Nintendo / The Pokémon Company International / Game Freak
This review needs a bit of a disclaimer first, because different people play Pokémon in different ways.
Some like to focus mainly on the battling side of things, their priority being the building of an unbeatable squad of Pokémon that can take out any hapless sod foolish enough to challenge them to a fight locally or online.
Others consider it more of a solo affair: their focus is on playing through the main game, defeating the Elite Four and then – if they’re still keen on more – attempting to ‘catch ‘em all’ and fill their Pokédex.
To be clear, I fit very much into the latter category, and this may affect the review you’re about to read. You see, Pokémon Let’s Go does feel like the sort of game that will appeal more to collectors than battlers.
This may partly be because it’s essentially a modern-day remake of Pokémon Yellow, a first-gen Game Boy title that came at a time when connecting handhelds was a faff and a half.
In the days before wireless and online connectivity, players needed a special link cable to trade and battle their Pokémon. Since most found this to be too much of a hassle or expense, for many the original generation’s general vibe was more “beat the game!” than “boot everyone’s arse up and down the planet”.
Over the years the idea of ‘catching ‘em all’ has taken more of a back seat. As the number of Pokémon has risen from the original 151 to a fairly comical 809, the idea of filling your Pokédex by catching and evolving them all on your own seems more and more ridiculous. In recent times, trading online has pretty much been a must.
With new Pokémon, features and gimmicks regularly added over the course of seven generations it’s reached the point, frankly, where I wonder how kids discovering the series for the first time can even get into it without their little brains dissolving into a confused puddle of mush.
Step forward Let’s Go, then, which essentially hits a big ‘reset’ button and brings everything back to the first generation again (for better or worse). We’re back to a basic Pokédex, we’re back to the region of Kanto, we’re back to Professor Oak and Mt Moon and all those original moments that made gamers fall in love more than 20 years ago.
As you can probably tell by the game titles, there are two starter Pokémon in Let’s Go, the one you receive depending on which version you buy. Pikachu is my favourite of the two, but Nintendo sent me a code for the Eevee version, so who am I to complain: after all, beggars can’t be Pikachoosers.
Your Pokémon of choice will accompany you throughout your entire journey, but don’t worry if you aren’t really keen on either of them: you can also choose any one of the other 149 Pokémon – as long as you’ve caught them already – to also wander alongside you.
This means my dream of playing a Pokémon game with Psyduck (the greatest Pokémon of all time) by my side has finally been realised. For that reason alone, this is the best game ever made. Probably.
Some of the core Pokémon mechanics have been tweaked or outright removed in Let’s Go in favour of those featured in the Pokémon Go mobile app. To be perfectly honest, I’m not against them in theory: they’re just a little fiddly in practice.
The main example of this is when it comes to battling wild Pokémon: mainly because now you don’t. Instead, when you encounter one you have the same options as you would in the mobile game: chuck a Pokéball at it to try and catch it, or throw a berry at it to try and win it over (and make it easier to catch).
Throwing a Pokéball is now a motion-controlled affair. Using your single Joy-Con or Pokéball Plus controller (more on those options in a bit), you have to raise your controller then flick it downwards to throw a Pokéball. You need to do it as straight as possible to avoid chucking it off to the side.
Alternatively, if you’re playing in handheld mode you can aim with the Switch’s gyros and simply press the A button to throw your Pokéball. I much prefer this option.
Once you catch your Pokémon you’ll still get experience points, like you did when you battled them back in the day. The difference is that the number of experience points you get now depends on a number of factors: whether it was your first throw, how accurate the throw was, the size of the Pokémon and the like.
You now have more choice when getting into these battles too. Rather than running through thick grass and coming across a completely random Pokémon, Let’s Go lets you actually see all the Pokémon in an area wandering around. No more running into four Pidgeys in a row… unless you want to, of course.
You see, there’s a new combo system in place that rewards you with more experience points every time you catch the same species of Pokémon multiple times in a row. This means if you catch a Psyduck – and good for you, if you do – you can then avoid all the other Pokémon around you until you see another Psyduck, then approach it to try and keep the combo going.
Another benefit of combos is that the higher the combo goes, the more likely you are to encounter a super-rare shiny version of that Pokémon. That said, I don’t have any shinies yet, so it’s still not like the game chucks them at you.
This catching-and-combo mechanic is easily the biggest difference between Let’s Go and Pokémon Yellow. Much of the rest of the game is similar to the 20-year-old Yellow, and whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on your own preference.
Personally, I’m all for it. In my eyes there are two demographics who are most likely to benefit from the way Let’s Go has been substantially dialled back to basics. The first is younger kids getting into the series for the first time, for whom something like Pokémon Sun and Moon must be a bewildering onslaught of features and gimmicks (not to mention nearly 1000 creatures to learn).
The second is people my age, who have a 9-to-5 job and maybe even a family to raise. I no longer have the 400+ hours I put into HeartGold and SoulSilver back in the ONM days when I used to commute to work on the Tube, so I generally can’t commit to enormous adventures any more.
By going back to basics, Let’s Go presents a more manageable journey where getting all eight Gym Badges and beating the Elite Four doesn’t have to feel like you’re taking on a second job. Many will find this disappointing, I find it refreshing: this is the first Pokemon game in nearly a decade that I’ve been able to beat in my free time.
There are issues that I don’t like, most notably the control method. The aforementioned motion controlled throwing is literally the only way you can play the game if you’re playing on TV mode.
Whether you’re using a single Joy-Con or the Pokéball controller (there’s no option to use dual Joy-Cons), you’re going to have to master that downward throw or you aren’t going to be able to play on the telly. It’s even worse when some Pokémon move side to side, because then accuracy goes out the window.
Handheld mode is the complete opposite: you simply move the Switch around to aim, get the Pokémon lined up in the centre of the screen and press the A button to throw a Pokeball smack dab into the middle. It’s far easier to get accurate throws this way, and makes things far more enjoyable as a result.
GALLERY OF EUPHEMISMS:
There’s literally no reason why, when playing on TV, I shouldn’t be able to use either the Pro Controller or both Joy-Con together in the Joy-Con Grip. Either of those options would be able to replicate the ‘aim and press A’ mechanism of handheld mode, and it would make playing on TV so much better (which I really want to do, because it turns out a proper Pokémon adventure looks great on a massive screen).
Also, I’ve got to say, I really don’t like the Pokéball Plus controller. Kids will get a kick out of it, but it only has a single button on the top, and the main ‘A’ button is mapped to pressing in the analogue stick (L3 or R3 style). As someone with an oddly-shaped thumb (more on that one day), I found it extremely frustrating to use during menus, because often I’d highlight an option, then accidentally move the cursor as I pressed down on the stick, choosing the wrong option as a result.
Hardcore fans of battling may also be annoyed at the new candy system. Because the act of battling wild Pokémon has been replaced with catching them instead, you’re left with a hell of a lot more unwanted Pokémon in your inventory as a result. The solution is to send them to Professor Oak, who’ll replace them with candy.
This candy can then be given to your Pokémon to directly and permanently enhance their stats. This theoretically throws the whole competitive battle system out the window because any particular statistical weaknesses a Pokémon may have can now be eliminated with enough candy. So that’s why if you’re more of a battler than a catcher you may be unhappy.
All these talking points aside, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a good time playing Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee, and the fact I plan to continue playing to fill my Pokédex is a good sign in my eyes.
It may not be the next big generational step some fans were hoping for, but by all accounts that’s still coming. Meanwhile, as a remake of a Gen 1 game, I think it nails it.
Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! are available now on Nintendo Switch. You can buy physical versions from Amazon UK (Pikachu edition, Eevee edition, Pikachu edition with Pokéball Plus, Eevee edition with Pokéball Plus).
In order that I could write this review, I received a digital copy of the game from Nintendo. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.
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You missed a great one on the way to Saffron City: there is a trainer you fight called ‘Explorer Nob’.