When Detective Pikachu launched on the Nintendo 3DS in 2016, Pokemon fans weren’t sure what to make of it. While the game’s charming graphics and witty writing were praised, the game’s short length and simplistic gameplay formula left many players wanting more. Seven years later, Detective Pikachu Returns, a sequel to Detective Pikachu, is here to close the case of the detective cap-clad electric mouse on a higher note. Unfortunately, this new investigation ends up retreading a lot of old ground in the gameplay department, all while following a mystery that the player will likely figure out long before the characters do.
Story and Setting – A City of Ryme or a City of Crime?
The original Detective Pikachu told a by-the-numbers whodunit story that put players in the shoes of Tim Goodman, who travels to Ryme City to find his missing father, Harry, and ends up teaming up with Harry’s partner, a herring-cap-wearing Pikachu who spoke with a voice only Tim could hear. As those who played it know, Detective Pikachu did not resolve the overarching mystery at the heart of its story and instead raised more questions than it answered, teasing the idea that the artificial Legendary Pokemon Mewtwo had a role in Harry’s disappearance before ending on an optimistic but unsatisfying cliffhanger.
Picking up a few years after the end of the first game, Detective Pikachu Returns‘ story sees Detective Pikachu and an older, more experienced Tim investigating an outbreak of Pokemon-related crimes, all while working to unravel the mystery behind Harry’s disappearance. To its credit, Detective Pikachu Returns‘ narrative explores some surprisingly heavy topics like racial (or, in this case, specist) profiling and the ease with which corrupt individuals can overtake well-intended institutions. The game’s cast also features charming new characters with engaging personal arcs that help drive the game’s story forward.
Unfortunately, the mystery at the heart of Detective Pikachu Returns‘ story isn’t particularly compelling. It’s always painfully easy to tell which characters will become the perpetrators of the games’ various cases. Even the game’s climax, which finally resolves the vanishing of Harry Goodman and features some unexpected Legendary Pokemon vs. Legendary Pokemon spectacle, feels underwhelming because of how unsubtle the foreshadowing of the game’s plot twists is, depriving players of the chance to experience the cathartic “AHA!” moment that mystery games are element to build to.
Gameplay: Elementary, My Dear Trainer!
Detective Pikachu Retuns‘ gameplay is very similar to that of the first Detective Pikachu. As both Tim and Detective Pikachu, players are tasked with solving mysteries by talking to NPCs and picking up environmental clues hidden throughout the area. The mysteries in Detective Pikachu Returns take full advantage of the fact that they are set in the world of Pokemon, asking players to use their knowledge of the series’ ever-expanding collection of element-empowered critters to solve puzzles and deduce how a crime played out.
While Detective Plikachu Returns’ gameplay formula is similar to the first games, a few new features help spice things up. At specific points in an investigation, Detective Pikachu can hop onto the backs of one of several partner Pokemon and use their unique skills to uncover clues he and Tim could have never found alone. Whether you are using a Growlith’s enhanced sense of smell to sniff out suspicious orders or using a Pangoro’s raw strength to knock down a hidden wall, partner Pokemon add a new dimension to Detective Pikachu Returns’ otherwise run-of-the-mill sleuthing system.
Despite its attempts to innovate on its predecessor, Detective Pikachu Returns feels like a downgrade from the original in several ways. While Detective Pikachu was far from a mentally-taxing game, some of its puzzles asked you to indulge in outside-the-box thinking and required you to interact with the environment to bring hidden secrets to light. Conversely, every case in Detective Pikachu Returns likes holding your hand a little too much, highlighting important clues while ensuring you aren’t penalized for coming to the wrong conclusion. While this is meant to be helpful, it often comes off as patronizing.
Audio and Visuals: The Sweet Scent of Coffee
One of the first Detective Pikachu‘s greatest strengths was its atmosphere. The game’ went to incredible lengths to capture the colorful, pleasant aura that permeates the world of Pokemon, creating an alluringly cozy atmosphere that drew many players into its world. Fortunately for the many players who loved the original game’s aesthetic, Detective Pikachu Returns is just as charming as its predecessor.
Detective Pikachu Returns‘ visuals are a feast for the eyes. Every one of the Pokemon featured in the game is gorgeously drawn and proportioned, capturing the essence of their main series counterparts while taking advantage of the Switch’s high polygon count to bring them to life with complex animations. The game’s human cast is also well-designed, with fluid expressions and expressive outfits that complement and convey their personalities. The environment’s design is also excellent, and surprising locations like snowy mountains and dreary laboratory spaces give Ryme City a sense of visual diversity that wasn’t present in the original game.
The game’s audio also does an excellent job of re-capturing the charming atmosphere that helped its predecessor stand out. Detective Pikachu’s deep, baritone voice is just as fun to listen to as it was in the first game and adds an air of film noir intrigue to the game. The other characters’ voicework is also solid, with varied and nuanced performances that deliver some surprisingly solid emotional gut punches. With that said, the dialogue can be a little stilted at times, and the voice actors’ earnest performance can make these lines come off even more awkwardly than they already did.
The Verdict: A Bolt of Brilliance?
Detective Pikachu Returns has quite a lot going for it. The gameplay has some fun new additions that make finding clues and solving mysteries more fun while helping it set itself apart from its predecessor. The visuals and audio are seeped in the iconic charm players have come to expect from the Pokemon series and capture the colorful noir aesthetic that makes the original game so appealing to many. Finally, while the game’s story isn’t engaging, it shaves enough twists and turns to entertain younger audiences.
Unfortunately, all of these elements are held back by an overarching mystery that doesn’t give the player much to chew on and a gameplay loop that traps them on a long, winding road that almost always ends with the characters coming to answers they deduced long ago. For all of its charm, Detective Pikachu Returns is a shallow experience that will undoubtedly delight younger gamers but will leave more experienced mystery fans unsatisfied.
This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.
- This article was updated on October 12th, 2023