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Pokemon Let’s Go Review

A Pokemon game for everyone, except Pokemon fans.

by William Schwartz

If you’ve never played a Pokemon game before, either Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu or Let’s Go Eevee is a good place to start.  If you have played previous games in the series, other than the recent mobile sensation, you’re probably going to be disappointed.  Let’s Go is a game that tries to pull on the nostalgia that fans have from Pokemon Yellow (or the other remakes of Kanto), by offering them the most distilled and simplified version of Pokemon that they could possibly imagine. It seems like the perfect game to play with your child to introduce them to Pokemon for the first time. What it is not is a Pokemon game that will give competitive players or players looking for a semblance of challenge any real compelling reason to sink time into the game other than to catch a glimpse of what may be the future for the franchise.

How much you’ll enjoy Let’s Go is likely going to be tied to your age and familiarity with the series

The wild success of Pokemon Go has obviously prompted this release. It’s not a huge secret that Pokemon Let’s Go is a game for newcomers to the franchise. What seems to be the goal here is to introduce those Pokemon newcomers that hopped into the game in 2016 and show them what they should expect from a console version of the game. For people who hold the Gameboy classic dearly, they’re going to get a couple of things. First, there’s that rush of nostalgia when you come to find that this is almost exactly the same game that was released all those years ago. The upgraded HD visuals look great on the Switch, but everything from map layout to NPC characters haven’t changed. The visuals are lush and vibrant, it’s a perfect example of what a Pokemon game could look like on the Nintendo Switch.  It’s not quite up to the level of Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey, but it’s probably the best looking Pokemon game ever made.

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That nostalgia is going to hit you like a ton of bricks, but is likely going to wear off when you come to realize that there is a lot missing from this Pokemon experience. Where many game developers strive to make things both accessible and deep to appeal to different types of players, Pokemon Let’s Go only goes for the former. Accessibility and casting the largest net possible seems to be the main goal here, and in the process, it feels like it actually alienates the fans of the series.

Let’s Go gives us a glimpse at what a “real Pokemon game” will look like on Switch

Wild Battles are gone for the most part. Its replacement is what can best be described as shoe-horning the Pokemon Go mobile system into the Nintendo Switch. This actually works better than would be expected due to the motion controls on the hybrid console. There are quite a few ways to play Pokemon Let’s Go. You can play it in handheld mode, which allows you to play with the Switch undocked and has you catching Pokemon by using the face buttons on the attached joy-con controllers. You can play in handheld mode with the joy-cons unattached to the screen, using motion controls to mimic a throwing motion when you want to catch a Pokemon. Or you can play in a docked mode, which has you using one side of the Joy-Con to mimic the throwing action to catch Pokemon. This core gameplay feature is incredibly fun at the onset of your time with the game, but quickly becomes tiresome as there’s very little variety in what needs to be done here. Throw some berries out to up your odds and then try to get the Poke Ball into a shrinking circle. Not complicated stuff.  There are some light score modifiers that boost your XP earned by making excellent throws or catching multiples of the same Pokemon, but this main mechanic is fairly straight forward.

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There’s also another way to play Pokemon Let’s Go. You can purchase an actual Poke Ball that functions as the controller for the game, called the Poke Ball Plus. This $50 add-on for the game doesn’t have any real functionality that matters in Let’s Go other than immersing the player just a little bit more. Instead of using the throwing motion with the Joy-Con this little add-on allows players to fake throw the ball instead. About the size of a golf ball, the Poke Ball allows players to play all facets of the game from exploring the world to catching Pokemon and battling other trainers. There is some other functionality as well. You can also choose to put Pokemon inside the Poke Ball and take them on a stroll. A small feature, but a feature nonetheless. It also contains an exclusive Mew Pokemon, so it essentially paywalls one of the Pokemon characters behind the accessory add-on.

The motion controls capture system grows old after a while

Most of Pokemon Let’s Go is based around capturing Pokemon and the Poke Ball throwing mini-game. Leveling itself has been simplified to leveling your entire party of Pokemon each time you catch a new one, and these creatures populate much of the landscape. You’ll see them in different varieties and species running around each region. See one that you want to catch, simply run towards it an proceed to start the catching mini-game. See one you want to avoid to continue on a catch combo, then simply run away from it. This in itself is a big shift away from things like wild battles which basically forced you to fight in turn-based combat to catch Pokemon in the past. There isn’t any real challenge to catching Pokemon in Let’s Go, it’s seemingly been designed to be as easy as possible, and that mechanic does start to wear out its welcome after a while.

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What should pick up the slack, but doesn’t, is what feels like an overly simplified turn-based combat system. Depending on which version of Let’s Go that you choose, you’ll basically be given the only Pokemon that you need to make it through the game. Both Pikachu and Eevee can learn special moves that make any other Pokemon seem weak in comparison.  They can’t be evolved, instead you’ll just have to decide which set of moves you want to apply to this character.  Regardless, the turn-based combat battles feel like something that you give someone as an introduction to the genre. There’s very little challenge in this aspect of the game if just for the lack of strategy required in managing your party.  There’s just no repercussions for any actions you take in Pokemon Let’s Go.  Want to evolve your Pokemon to the highest level?  Simply feed them an evolution stone.  Want to power level a specific Pokemon?  Simply feed them an endless supply of candy.  Or, you can just hop into a petting session with your Pokemon, touching them with the motion controls or feeding them items to improve their abilities.  I’ll admit, as cute as it is to virtually pet a Pikachu and see it coo in your hands, the trade-off for mechanics like this just seem like wasted potential.

Game Freak made little attempt to add appealing features for long-time fans

All of this simplicity is obviously carried over from the mobile version of the game. However, this just doesn’t seem to be the game that Switch owners were hoping it would be. It’s really unclear why Game Freak couldn’t try to cater to everyone with Pokemon Let’s Go. By adding some meaningful end game content, wild battles, breeding, a bigger line-up of pokemon, or any number of the features from previous games they could’ve kept players invested for longer. Pokemon Let’s Go is actually a really interesting example of accessibility in gaming in 2018. Pokemon Let’s Go is a game that was seemingly designed for children. But hasn’t Pokemon always been a game for children? Are children becoming less intelligent? Does Game Freak believe that to be accessible you basically need to strip out anything from the game that isn’t streamlined or up for player interpretation? If that is the case, it’s unclear if this methodology will carry over to that big mainline Pokemon game that will be coming down the line. It’s quite possible that cash is king, and the money that was made from Pokemon GO on mobile may have ruined this series forever.

The Verdict

Pokemon Let’s Go takes some of the core premises of the Pokemon series and distills it down into a Pokemon-Lite experience.  While this methodology may be OK for a mobile game because the target audience is much wider, those who choose to go a little deeper into gaming and buy a console dedicated for it expect a little bit more.   Let’s Go is surprisingly  shallow when compared to just about any Pokemon game, despite an appealing presentation that returns players to a popular location.

"meh"
meh

Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu/Let's Go Eevee

  • Available On: Nintendo Switch
  • Published By: The Pokemon Company
  • Developed By: Game Freak
  • Genre: RPG
  • US Release Date: November 16th, 2018
  • Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
  • Quote: "Let’s Go is surprisingly shallow when compared to just about any Pokemon game, despite an appealing presentation that returns players to a popular location."
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