Pokémon is the series that kickstarted my lifelong relationship with video games. From playing Pokémon Red on my gigantic green GameBoy to spending hours on my Nintendo 3DS XL hunting for shinies in Pokémon Ultra Moon, I’ve never shaken off my “gotta catch ’em all” mentality. With that said, the announcements of Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! had me more worried than ecstatic. Could this remake of Pokémon Yellow with Pokémon Go mechanics actually work, or will only one side of the fanbase be pleased?
Well, my fellow trainers, after having hands-on time with Let’s Go, I can say with confidence that it’s a good balance of the mobile spin-off game and what many of us love from the mainline entries, including shinies, no need to wave your arm around to throw a Poké Ball, and more.
During my demo of Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! at E3, I was able to jump back into Kanto’s infamous Viridian Forest. The wooded area is still filled with plenty of Bug Catcher trainers and a surplus of Caterpie and Weedle, but this is where the influences of Niantic’s mobile game already come into play. Instead of running through the grass to encounter a wild Pokémon, the pocket monsters are just wandering around in the open, letting you avoid the ones you don’t want to deal with and hunt for that Butterfree that will make the Pewter City gym fight much easier. I spent most of my time hunting down a Pikachu and avoiding several Bug-types I didn’t care for, which ended up feeling like its own mini-game.
Honestly, it was completely logical to carry over this aspect from Go, as it brings more realism to the Pokémon world. After all, how has Onix been able to hide in a patch of grass that’s only as high as as a 12-year-old’s knees for all these years? Also, for those that love to hunt for the rare color-swapped creatures we lovingly know as shinies, being able to target the Pokémon that could possibly be shiny should streamline the entire process. And, yes, according to a Nintendo representative I spoke with, we will have shiny Pokémon in Let’s Go.
Once I began the encounter with the wild Pikachu, it was time to address the primary concern that I and many others have had with Let’s Go: the catching. While the mainline games have always had you weaken a wild Pokémon in battle with damage, status effects, and abilities before attempting a Poké Ball throw, Let’s Go is more akin to Niantic’s format. You can’t do any damage to wild Pokémon and the only way to make them easier to catch is to feed the wild encounter a berry or use a more powerful Poké Ball, like a Great or Ultra Ball. On top of that, motion controls were initially touted as the only way to throw said ball, which to many fans sounded like a gimmick and not a welcome feature. However, in reality, it all works and provides one of the best feelings I’ve had in a Pokémon game in years.
I was able to practice capturing using the Poké Ball Plus device, which is a controller that looks like the iconic item of the same name. After feeding the Pikachu a berry, I waited for the glowing ring around the Electric-type to get to its smallest size. Then, with my 10-year-old spirit cheering me on inside, I started spinning my arm in a circle, made a throwing motion with the controller toward the screen, threw the ball and…I missed. Thankfully, it wasn’t the game’s fault. Going into the demo, I believed everything about Go‘s throwing mechanics would be incorporated here, including the need to spin the ball for a curve bonus. That’s not how it works, though. While the moving success rate ring around the Pokémon is straight from Go, Let’s Go‘s throw format feels more true to life. Once I stopped waving my arms around and threw the ball like I would a baseball, I was getting “Excellent” hits over and over. If I can relate this to anything from the Pokémon series I would say its almost like Pokémon Sun and Moon‘s throwing styles. In those entries, trainers are able to learn different ways to toss a Poké Ball, such as underhanded or with some elegant flair. In turn, Let’s Go‘s throws took more from the mainline series than from Go, and for me, that was a relief.
While a Joy-Con can be used in place of the add-on I played with, the Poké Ball Plus will definitely be the way to go. Apart from feeling like a real Poké Ball, Nintendo added a few genius touches to it that take it to another level. In particular, when a Pokémon is successfully hit, the ring on the center of the device glows and makes a noise with each shake, as if the Pokémon is attempting to escape. Then, if the capture is completed, the cry of the creature emits from the controller, which makes the entire experience feel that much more realistic. For those that want a more classic experience, Nintendo has already confirmed a throw button can be mapped to the controller to replace the motion control feature.
Another standout that took me by surprise were the graphics. While the trailers and few bits of gameplay we’ve been shown have made it clear these Switch games will look more polished than the past entries in the series, they didn’t reveal the strong detail work. For example, when I was using my sidekick Pikachu in battle, I could see the individual hairs on its body, and my Charmander that followed me around in the forest had a tail that looked like real fire. The same refinement went into the battle animations, too, as Pikachu’s Thundershock had bolts that looked more realistic than ever before.
Overall, my feelings toward Pokémon: Let’s Go have shifted dramatically. As a Pokémon fan, there was no way I wasn’t going to jump into these new entries, but I had my reservations that left me wondering if I would truly enjoy the experience. I love Pokémon Go but I didn’t want a console version of what’s widely considered a watered-down version of a core entry. Now, having seen that Game Freak took the spirit of Niantic’s game and melded them with many of the core series’ mechanics, I just want to play these as soon as possible. And for those that only know about this odd world from playing Go, the features from the main franchise aren’t overwhelming here and should provide an accessible gateway into whatever Game Freak and The Pokémon Company have planned for the 2019 game.