Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 12/14/2018 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Among Pokemon fans, the two newest games in the series, Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee, are pretty controversial. A lot of the more hardcore fans don’t like how “dumbed down” the game is in a lot of ways, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s essentially a remake of Pokemon Yellow, but the 3D visuals and the jump to HD make this the most immersive Pokemon experience for me personally to date despite the simplified mechanics and strictly Gen 1 Pokedex.
As the titles suggest, your starting pokemon with either Pikachu or Eevee depending on your version. You quickly get the opportunity to catch the three traditional Gen 1 starters, though, and they became the bedrock of my team. My team ended up being Pikachu (whom I nicknamed Marth), Venusaur, Charizard, Blastoise, Gengar, and Starmie. While some folks have criticized the game for being too easy, I found it to be relaxing more so than childish. That’s not to say that the game is completely devoid of challenge. You still need to use some strategy – you can’t go fight Lt. Surge with a team of water and flying types and expect it to go well unless you’re way over-leveled – but it’s not nearly as challenging as some of the older entries.
The highlight of the game in terms of my immersion is definitely the HD visuals and having a pokemon of your choice follow behind you. Being a remake of Yellow which was inspired by the anime, the game features the images we’ve come to know and love for Professor Oak, Jessie and James, Blue, Nurse Joy, and Officer Jenny. The nostalgia here is real for millennials like me. It’s not just for my age group, though. In a lot of ways, Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee is for Pokemon what Mystic Quest was for Final Fantasy. It’s designed intentionally to be an entry-level game to bring newcomers to the series into the fold. As such, the biggest drive was accessibility. From that perspective, yeah, it’s much simpler and less challenging than the mainline entries in the series. If you let that dissuade you from playing it, however, you’re making a big mistake.
One of the ways The Pokemon Company tried to make these games accessible is by only including the original 151 pokemon. Part of the reason for this is obviously that diving in headfirst to nearly 1000 pokemon is going to overwhelm potential newcomers. As a longtime fan, I was personally disappointed that the later pokemon are totally absent from the game, but I can hardly hold that against it; it would be judging the game on what I wanted it to be rather than what it was intended to be. That’s what a lot of the user reviews I’ve seen seem to forget. This isn’t a game for the established Pokemon fanbase. There’s a lot there for us to love if we stop looking for flaws, but the game isn’t for us. It’s for newcomers who may have been hooked on Pokemon Go but never played a Pokemon game otherwise, and that’s no small group of folks.
What really sets Let’s Go apart from the other Pokemon RPGs (as the title should suggest) is its links to Pokemon Go. First and foremost, it uses Pokemon Go’s catching mechanic. With the exception of a few boss pokemon, you don’t battle wild pokemon, and even those that you do battle, the battle is a separate phase from the catching. The actual capture consists of throwing PokeBalls at the wild pokemon until they decide to stop breaking out. You can do this by “throwing” the Joycon or PokeBall Plus controller as if you would throw a PokeBall or by playing handheld and using the system’s gyroscope to aim and pressing A to throw the ball. I personally preferred the latter, but I did get the bundle with the PokeBall Plus controller to try it out. Then my dog ate the controller. It still works and everything, but it looks all chewed up and terrible. So I bought ANOTHER controller! It’s fine, though, because you can put a pokemon in the controller (think the PokeWalker from HeartGold and SoulSilver) and “take it for a stroll,” using the internal pedometer to level up your pokemon and collect items the more you walk.
In addition to the shared catching mechanic, there are more direct connections with Pokemon Go. First and foremost, you can link your Pokemon Go account with your Switch and transfer pokemon from Pokemon Go to your Pokemon Let’s Go game. It’s not a two-way transfer – you can only transfer FROM Go TO Let’s Go – but it’s still super cool that there’s a connection. You can also use your PokeBall Plus controller (if you bought one) as a Pokemon Go Plus accessory when you’re playing Pokemon Go. These are all pretty small things, but given that the intention is to pull in those Pokemon Go players to the mainline series, it’s a really nice touch, and it’s a cool little extra feature.
Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee aren’t the games that established fanbase was wanting, but it’s not the established fanbase for whom the game was made. This is a game that was designed to be a more casual, approachable experience to bring new players to the mainline series, and it plays like that. To expect a competitive game with deep battle mechanics is to expect the game to be something it was never intended to be. There is a LOT to love here. 3D visuals in 1080p. Pokemon followers some of which you can ride. A more relaxed experience. Nostalgia for the days of the 90s with the original anime and Gen I games. Even for Pokemon veterans like me, there’s a lot to love. As I said with Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, if you let the accessible difficulty level and relatively simplistic mechanics deter you from giving it a play, then you’re seriously missing out. This isn’t going to challenge an experienced tactical mind, but it will definitely please the nostalgic child from the 1990s trapped within the bodies of cynical and underpaid adults. Really, that’s all I need in life.