Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee/Pikachu (Nintendo Switch) Review

You can find this review in full at GBAtemp.net:

Originally released in 1998, Pokemon Yellow took the gameplay and world of its predecessors Red and Blue, and mapped it more closely to the plot and characters of the animated series. The result was a fantastic experience thriving on both what made the show entertaining, and what made the games stand out. Roll on 2018 and we once again find ourselves at a crossroad, the series-favourite Pikachu now joined by Eevee to ease fans of the mobile sensation Pokemon Go into a more traditional console experience. With gameplay changes galore, Kanto isn’t quite how you remember it, but is it for better or for worse?

A Whole New World

Much of the game’s introduction plays out as you’d expect for a Pokemon game. You choose your character, you name them and your rival, and you dive straight into the world. Starting with more sparkle and shine than the series would have had 20 years ago, Let’s Go utilises a short cutscene to draw you into its colourful and inviting world. These being distributed throughout your adventure, they do well in adding emphasis to a moment, as well as creating a real sense of grandeur and excitement for what is to come.

Compared to my previous Kanto experiences, Let’s Go feels far more eager to throw you into the action and maintain a sense of continual progression. You find yourself out of Pallet Town and exploring the world almost instantly; road blocks such as the old man’s capture tutorial in Viridian City replaced with a more seamless ‘learn by doing’ approach as you catch your starter Pokemon. Even small things like being able to head straight back to Oak’s Lab instead of walking from Viridian to Pallet are things I find myself appreciating. It feels as though the game wants to be played above all, and this is nothing but a good thing in my eyes.

Perhaps an element some may fault here is the game’s fairly regular offers to take you to where you need to be. There are two ways something like this can be viewed, and I feel it interesting to discuss both. A growing criticism of recent games, hand-holding has become an irritation to the long-time fans of the series. Instead of leaving you to play your way, you’re guided from point to point, as if untrusting of your ability to do it yourself. I personally felt this a significant issue in the 2014 remakes Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, often not being able to walk from one town to another without somebody healing your party and telling you how good a job you’re doing. While Let’s Go presents you with much of the same in its offers, they were infrequent as to not feel demeaning. Each time I accepted, it felt like it made sense, in oppose to backtracking through a route I had already traversed. It kept the game moving and made it that new content was continually being presented to me. There was one exception to this in being shown to Diglett’s Cave from Vermillion City (this being around a ten second walk away for those unaware) but overall I felt them a positive inclusion. All of that being said, the beauty of them is that they are presented as choices; if you’d prefer to walk back, you’re entirely free to, sometimes even rewarded with an amusing quip for turning down such a kind offer.

Kanto itself is the best it has ever been. While I have to question whether this is as far as the Switch can be pushed, the region feels alive; colourful and bustling with activity. Though a large part of this comes from the wild Pokemon visually roaming around you from route to route, I feel the work put into the world shouldn’t be overlooked. Let’s Go succeeds in presenting a region fantastically familiar, and yet completely fresh. A personal favourite change of mine comes from the redesigned gyms now having seating for people to watch the battles. It’s something incredibly small, but it really builds up excitement for each major battle as a thing that deserves to be watched. Small changes like this are littered throughout the world, and do well in drawing fans of the series back to where it started. I constantly found myself thinking “this wasn’t there last time!” and appreciating just how amazing technology is to have allowed for such a world to be in my hands.

Catch and Train

In Let’s Go, the focus of the gameplay has quite clearly shifted. In previous games, the general gameplay loop consisted of battling wild Pokemon to be strong enough to battle trainers, to then be strong enough to defeat key opponents such as gym leaders or evil organisation bosses. To some extent, this loop is still in place. You still gain experience through wild encounters, you still battle trainers, defeat gym leaders, and overthrow evil corporations. It’s around the implementation of Pokemon Go’s wild encounter mechanics this loop begins to evolve.

With encounters now as simple as walking into a Pokemon in the overworld, then throwing a ball into a shrinking circle, the game encourages a different kind of playstyle. Experience is gained by catching a Pokemon, with bonuses rewarded for capturing on your first throw, for landing your shot in a smaller target, and for catching many of the same Pokemon, amongst other things. The overarching theme to these bonuses is playing well and playing fast, pushing you to get better and in turn, encounter and catch more and more Pokemon. Going back to the gameplay loop of previous games, this focus on more literally catching them all disrupts how the game is generally played. Expecting you to encounter and catch more Pokemon, and as such gain more experience, you’ll find fewer trainers hanging around the region, especially early on. Also quite notable is how few Pokemon each of them actually have, it being a little after the second gym before you commonly start seeing each of them have more than one on their team. It’s difficult to say whether this is a decision I agree with. I certainly understand this approach; trainer battles serve more of a purpose in providing you with the Poke Balls and money to continue your capturing sprees, in oppose to their previous role as a prime source of experience. That being said, I couldn’t help but feel I was being spoon-fed victories.

Coach Trainers are a lesser-talked about addition to the formula, being optional NPCs to interact with and in turn battle. They differ from your usual crowd in throwing out a stronger team, and rewarding your victory with rarer items, such as candies for your starter Pokemon or TMs. While I did enjoy their presence, the feeling of them being there as a patchwork solution to the standard trainers’ difficulty remained in the back of my mind.

I understand these games are largely as they are to act as a lighter and more casual entry point to the series, and in that each of these changes do thrive. The wild encounters are different, and it definitely isn’t something for everybody, but to me it’s simply another kind of Pokemon. It isn’t trying to challenge you as a player, more see you through a quaint journey of throwing balls at anything that moves and reward you for sitting down and taking everything in. As somebody’s first game, it ticks all the boxes mechanically speaking, and sets them up well for the inevitable step up the next generation of games will bring with them.

Motion Madness

The Switch toted as a console to be played anywhere, anytime, with anyone, Let’s Go brings with it a first to the series in co-op play. Simply have a friend pick up a Joy Con, shake it, and they’re in! As the second player, they’ll have their own avatar in the overworld, and have a Pokemon from your party follow behind them. If you time your throws together in a wild encounter, your balls will converge, giving a satisfying animation alongside a reasonable capture bonus. On top of this, they’ll also be able to join you in trainer battles, making for an amusingly unfair 2v1 fight.

If you look at this from a difficulty standpoint, it’s fairly easy to imagine just how much this trivialises what few challenges the game has to offer. If you wanted to get through it as quickly as possible, you could even pick up the second Joy Con for yourself, but this isn’t really what this system is for. To put it as simply as possible, if you’re reading this, I honestly don’t think the co-op play was made with you in mind. I imagine the game’s co-op to be a generation of children’s first interaction with the series, tagging along with a parent’s or sibling’s adventure. With this in mind, its current implementation is perfect in the most straightforward of ways. It’s an adventure of simplicity and reward for fresh-faced fans in place to draw them into the world itself.

For the single players out there, Let’s Go offers three ways to play: in handheld mode with the Joy Cons attached to the system, with a Joy Con (either the left or right), or with the Poke Ball Plus. From my time playing the game, I can say I came to enjoy each way of playing, but none is without fault. Starting with what most would consider the best way to play, handheld mode is the closest you’ll find to a traditional control scheme. You move with the left analogue stick, interact with A, cancel with B, and use the extra buttons for additional shortcuts. It feels natural. Catching a Pokemon sees you manoeuvre the system with motion controls before pressing A to throw your ball at the target, and it’s here the issues begin. Motion controls. Handheld mode offers what is probably the better implementation of these, but even with that in mind, they aren’t exactly optional. While the left analogue stick is usable in handheld mode, motion is always active, forcing you to weave and wave your console until you hit your target, or stay entirely still as you manoeuvre the left stick.

The single Joy Con and Poke Ball Plus take a different approach. Seeing you perform a throwing motion with your chosen controller, you’re provided with a real sense of being in the moment. The HD rumble, as well as the internal speaker of the Poke Ball Plus, do a brilliant job in pulling the game out from behind the screen, but we find ourselves arriving at the same issue. Having far less control over where the ball is heading, I managed to perfect my throwing to hit Pokemon in the centre of the screen, and at a specific point to the left and right. The motion quite fortunately felt guided to a reasonable extent, but still frustrating at times as your ball flies to the opposite end of the screen.

A bit of an oddball, the Poke Ball Plus only has an analogue stick and two buttons, as well as an additional interaction to be had when shaking it. With such limited options, you miss out on a lot of the convenience you get from the other control schemes. You might be questioning just what is so special about it to justify a £45 purchase? There isn’t really a surprise to go here, it’s exactly what it says it is. While it provides some of the most satisfying feedback I’ve felt in any Switch game I’ve played, I struggle to recommend it to others unless they find themselves wanting to use the Pokemon Go Plus functionality as well. It’s a great feeling to throw it at a Pokemon, but I don’t believe it does enough for somebody just wanting to play Let’s Go.

While I really enjoyed each control style, it stands out as a shame to me just how limited they are. Want to use the precision aiming of handheld mode when the system is docked? You’re out of luck. Want to use a pro controller? Both Joy Cons in the grip? Afraid not. Be it a push to sell the Poke Ball Plus as a control option, or a complete misjudgement of the playerbase, the lack of choice when it comes to controls is a real shame. With this being a key thing to make or break the overall experience, it needs to be perfect, or as close as possible, and for many this simply isn’t the case.

What Comes After

If you’ve played a Kantonian Pokemon game before, you’ll largely know what you’re getting into for the bulk of the game. Eight gyms, Team Rocket, maybe a few legendary birds. But what do you do when all is said and done, after the credits have rolled? This is where things start to get a little murky. Lacking the Sevvi Islands of Fire Red and Leaf Green, and even the Battle Towers and Frontiers seen in many a recent release, the amount you’ll get out of Let’s Go’s postgame content will depend on how much you’re willing to put into it.

After the Elite Four, you return to Pallet Town, the game expanding in two ways. The first allows you to fly over the world on one of three Pokemon: Charizard, Dragonite, or Aerodactyl. It’s a really fun inclusion, being able to soar above houses, over oceans, and past that one route you decided you didn’t want to fight every trainer, but it also shines a light on the segmentation of Kanto. While you can fly above most things, you’re still forced to dismount when entering the gates or mountains that divide the region. For example, on one map you have everywhere from Viridian City all the way south to Cinnabar Island, and on to Fuchsia City. On another, Pewter City to the entrance of Mt Moon, and so on. The world has always been divided by these boundaries, but it’s never felt like such a hard border. My irritation further fuelled by the lack of accessible way to dismount outside of opening the menu, navigating to the Pokemon screen, and putting the Pokemon back in its ball, it feels as though little thought was put into what is otherwise a really cool addition. There are a lot of ways this could have been remedied. From simply having mounting and dismounting assigned to a button, to extending the divisory gates and mountains to accommodate high-flying trainers, the game appears to lack a final coat of polish.

The second post-game addition comes in the form of Master Trainers—trainers scattered through the region specialising in only one Pokemon. To challenge them for their mastery over a Pokemon, you’re forced to fight them one on one in a mirror match. I find this to be an odd inclusion given the casual focus of the rest of the game, but a fun and refreshing challenge nonetheless. This is however the part of the postgame content where you’ll basically get back what you put in. Each Master Trainer’s Pokemon is at least level 65, going up to level 75. While you’ll be able to beat one or two with the Pokemon trained during your adventure, you’ll soon hit a wall, one you can only really overcome by grinding it out. Whether you’ll want to do this really comes down to whether you enjoy the game’s capture mechanics. If you do, sifting through the wild populous of each species can become a calming activity as you go about watching your daily TV shows in the background. If you don’t though… You’ll probably just want to skip these altogether.

It’s difficult to say whether Let’s Go will be a game for you. If you enjoyed Pokemon Go, I’d recommend diving in, though with the lack of touch controls, your muscle memory and experience will only take you so far. For everybody else, it comes down to what you want out of the game. What we have here is not Pokemon in the traditional sense. It finds its strengths in other areas, drawing in a more casual and relaxing air about it. If you want to relive your childhood wonderment as you explored the vast region of Kanto, your family of miscellaneous creatures in tow, I’d say give it a shot; just don’t be expecting too much of a challenge along the way.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s