Gotta Catch ’em All Again!
Pokémon has been a big part of my life since the original Pokémon Red and Blue came out over 20 years ago. The series has impacted me in many ways. It introduced me to anime and RPGs, helped me make friends, and got me through some of the toughest parts of my life. Naturally, I was excited to play Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee!, the first quasi-mainline game to arrive on a console. It’s not quite a spinoff, but it incorporates elements from the worldwide mobile phenomenon Pokémon GO into a remake of the original Game Boy game, Pokémon Yellow.
Here’s my Video Review for your viewing pleasure!
As a mostly traditional game, Pokémon: Let’s Go follows the series’ winning formula. You’re a trainer who wants to be the very best like no one ever was. You travel across the land searching far and wide to catch Pokémon, raise them, and use them to battle other trainers. Your goal is to earn eight gym badges and become a Pokémon Master.
If you’ve played the original Pokémon Yellow, it’s a nostalgic treat to see this 8-bit classic on the big screen. Every area has been updated with more detail, the cute anime-style trainer designs capture the originals’ super-deformed looks, and the Pokémon sparkle with a dazzling radiance. The soundtrack’s signature bouncy tunes and energetic battle themes receive a beautiful remaster as well. The presentation lovingly recreates the Game Boy RPG’s charm with a fresh coat of paint.
Here’s a brief overview of the gameplay that remains faithful to the original. Depending on your version, you start off with Pikachu or Eevee. From there, you catch more Pokémon and form a team of six. Battles against other trainers are one-on-one turn-based affairs, and whoever wipes out the other’s team reigns victorious. As your Pokémon level up, they learn new moves, and you’ll need to build a super effective moveset to take advantage of the extensive type match-ups – for example, electricity’s strength against water. Although Pokémon now have stat-influencing natures, there are no passive abilities, held items or breeding, so current players may find this back-to-basics approach comparatively shallow. What makes gameplay so addictive is the sense that you and your team are constantly improving through experience, bond, and evolution. I adore the progression loop of building a powerful team of my own. Only the first generation of 150 Pokémon are present, but there are enough creatures to ensure a unique adventure for each player.
As a remake, there are several updates, for better or worse. Starting with the positive, there are no random encounters. You can see wild Pokémon running out in the open, so you can choose who you want to face, avoid them completely, or chain same-species captures for bonuses. It’s refreshing that wild Pokémon do not constantly ambush you, and I’d love to see this implemented in future titles.
When the Switch is docked, you must play using a single Joy-Con controller. While I would’ve appreciated the option to use a Pro Controller, it’s surprisingly comfortable to play the entire game with one hand. You can even bypass using buttons by clicking on the analog stick to confirm decisions. When the Switch is undocked, you can use traditional two-handed button controls for the portable device. Alternatively, you may buy the separate Pokéball Plus peripheral, which acts as a controller and also comes with an exclusive Pokémon.
These changes lead to the biggest point of contention: the new capture mechanic. You no longer fight wild Pokémon in battle. Instead, once you encounter a Pokémon, the perspective switches to a first-person view that should be familiar to anyone who’s played Pokémon GO. You catch the Pokémon by using Joy-Con motion controls to throw Pokéballs. There’s a certain skill to aiming and timing your tosses. However, it largely depends on luck as your attempts can be thwarted by counter attacks or erratic jumping. I frequently missed because of frustrating gyroscope calibration. Once you’ve hit the target, all you can do is hope that it stays in the ball and doesn’t run away.
I’m honestly mixed on this capture style. On one hand, this method is more immersive. It compartmentalizes catching and battling, diversifying the overall pacing and speeding up the flow. However, it removes your own Pokémon from the equation. Yet, since your Pokémon gain experience through captures, you have to stockpile a bunch of excess monsters just to level up. The system’s thematically odd, and the motion minigame gets tedious. I would have preferred options to revert to the original game’s mechanics or a mixture of traditional battling and new-school capturing, which only happens on rare occasions. While in handheld mode, you can at least use button controls and aim with the gyroscope, though you strangely can’t use touch screen controls like in Pokémon GO. Speaking of Pokémon GO, its influence extends to a new Go Park that allows you to import your Generation 1 Pokémon from the mobile app, but it’s a one-way transfer.
The remaining updates improve quality-of-life or rebalance the game. One of my favorite conveniences is the ability to access my entire Pokémon box at any time, allowing me to switch my party at will. It’s fun to have a rotating team, particularly since Pokémon follow you on the overworld. In some cases, you can ride them, which makes travel much faster. Pokémon: Let’s Go effectively highlights the namesake starters Pikachu and Eevee. Although they can’t evolve, they learn exclusive moves, which alongside their perfect stats, make them powerhouses. They can also earn techniques like cutting bushes and surfing, negating the need for HMs (Hidden Machines – the original’s field moves) to remove obstacles and solve puzzles. Plus, who can resist the adorable matching costumes for your starter and yourself? And the fact that you can pet Pikachu or Eevee at any time?
It took me about 25 hours to beat the story. While Pokémon games are typically easy, Let’s Go was notably simpler due to automatic experience sharing and the lack of wild Pokémon battles. There is an extensive postgame quest, and catching ‘em all adds numerous hours. Raising a battle-ready team can factor in a lot of extra playtime for the hardcore. It’s unfortunate that online is handled so strangely. Unlike local play, where you can trade and battle your friends, you can’t choose your partner online. You’re limited to public rooms with three-character picture codes. When many people are playing at once, it can be hard to coordinate online rooms since anyone can join. This begs the question: why doesn’t this game utilize the Switch’s friend codes for private rooms?
One final extra feature is local co-op where two players can journey together. Sure, synchronizing Pokéballs to increase catch rate and ganging up on trainer battles two-on-one makes things even easier. But being able to play co-op Pokémon with my wife is one of my favorite novel experiences. And the opportunity to assist a younger gamer (or the other way around) is a golden way to share the series with someone.
Pokémon: Let’s Go is a solid, albeit flawed, return to the series’ roots. The Pokémon GO capture system left me with mixed feelings, but the core journey is an charming reimagining of the source material. Those searching far and wide for the next real mainline RPG will have to wait. But if you desire to catch ‘em all on the Switch now, then Pokémon: Let’s Go is an invigorating way to relive the glory days of the premiere generation and is a great introduction for newcomers.