Detective Pikachu (Nintendo 3DS) Review

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Having originally released in Japan more than two years ago as a shorter adventure, Detective Pikachu piqued the community’s interest. As this game was all but forgotten, Nintendo came out of nowhere announcing an expanded worldwide release earlier this year, but was the world ready for a game like this?

An Inspector Calls

Turning the game on for the first time was an entirely different experience to any other Pokemon game. Instead of the usual fluid and colourful introduction to the world, you are greeted with an empty white scenery. As the camera pans outwards, a 13 note melody sounds off repeatedly. This world feels broken and incomplete, and actually goes a long way in building the world of Tim; his journey beginning with his father’s disappearance. The tone feels detached from the rest of the series, and a little unsettling for something I had down as a game for kids.

Starting the game, it was great to see the trend of multiple languages continuing into Pokemon spin-offs with nine available to choose from, as well as both English and Japanese available for voiced dialogue. Something I wasn’t so eager to see was a choice of difficulty before the game began. In games like Fire Emblem, I can see justification for the difficulty to be chosen from the start; it clearly explains the kind of player each setting is targeting, and presents you with the option to lower the difficulty later if it is too challenging. Detective Pikachu offers no real insight into the game beforehand. It gives you no basis for the game’s difficulty, and as such, no idea as to whether you’ll need the hints provided by Easy Mode. I believe the Hint Coin system seen in Professor Layton would have fit the game a lot better, or even making use of the long-since forgotten 3DS Play Coins. While I don’t believe the game is necessarily challenging, walling off the easier difficulty to a decision at the start of the game feels like an ill-fitting design choice.

On the Case

The gameplay is a split of three elements: introduction in the form of cutscenes and dialogue, investigation and interrogation, and then putting the pieces together for a solution. It’s a simple cycle but is executed well, ultimately crafting the feeling of classic detective shows. Both the cutscenes and the conclusion are largely what one might expect from such a game, offering a satisfying lead-in and wrap-up to each chapter. The bulk of each case comes from your investigative skills, and it’s here the game both excels and falls flat.

Investigating is a simple task. Gather evidence, gather testimony, present it, and repeat. When presenting your evidence, you are given a new problem that requires a new solution, which you come to with new evidence and new testimony. This cycle is something seen in Ace Attorney games, the movement and means of gathering evidence in Detective Pikachu actually coming very close to the style of Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth. I believe the game does well in presenting a simplified version of this formula to create a more accessible gameplay experience, but in some areas it goes a step too far, alienating older players. I found myself enjoying a large portion of the game. While the puzzles may have been simple, there was still satisfaction to be found in their solutions—for the most part. The most striking of these moments came from a researcher asking me how the colour orange is made. In an instant, I felt any immersion shatter, and I really had to question just who this game was targeted at.

Hey You, Pikachu!

The standout factor of Detective Pikachu is, unsurprisingly, the Pikachu who is also a detective. At its core, the game is structured in a way to maximise his potential as a character. Be it through physical comedy or detective clichés, his charm is simple and well-executed.

Pika Prompts—short and frequent cutaways from the investigation—stand at the forefront of Pikachu’s success. Each of these, whilst only being a few seconds in length, allowed for a deeper sense of characterisation for what would otherwise be a one-trick pony. Often relying on situational humour, each of these scenes feel simultaneously familiar and fresh, reminiscent of Crash Tag Team Racing’s Die-O-Rama skits. While I did occasionally wish they were a little more optional, instead of Pikachu whispering “hey Tim, look here” until you watch it, I did ultimately find a great deal of enjoyment from them.

Perhaps a shortcoming of the character stems from the fact he is a self-proclaimed “great detective.” While this doesn’t sound like an issue, the game too frequently uses it as justification to spell out answers to the player. This is something seen a lot at the beginning of the game, but is still prevalent throughout. Similarly to its Easy Mode, it might have been nice to have had a Hard Mode, easing up on some of these explanatory interactions, and adding consequence to incorrect assumptions.

At its forefront, Detective Pikachu is a game for children; a relatively entertaining and well-presented detective experience. While I did find enjoyment in it, the constant reminder of “you’re too old to be playing this” goes far in breaking immersion. Should you be a parent looking for a simple and fun game for your child, I might recommend picking this up. For a fan of the Pokemon series? Perhaps wait for a sale.

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