Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee! Hands-On Impressions
The Pokémon GO mechanics work better than you'd think.
I’ve been a Pokémon fan my whole life. I’ve played every mainline game from Red/Blue to Gold/Silver to Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon and loved them all. When Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee! were announced, I was obviously excited for new Pokémon games, but I wasn’t without skepticism. While I actually still play Pokémon GO, I wasn’t entirely convinced that bringing mechanics from the mobile game into the main series was a completely good idea. I wasn’t totally against the idea of GO-like catching sections replacing wild battles, but what it ultimately came down to was a lack of details about how exactly these mechanics would be put into place and how they would function with the rest of the game. Now that I’ve gotten some time to actually sit down with the game, my worries have been largely alleviated.
One of the things I was worried about when originally introduced to the concept of Pokémon: Let’s Go was how grinding would work. If players are no longer able to battle wild Pokémon, only catch them, how will they be able to grind if they need to? The past few entries in the mainline series had players’ Pokémon receive Exp. for catching wild Pokémon, not just defeating them, and this is a mechanic I assumed would be returning in Let’s Go. And it does, with the amount of Exp. awarded for catching Pokémon being pretty generous and going to your entire party. However, I was also worried about how this seemed to limit the amount of grinding a player can do to the amount of PokéBalls they happen to have. Effectively, you can only gain Exp. when you have PokéBalls and you can only get PokéBalls from buying them (or occasionally finding them on the ground), meaning how much Exp. you can gain is directly related to how much money you have. However, I was very happy to see that players will actually get rewarded with PokéBalls, as well as prize money, for defeating trainers (which still involves traditional battling, for those of you who were worried that battling had been removed completely). Each of the trainers in the demo only rewarded the player with three PokéBalls each, so I can only assume that the number of PokéBalls, and hopefully other Balls, you get from defeating trainers increases as you continue through the game, just as Prize Money increases.
Another mechanic Pokémon: Let’s Go borrows from Pokémon GO is wild Pokémon appearing in the overworld, rather than in random encounters. As far as I’m concerned, this is a welcome change for a number of reasons. For one thing, it means the issue of running into endless Zubats in caves is now a thing of the past, as you can simply walk by any Pokémon you don’t want an encounter with. In some RPGs, enemies in the overworld will follow you, kind of forcing you into battle whether you want to or not, but this is not the case in Pokémon: Let’s Go. All these wild Pokémon just mind their own business, wandering around their habitats, not particularly concerned with the actions of the player. So not only do you not have to interact with wild Pokémon unless you want to, but the fact that they appear in the overworld, just wandering around, brings more life to it. The once barren Viridian Forest is now swarming with Weedles and Caterpies. It’s like being able to truly explore the Pokémon World for the first time. And lastly, it makes hunting for a specific Pokémon so much easier. Looking for a Pikachu in Viridian Forest? Well, you don’t have to go wandering around in the grass, vainly hoping that you’ll happen to run into one and having to endure tons of other random encounters in the meantime. Now you just have to walk around (or stand still if you want, as Pokémon appear and disappear from the overworld) until you see a Pikachu and then just go straight for it. And for those of you who might miss random encounters, there’s still an element of it, just in the sense that sometimes Pokémon are well hidden in the grass and you might stumble upon one accidentally. But if you keep your wits about you, you should be able to avoid them if you don’t want all those random encounters.
Aside from Pokémon appearing in the overworld, catching Pokémon in Pokémon: Let’s Go is also a mechanic inspired by, though not taken directly from, Pokémon GO. Instead of flinging Balls using the touchscreen, however, you toss Balls using the Joy-Con’s motion controls. Another concern many have had with the Let’s Go games is that this mechanic might be just as finicky as throwing Balls in GO is, where you might throw a Ball a little too hard and have it go flying off the screen. This mostly isn’t a problem in Let’s Go, however. While it’s certainly possible to throw a Ball at a Pokémon and miss, the throwing mechanic is pretty forgiving and will usually automatically have the Ball you throw head straight towards the Pokémon. This makes catching more about timing your throws just right so you can get that “Excellent” throw, which gives you a higher chance at catching the Pokémon, more than it’s about trying to aim correctly. Also, just like in GO, you can use Berries to help you catch Pokémon. Unlike in GO, you can attain these Berries by catching Pokémon.
While playing Pokémon: Let’s Go, I also got to try out the PokéBall Plus accessory, which I used instead of the standard Joy-Con controller. The PokéBall Plus was very simple to use, with just one analog stick and two buttons. The analog stick is obviously used to move your character and navigate menus, and pressing down on it (like how you would press R3 or L3 on a PlayStation controller) acts as the confirmation button. Then there’s a button on the top of the accessory which acts as the cancellation button, as well as bringing up the menu when in the overworld. So yeah, you can play the whole game with one hand. I didn’t get to try this out as I was limited to the game itself, but for those who don’t know, you’ll be able to put a Pokémon from your game into the PokéBall Plus and carry it around with you in real life. By shaking the accessory, you can “interact” with your Pokémon, by which I mean the Ball lights up and the Pokémon inside it makes noises. But more importantly, the Nintendo representative who was guiding me through the demo informed me that the PokéBall Plus also basically functions as a PokéWalker in that the Pokémon inside the Ball gains experience as you walk around with it.
Personally, this demo helped me go from “Yeah, I’ll probably buy this game” to “I’m definitely buying this game!” Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee! launch exclusively on the Switch on November 16.