There are two shining moments that stand out in most Pokémon fans’ memories. First, that moment when you entered the world of Pokémon for the first time, whether that came through the video games, the cartoon, or the card game. Second, the summer of 2016, when Pokémon Go became a worldwide phenomenon and fans swarmed the streets en masse, banding together to hunt the rarest Pokémon or swap tales and rumors. Now, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee! are here to try and combine the best of both experiences: the nostalgia of the very first Pokémon games and the interaction of Pokémon Go.
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee! are remakes of the first generation of Pokémon games and the land of Kanto, something that we’ve all seen many times before. Kanto reappeared in Pokémon Yellow, at the end of Gold and Silver, then FireRed, LeafGreen, HeartGold, and SoulSilver, and then again in the rereleases of Red and Blue on Nintendo DS. However, despite being a remake, the Let’s Go games actually change the series’ gameplay more than any of the recent newer entries in the series.
By far the biggest change comes in how Pokémon are caught. In every other mainline Pokémon game, wild Pokémon are caught by encountering them in tall grass and dark caves, battling them, whittling their health down to the lowest it can go without knocking them out, inflicting status effects on them to up the catch rate, and then throwing Pokéballs until they’re caught. Let’s Go has an entirely different system. Instead of appearing suddenly from the tall grass, Pokémon appear on the overworld, making running into them a deliberate choice. Like the system seen in Pokémon Go, there’s no choice to battle these Pokémon, merely to catch them. An ever-shrinking ring appears over each Pokémon in red, orange, yellow, or green, depending on how easy the wild Pokémon is to catch, and players must throw Poké Balls through the ring at the right time to catch these Pokémon.
This is a well-advertised feature of the game, so I knew going in what to expect. What I didn’t realize, though, is just how much this new system would change how I played the game. There’s no more fear of walking through tall grass, hoping to get through each patch uninterrupted, or losing track of where you are in a cave puzzle from a sudden battle. No carefully whittling down a Pokémon’s health, instead relying more on luck and items and hoping Pokémon won’t run. No grinding before a gym by walking in a set pattern around a clump of grass. No more battling to grind, at all—instead, catching Pokémon grants your team experience. Is getting rid of that grind and those random encounters a bad thing? Not necessarily—I had pretty much gotten used to it by halfway through the game—but for long-time Pokémon fans like myself, it’s different.
Changing this central part of the gameplay changes several side systems as well. There’s no more fishing in the game, since you encounter Pokémon in the water. The Game Center is completely non-operational, probably due to Nintendo changing its policies on anything resembling gambling in children’s games. There’s no more Safari Zone, though it could be argued that the entire game is one big Safari Zone now, with how players throw items and balls at Pokémon more closely resembling that area than the original wilderness. On the other hand, a few new mini-systems have popped up to replace the features that were removed. Ghosts now chase players through the Pokémon Tower in Lavender Town, bird Pokémon fly in the sky, and a huge Pokémon Go connectivity center stands where the Safari Zone once was. I wasn’t able to test this last feature, which lets players transfer Pokémon back and forth from the Pokémon Go app to the Switch game, since its services weren’t online at the time of review. Supposedly, however, it includes a few new minigames based on the Pokémon transferred.
Another change is one that’s been coming since Pokémon Sun and Moon: the removal of HMs, or Hidden Machines. In the past, these were utility moves that let players traverse the world, chopping down trees, surfing on the water, or pushing large boulders around. In Sun and Moon, these were changed to be Pokémon that you could call upon to assist you. Let’s Go consolidates it even further, letting your partner Pikachu or Eevee learn how to fly, surf, light up caves, and more. Watching Eevee soar across the sky with a bunch of balloons might have been a little too cute for my tastes (I’m a battle-hardened, weathered Pokémon Master, dangit!), but I can’t say that I miss having to sacrifice a big portion of my team’s moveset to navigating the world.
Nintendo really doesn’t want players to get rid of their partner Pokémon. In addition to providing the equivalent of every HM service, your partner Pokémon gets custom accessories, outfits, and hairstyles, and they show up in dozens of cute little cutscenes high-fiving you upon defeating gyms or facing tough situations. There’s a big button on the menu devoted solely to playing with your Pikachu or Eevee. While Pokémon Friendship isn’t a thing in this game the way it is in X and Y, your partner Pokémon acts like it has maxed Friendship, sometimes curing itself of status effects, dodging enemy attacks, or staying alive with one hit point after a devastating attack, just because it loves you.
On top of all that, Nintendo made your partner Pokémon really, really overpowered. They’ll have perfect stats, or nearly, by default, and NPC trainers offer to teach your Pokémon a series of extremely powerful moves throughout the game. By the second gym, my Eevee knew three moves, each of which was 90-power, 100-accuracy, added an extra effect, and had enough variance to cover nearly every enemy’s weakness. (For context, my Charizard only started learning similar moves at the very end of the game’s storyline, about 20 hours later). My coworker Evan, playing the Pikachu version of the game, reported similar findings, making it possible to one-shot or two-shot your way through most of the game with just your partner. While it is possible to bench your partner Pokémon, they’ll stay standing on your head while you run around. Is it cheating to one-shot your way through the game when Nintendo hands you the tools, makes them ridiculously cute, and encourages you to use them every step of the way? Multiplayer mode letting a second player jump in at any point makes it even easier. There’s still difficult content in the game, but you won’t run into most of it until after the credits have rolled and you’re finishing up your Pokédex and collections.
Of course, you’ll still have the chance to bond with other Pokémon in your party. At any time, you can select a Pokémon to walk alongside you, and all of them have unique animations. Venusaur hops around like a giant frog, Magikarp flops pathetically in the dust, and the legendary birds sail majestically after you. A few can be ridden, including a handful of surprising choices I wouldn’t have picked. This is another feature that comes with a trade: There’s no more bike in the game, but you can jump on the backs of Pokémon that are just as fast. The feature can be both nice and a little annoying. You automatically dismount near walls, NPCs, signs, and transitional areas and remount upon leaving, meaning that running through a city can leave you flickering back and forth from your Arcanine’s back to your own two feet. On the other hand, I’d rather it be automatic than have to manually dismount and remount every single time I enter a building.
It’s also a minor annoyance in the face of the Pokémon and Kanto itself, which are easily the best-looking versions of the Pokémon universe yet seen in a game. I’m not one to judge a game by its graphics alone, but this is the first main Pokémon game to make it off a handheld device and onto the TV—and it looks spectacular. For many players, getting this fresh look at Kanto and your favorite Pokémon will be more than enough to buy the game, regardless of any of the actual gameplay. Casual fans of Pokémon Go will see the familiarity in the way Pokémon are caught, and might enjoy using the slightly-wonky motion controls to mime throwing a Poké Ball at the screen (though personally, I found the motion controls to be very hit-or-miss, often shooting balls far off to one side or the other, and much preferred using the buttons in handheld mode for anything I actually wanted to catch). Hardcore fans will find some of Pokémon’s deeper systems, like chaining Pokémon for shinies and the presence of EVs and IVs, demystified and easier to access and control. Those just looking for a dose of nostalgia may be thrown off by the changed battle system, as I was.
Ultimately, though, I think the Let’s Go games did what all good remakes should do: upgrade the good things, like the graphics and sound, add some new content for returning fans to discover, and take a long, hard look at systems that may be outdated and decide whether or not to keep them. Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! isn’t the same as Pokémon Yellow, but it’s not trying to be an exact copy. The nostalgic inner child in me may screech in protest when my Snorlax runs away under the new catching system, but just because a system is different from what I grew up with doesn’t make it bad. For many players, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! may be the game to recreate that magic spark.
|Publisher: The Pokémon Company, Nintendo • Developer: Game Freak • ESRB: E • Release Date: 11.16.2018|
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! may be a remake of the oldest Pokémon games in the series, but it shakes up the standard Pokémon formula more than any of the main games since. With a catching system reminiscent of Pokémon Go, an adorable Eevee or Pikachu partner, multiplayer, and gorgeous graphics, the Let’s Go games have something to offer for every Pokémon fan, though the game’s changes may be just different enough to throw off the nostalgia for returning players.
|The Good||Pokémon have truly never looked as good as they do in Let’s Go, and the game has something for every level of fan to enjoy.|
|The Bad||A complete overhaul to the system of encountering and catching Pokémon may throw off fans with lots of nostalgia for the series.|
|The Ugly||Trying to throw a Poké Ball in a straight line with the Joy-Con motion controls.|
|Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! are available on Nintendo Switch. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|