Let’s Go Pikachu!

Disclaimer: I don’t receive any compensation from this review. The thoughts below are fully my own and I have no financial incentives here. If you’d like to give me money to continue writing reviews, please let me know!

I strongly believe that the Pokemon franchise will stay relevant for many decades to come. Last year, I wrote about how the series has remained strong over the last 20+ years. Nothing lasts forever, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see at least a dozen more solid titles from Game Freak.

Like the true Amazon Prime addict that I am, I pre-ordered Let’s Go: Pikachu and Let’s Go: Eevee for a release date delivery. When the Pokemon Sword/Shield announcement was made four months later, my Pikachu and Eevee were still in their wrappers. On a positive note, the Nintendo Direct preview for the upcoming title looks pretty awesome.

There was a lull in my Apex Legends gameplay so I finally decided to start a new Pokemon adventure with Pikachu. I’m only about eight hours in and wanted to share my early thoughts on the gameplay.

I’m a sucker for classics

Both Let’s Go games start you out in a similar fashion as the original handheld Pokemon releases. Your character regains consciousness in your over-sized bedroom, equipped with your own Nintendo Switch. This immediately took me back to the mid-90s as I relived the very-similar interactions reminiscent of Pokemon Red.

You again find your mom waiting for you downstairs then step outside to the familiar layout of Pallet Town. 

The beauty of the intro to this game lies in how simple of a start you have. The character doesn’t have many options on where to go but is able to do some light exploring in the tiny suburb. Nearby NPC townspeople are friendly and the colors are vibrant with subtle details in the designs of the houses.

As customary in these games, you get your pick of different starter Pokemon. You can select either Pikachu or Eevee, as dictated by the cartridge in your system. If you’re ambitious, you can still pick up all of the original three starters as well, but it takes some patience.

This ease of entry into the Pokemon world is much-appreciated coming from more hardcore games. If you’ve played through any of the early Pokemon games, you’ll feel right at home in Let’s Go.

You Can Swap on the Go!

I’ve become accustomed to swapping my Pokemon out at a PC at a Poke Center. I had just accepted the face that this is how I change the Pokemon in my party. Sometimes you just get used doing things a certain way even if it’s not the best way.

In Pokemon Let’s Go, you can seamlessly change the Pokemon in your party at will. The UI for this is excellent and you save a ton of time that can be used to catch more Pokemon.

Open your "party" screen
Hover over your desired Pokemon
Select "add to party"
Choose which Pokemon to replace

Another benefit, which I’m sure I’ll use later, is that you can swap out fainted Pokemon for ones at full strength. I see this being especially helpful later in the game when you are going against several tough trainers at a time.

Catching Pokemon is Weird

Where Let’s Go immediately differs from the games of old is the ‘Catch ’em all’ mechanic. Rather than whittling down a wild Pokemon’s HP to a red bar then launching Pokeballs at it, you simply toss items in its direction at the press of a button. It’s as though the Pokemon Go devs took a piece of the code from the mobile app and inserted it into the Switch game.

I’m leaning towards this being a bad thing for a few reasons:

  • This takes some of the skill out of completing your Pokedex. Many battle-worn Pokemon masters will tell you that some of their greatest moments are of grinding a rare pokemon down to 1 HP, paralyzing it, burning through 6 ultra balls and then finally securing the catch. This is a great feeling and requires finesse on the player’s part.
  •  It’s basically just Pokemon Go in this sense. Actually, this is worse. Now, you only need to aim vs having to gauge the throw distance and finger speed required to hit your target.
  • You will inevitably go through a ton of Pokeballs. I think the developers realized this and rewards the player with loads of this items from battling trainers, walking around, being in the game, etc.
  • If a Pokemon flees after your first successful hit, you will feel cheated. This hasn’t happened to me yet but I’m really not looking forward to missing out on a rare pokemon.
Leveling Up Is Easy

Back in my day, you had to mix Pokemon through your starting rotation in order to gain XP. This meant putting a Magikarp in the #1 slot then immediately swapping to a more useful Pokemon in battle because splash is stupid.

These days, you have some variant on Exp Share, which effectively boosts your Pokemon who haven’t even done anything! This makes it much easier to have a well-balanced, fully-stacked lineup in a fraction of the time that this used to take.

Additionally, you can drop your Pokemon off at day care centers where an NPC will level them up for you. Talk about convenience!

Some gamers will enjoy this, but I miss the challenge and feeling of gratification that came along with methodically leveling each Pokmon individually. Sure, it was time-consuming and, at times, frustrating…but achieving greatness isn’t supposed to be easy.

I want to be the best there ever was without feeling like I cheated my way to the top.

Controls Need More Innovation

This may just be me nitpicking, but it seems as though Nintendo missed a huge opportunity to enhance the way the player interacts with the game. 

For starters, why can’t I swipe on my screen to throw pokeballs? This seems like the easiest crossover from Pokemon Go to implement.

Secondly, there are so many unused buttons on the Switch! I’d be interesting to see Nintendo implement a screen panning feature with the right joystick, similar to camera panning in Mario 64. I also want to be able to assign hotkeys to the shoulder buttons.

The control scheme is very standard here and I wish the developers had taken a bigger gamble with the controller configuration.

Opposing Trainers are Same Same but Different

We’ve seen this for decades so I can’t be too disappointed. The game has a set of trainer categories (ie. young lass, fisherman, bug catcher) and tags a generic name to the end of the classifier. 

I’d love to see the game change up the look of these NPCs across their respective cohorts. It could be as simple as changing the hair and clothing color of these trainers while using the same character models. I’m not asking for a complete overhaul here but it would be a nice quality of life improvement.

Two things differentiate trainers from their doppelgangers:

  1. Their crew of Pokemon
  2. The ridiculously out-of-the-blue commentary they share with you before you start a battle

#2 has always left me smiling as I progress through the game. It’s as though Nintendo had a bunch of high school interns sit in a room and write down all their weirdest pickup lines. You’re left with gems like these:

Seeing the Wild Pokemon is a Game Changer

Traditionally, you will run through fields of grass or dark caves and have random encounters with wild Pokemon. In Let’s Go, you can see all the Pokemon live on screen as they spawn! To call this a game changer is actually an understatement.

Gone are the days where hordes of zubats will menace you through a tunnel. No longer do you have to waste your time wading through a patch of rattatas. Now, you get to choose exactly which wild Pokemon you go up against.

The game also introduces a “catch combo“, which allows you to earn bonus XP and increase the rate at which rare Pokemon appear on the screen. If you’re patient enough, this method will net you some nice additions to your roster.

An Ode to Pokemon Past

With all the gripes I’ve had in the first few hours of the game, I’m still really loving Pokemon Let’s Go. It’s casual enough that I can pick it up regardless of my mood and I know exactly what to expect out of the game.

I’m excited to go deeper into the story and get more involved with developing my top Pokemon. The last Pokemon game I played was Ultra Sun, which had similar development mechanics, but I never got to invested in it.

I am also really looking forward to being able to trade with my Pokemon Go account. One of the main reasons I continued logging into the mobile app over the last couple of years is because of the hype around trading with the Switch counterpart.

It’s too early to give the game an overall score but it’s definitely trending towards the B+ to A range. I’ll be back with more details once I’ve defeated the elite eight!

Have you played through the latest Pokemon game? Thinking about picking it up? Leave us your thoughts in the comments section below!

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