lets go pikachu

On the Shoulders of Giants: GeekDad Reviews ‘Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!’ and ‘Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee!’

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lets go pikachu
image: Nintendo of America

Let’s cut to the chase—Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! are very, very good titles. This should come as a surprise to no one. For more than two decades, Nintendo and GAME FREAK have been consistently cranking out some of the most beloved, accessible, and addictive RPGs on the market, powering forward the massively popular Pokémon media franchise along the way. Suffice it to say they know what they’re doing, and this latest entry is very much the culmination of generations (at least in Pokémon terms) of blood, sweat, and tears.

This week, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! arrive on the Nintendo Switch, marking the core Pokémon franchise’s first appearance on the platform. Both titles play like an updated take on 1998’s Pokémon Yellow, a game that easily differentiated itself from its Generation I peers by featuring a particularly strong-willed Pikachu. Though some fans would’ve surely preferred a wholly original game instead of a remake, the creators’ presumed stubbornness—not entirely unlike that of the titular Pikachu and/or Eevee—ultimately proved itself an asset rather than a liability.

More Than Just Pokémon Yellow

Rather than a devil, a chip, or Mr. Bluebird, I began my latest Pokémon adventure with a Pikachu on my shoulder. (I named him Sparky because of course I did.) Much like Ash’s Pikachu in the long-running anime and its predecessor, the Pokémon Yellow Pikachu, he’s a little high maintenance, sure—he refuses to go into his Poké Ball and shows no interest in evolving into Raichu—but he’s proven a staunch ally just the same.

Still, despite the inclusion of a Pokémon partner with peculiar predilections and its traditional Kanto region setting, Let’s Go is far from just a simple rehashing of the original source material. In fact, a lot has changed in the past two decades, and Let’s Go, Pikachu! does an amazing job of folding in the new with the old to make this an adventure to be savored.

Throughout the game, you’ll be able to trade your vanilla Pocket Monsters for some of the more exotic Alolan Forms (a la Pokémon Sun and Moon). You’ll also be afforded the chance to explore powerful Mega Evolutions and to dote over your partner Pokémon via the touchscreen to help strengthen your bond—just like in Pokémon: X and Y.

In addition to your Eevee or Pikachu, you can take a second Pokémon out of its Ball and have it follow you on your adventures (think HeartGold and SoulSilver), which opens up a number of interesting possibilities. Sure, I could ride my Onix into town, towering menacingly above everyone I meet, but there’s something to be said for the pure existential horror that is sprinting around Kanto with a frantic, arm-waving Mr. Mime in tow.

pokemon let's go ride
image: Nintendo of America

Blasting Off (Again)

Another notable inclusion is Jessie and James. Just like in Pokémon Yellow, they’re back to do the sinister bidding of Team Rocket in a way that only they—and their hapless Meowth—can. Their role seems a bit more fleshed out this time around, with the inclusion of new Double Battles and in-game dialog that just feels a little more on-brand for the trio of ne’er-do-wells.

That said, much of the core Gen I plot does remain relatively unchanged. You’ll explore and add to your roster of captured Pokémon. You’ll battle Gym Leaders for Badges, opening up more and more of the map as your character progresses in his journey to be the very best. But you’ll do it all with a new slant.

As an example, gone are the classic Hidden Techniques—things like Cut, Fly, and Surf that were the original prerequisites for navigating certain in-game obstacles. Instead, your partner Pokémon can now learn analogs called Secret Techniques like Chop Down, Sea Skim, and Sky Dash, further cementing his role as your go-to Pocket Monster.

The type-bending doesn’t stop there. The Water-type move Splishy Splash can be learned early on by your Electric-type Pikachu, while the Fire-type Sizzly Slide can be taught to your plain old Normal-type Eeevee. These moves help your (un-evolving) partner become a more well-rounded fighter, giving them the leg up on otherwise tough competition and serving as a valid in-game reason to keep them at the top of your roster.

The Pokémon GO Connection

Pokémon games are, almost by definition, grind-y. Even seasoned players and lifelong fans (like yours truly) can get a little testy after that fifth or sixth consecutive Zubat attack.

Let’s Go has taken a novel approach to this problem, and I feel like this change will likely be its most polarizing element. In short, Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu!/Eevee! has all but eliminated the random encounter.

With rare exception, as you traverse the wilderness, caves, and ocean waves that serve as the connective tissue between the towns of Kanto, you will plainly see approaching wild Pokémon. This allows you to weigh your options of interacting with or avoiding your potential quarry. In tight spaces, evasion is difficult, but most of the time, you can simply walk around unwanted Pokémon and resume your journey.

With a visual representation (in the form of swirling energy) to differentiate tiny and giant variations of common Monsters as well as an on-screen counting system, the game makes it easy to both pick your battles and chain-catch in search of those elusive Shiny Pokémon, but the big difference is immediately noticeable the first time you come face to face with a wild Pocket Monster.

pokemon let's go catch
image: Nintendo of America

Don’t look for that tried-and-true battle system (with the exception of Legendaries, who must be bested in combat before you attempt to catch ’em); you no longer have to weaken regular Pokémon by attacks and inflicting status effects. Instead, you simply use a combination of berries and Poké Ball tosses—just like in Pokémon GO.

Obviously, you’ll still battle other trainers and Gym Leaders, but your interaction with wild ‘Mon has been streamlined. Ply your target with berries to calm it, select the appropriate Poké, Great, or Ultra Ball, and toss it—either using the face buttons in Handheld Mode or the by flicking the Joy-Con or Poké Ball Plus in TV or Tabletop Modes.

Just like in GO, hitting your target dead-center when the color-changing reticle is at its smallest point increases your chances of a successful capture, not to mention giving you an experience boost to boot. This means you won’t have to wear down your battle party in-between Gym or Trainer battles, and you can save your valuable Potions and power-ups for when you really need them.

Further, it means that capture Balls take on an even more important role this time around. Thankfully, Poké Balls are never in short supply, as you are regularly rewarded with them after Trainer battles.

New School Cool

While full Pokémon GO integration wasn’t online during my review period, many of the game’s other new features were in full effect.

First and foremost, Let’s Go looks amazing (and sounds even better). It’s hi-def Pokémon on your TV and on the go, which is sure to please fans of all stripes. These enhanced visuals make dressing up your player character and partner Pokémon even more enjoyable than in previous titles.

In addition to local and online wireless trading and battling, there’s also a new multiplayer mode. Simply share a Joy-Con with a friend, and the traditionally solitary pursuit of Pokémon instantly becomes a more social affair.

It’s great to see GAME FREAK really embrace the possibilities of the Nintendo Switch hardware, but their innovation doesn’t end with just the console itself.

Power in the Palm of Your Hand

If I had any skepticism going into Let’s Go, Eevee!/Pikachu! it was regarding the Poké Ball Plus controller. Did I actually need to toss a real-world Ball to capture my Pokémon? Was one-hand control of a title this immersive really possible? Wouldn’t adding yet another component compromise the already wonderfully balanced Nintendo Switch?

My fears, it turns out, were unfounded.

Physically throwing a Poké Ball Plus—don’t worry, there’s an included wrist strap for safety—can make even an old curmudgeon like me feel like a spry 10-year-old Pokémon Master! Moreover, with its soft, comfortable feel and two-button interface, it’s somehow even more intuitive than the Joy-Con.

poke ball plus
image: Nintendo of America

Its top-facing control stick is smooth and responsive, and a click down on it serves as your A button. On the front of the ball, beneath its upper red half, is a concealed B button. Using those alone, you can easily battle, capture, heal, move around, and otherwise interact with the vibrant Kanto region.

More advanced features (specifically, swapping out your party Pokémon) will still require you to use that Joy-Con, and due to its spherical shape, I did have the occasional orientation problem, but otherwise, the Poké Ball Plus is the design innovation I didn’t realize I needed.

Wherever You May Roam

Despite games like the Stadium spin-offs and devices like the Super Game Boy, I’ve always thought of Pokémon as a portable title. Sure, there was a whole lot of story in that tiny plastic cartridge, but it was still constrained by the size of a handheld screen.

Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!/Eevee! has finally shattered that paradigm. Pokémon can be a console game. It can be on your TV. In your living room. In your bedroom. But you can still take all that wonder and adventure and discovery with you wherever you go. It’s a super-sized console experience that also travels well, and no matter how many times a Switch title manages to pull that off, it’s still a genuine and pleasant surprise.

The power of the Pokémon franchise, however, is also in its accessibility. While the number of Pocket Monsters just keeps growing, complete with new ways to battle and trade, each chapter begins with little more than a child and a professor and a fresh new starter. Pokémon: Let’s Go is all that and more, welcoming in not only brand new Trainers but also those who only know the series from its wildly popular mobile phone offshoot.

Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! is a new chapter in the Pokémon saga that repaints one of its earliest episodes in beautiful, modern tones. It is warm and welcoming, making it a perfect place to start, but also innovative and engaging—which is something even the most seasoned Pokémon Master can truly appreciate.

Review materials provided by Nintendo of America. My Pokemans, let me show you them.

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