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Game Review

by Branden Johnson,

Pokémon: Let's Go!

Nintendo Switch

Pokémon: Let's Go!

I missed the Pokémon train entirely the first time around. It's strange; I love JRPGs, and I was the perfect age when Pokémon Red and Blue hit the Gameboy in the 90s. Whatever the reasons, I haven't played a single Pokémon game. Until now, of course. I had gotten the impression Pokémon Let's Go Eevee and Let's Go Pikachu were a sort of Pokémon-lite: toned down, entry-level affairs intended to attract a bigger audience. So, if I was going to get onboard the Poketrain, I figured this was the opportune time. My experience has left me simultaneously intrigued and unsatisfied. If the goal was to get me interested in further Pokémon games, Nintendo has done their job admirably.

Pokémon Let's Go Eevee (and Pikachu) are essentially remakes of Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow for the original Gameboy. You'll travel across the Kanto region of the Pokémon world, collecting a wide variety of creatures from the original generation of games. From the get-go, you have the ability to create your own character, though your options are limited to male or female and a small handful of hair and skin color options. You also get to name your friend/rival who will journey in parallel to you. After a brief intro in which you receive your main Pokémon -- either Pikachu or, if you chose the correct version of the game, Eevee -- you're sent out in the world to document every Pokémon in your Pokedex.

Encountering a Pokémon in the wild will add it to your Pokedex, but its entry remains incomplete until you capture one for yourself. This is where the grind comes in. Battling a bunch of wild Pokémon to level up your team in order to face off against gym leaders is a huge part of the traditional Pokémon experience, from what I understand. Pokémon Let's Go does things a bit differently. You're told early on there's no need to beat up on wild Pokémon to catch them. All you have to do is throw a Pokeball and hope for the best. Wild Pokémon run around visibly near areas with tall grass, and coming into contact with one initiates a… “battle” isn't the right word. The Pokémon doesn't fight back. Certain items can improve your chances of success, but all you need to do is take aim and throw.

Now about that, a brief aside. Nintendo has begun a trend of restricting play options in some of their recent games. Super Mario Party, for example, cannot be played in handheld mode. Pokémon Let's Go, on the other hand, cannot be played with a pro controller. Your choices are a single JOY-Con (held vertically, not horizontally as you might expect) or handheld mode. This seems to have to do with the way in which you catch Pokémon.

In handheld mode, you move the console around until the monster is in the center of your screen, aiming for the center of two circles to get bonus experience. If you're playing with a single JOY-Con, you'll simply move your hand in a throwing motion. The same rules apply, but you won't need to move the camera; simply throw toward the Pokémon. In my experience, it is significantly easier to capture in handheld mode. Since a missed throw equals one less Pokeball, there is a real penalty for inaccuracy. Why take the risk?

If non-violence is the name of the game when it comes to capturing, that leaves battling to the trainers. All along the various routes between towns, trainers wait to challenge you if you step into their line of sight. These battles seem more like traditional Pokémon. Choose an attack from your Pokémon's set, and make sure you're using a Pokémon of a type that is strong against your opponent's. The game doesn't go out of its way to educate you about Pokémon strengths and weaknesses, perhaps assuming experience is the best teacher. However, if this game is truly intended for newbies, I would have been okay with a bit more hand-holding in that regard. Experienced players won't need tutorials, but they're not playing this game. Or -- more likely -- they're playing and complaining about how “dumbed down” the experience is. I have no doubt pros will find the game extremely easy. For people like me, without years of experience, there's a bit of a learning curve.

With its capturing and battling mechanics, the game feels uneven. Grinding out levels can get monotonous: wander in circles until a Pokémon appears, then throw a few Pokeballs at it. Not a compelling gameplay loop. However, the trainer battles are a lot of fun. I can imagine myself really getting into a core Pokémon game in which grinding is as fun as that. Unfortunately, trainer battles here can only be completed once.

The difficulty is a bit uneven, too. Most of the trainer battles between towns are easy. Despite being a fun showcase of Pokémon gameplay, they never truly challenged me. Battles against gym leaders, however, feature a pretty significant spike in difficulty. It's not odd these big bosses are tough; it's odd the game does so little to prepare you for them.

But battles of all kinds will prepare you for online fights against other players. After a lengthy and somewhat confusing connection process, you're matched up with another Pokémon trainer somewhere in the world, and you'll pit your team against theirs. Your levels are evened out to 50, in order to ensure a fair fight, and battle proceeds just as it would in the game. Playing against another human means a likely tougher fight. It's a bit slow going, particularly leading up to the match starting, but it's a fun diversion.

There's also cooperative multiplayer, whereby a second player can drop in whenever they want. This gives you a huge advantage in trainer battles, as your partner fights with a second Pokémon right along with you. (Also, there's nothing stopping you from grabbing a second JOY-Con yourself and controlling two trainers if a particular gym leader is giving you trouble. I won't tell.) Pokémon GO players can also bring over some of their Pokémon to Let's Go, but not being a player myself, I wasn't able to test that out. Just be advised that moving a Pokémon from GO to Let's Go means it's gone from GO for good.

One aspect of the game I can recommend without reservation is the visual charm. Kanto is vibrant, despite its limited scope. Your character doesn't have a personality of his or her own, but little things make you feel like a part of the world around you, like how you crouch down to talk to small children or the way your Pokémon run around and attempt to draw your attention to things in the environment. You'll also want to take the opportunity to pet and feed your Eevee or Pikachu. These sequences are super cute, and keeping your bond with your pocketable partner is important. Additionally, dressing up your trainer and Eevee/Pikachu in matching outfits is way more fun than it should be. If you're the type who is likely to squee over all things adorable, there's plenty to squee over here.

For me, Pokémon Let's Go is the very definition of a game being more than the sum of its parts. In any other title, the boring grind and weirdly uneven difficulty would have been dealbreakers. In Pokémon Let's Go, while I recognize they're problematic, I'm not too bothered by them. The bright and colorful world, the charming animations and adorable characters, and the addictive gameplay all coalesce into a worthwhile experience. As a gateway drug for new Pokémon fans, it's effective. There's no doubt in my mind I'll be picking up the new core Pokémon game next year, and I might even dive into the back catalog in the meantime. Hardcore fans who are starving for a new Pokémon experience might want to pick it up too, but keep your expectations in check. This is Pokémon for people like me. Your time in the sun is coming soon.

Overall : B
Graphics : B+
Sound/Music : B+
Gameplay : B-
Presentation : B

+ Charming and welcoming introduction to the world of Pokemon for newcomers
Uneven difficulty and a boring grind can be frustrating

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