no major part on your story. If you’ve got someone who wants to jump in, catch some Pokemon and battle alongside you, they just need to shake a Joy-Con in order to pop their character down, and they’ll then be free to roam around. Once they’re done, shake again and they’ll be back out. You’ll get to keep their Pokemon and it’s just a really fun way to get other people involved without needing to have a seperate save or have them impact your game at all.
The rest of the game is really familiar. There’s a great balance of mechanics from Pokemon Blue and Red era such as gym leaders, towns and the Elite Four mixed in with mechanics from some of the newer titles such as Mega Evolutions, special moves for your partner Pokemon, a few new Pokemon with Pokemon GO integration and the like. This is probably where core fans will either be disappointed or happy. If they’re expecting a tonne of new content they’ll be the former but if what they’re hoping for is to play a reimagining of one of the most defining games of our lifetime then it’s hard not to be happy. There’s also some new modern subtle additions such as there being little requirements (like needing to catch 50 Pokemon species before being able to battle a certain gym leader) that are much appreciated.
Unfortunately, at a time of writing, Pokemon GO integration was not live, which is a massive shame as it’s a big part of the game. I’ve been able to access the Pokemon GO park in Fuchsia City and can confirm that the functionality works in the sense that you transfer your Generation 1 Pokemon from Pokemon GO into Let’s GO and have them roam around a park, earning rewards that you can transfer into Pokemon GO, but I haven’t yet been able to test it. Similarly, trading Pokemon with other trainers as well as battling them seems simpler than ever. Local works in the same way as other Pokemon games whilst you’ll use a three Pokemon symbol code in order to connect with others afar.
The case of the matter is, no matter whether you’ve got that nostalgic buy-in or not, Pokemon Let’s Go is a really fantastic game. It’s really simple, but I’d argue that is when Pokemon was at its best. It’s addictive, it’s all about catching your Pokemon, battling other trainers and just becoming the best damn Pokemon trainer possible.
THE NINTENDO SWITCH VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A PHYSICAL COPY OF LET’S GO EEVEE + POKE BALL PLUS WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER
Pokemon Let's GO ushers in a brand new era for the Pokemon brand and I couldn't think of a better way for the core franchise to makes its debut on the Nintendo Switch. The game's mechanics perfectly rides the wave of success of the Pokemon GO phenomenon. Some core fans will be disappointed and that's completely fine, but the direction of Let's GO Pokemon is clear and it succeeds in its mission to provide a simple, yet addictive Pokemon game that can be enjoyable for all gamers. It's Pokemon at its addictive best and the only option is to set out and Catch 'Em All.