‘Pokémon Let’s Go’ Is A Vivid Nostalgia Hit That Respects New Players, Too
Pokémon, as a franchise, is coming up to its 23rd birthday. In the UK, we've been enjoying the Pokémon video games since late 1999, when Red and Blue came out for the Game Boy. Which means there's a whole bunch of older Pokémon fans out there, Pokémon-loving gamers, who are keen to have their nostalgia itch scratched by any and all contemporary Pokémon media.
But there's also the newer school to appreciate, when it comes to the fandom that supports all things monstrously pocket sized. The massive success of the mobile game, Pokémon GO, has presented the Pokémon masters at Game Freak with something of a dilemma. Do they engineer their new, mainline, console Pokémon releases to appeal to those who've been catching 'em all since the late 1990s? Or steer closer to the younger crowd, who've been out and about with their smartphones for the past couple of years?
Pokémon: Let's Go - Eevee or Pikachu, depending on which version you choose to pick up (I've been playing through the Eevee option) - attempts to do both for Nintendo Switch. And, largely, it manages to hit the sweet spot of instant-fix GO-style creature capturing and the longer, deeper, role-playing side of Pokémon pretty well.
It does the latter by sticking to what it knows, very closely indeed. Which is to say, ICYMI, Let's Go is based heavily on the gameplay of Pokémon Yellow, which released in Japan 20 years ago, and came to the UK in the summer of 2000.
The game is set in the Kanto region, as were Red, Blue and Yellow, and features a full original deck of 151 critters to pop inside those little bleeping balls. Battles against other trainers are as these turn-based confrontations have long been - each participant sends out a number of Pokémon, which batter each other with a series of moves, buffs and special abilities until the last one is standing. The formula works, no need to switch it up (no pun intended).
Where this traditional Pokémon approach does get twisted is when it comes to capturing new beasts and bugs out in the field (which are visible, rather than being encountered at random). There's no longer any need to wear them down before tossing a Poké Ball at their nuts. Rather, Let's Go uses the GO approach of just lining up your overarm and letting rip, with bonuses available for getting the trap through a shrinking circle, first-time captures, and combos (i.e., when you catch four Caterpies on the bounce, you'll get more XP, which raises the levels of all Pokémon in your active party of six).
This GO-spawned strategy might have some long-time Pokémon fans getting steamed up over a supposed dumbing down - but in practice, especially when using the JoyCon's motion controls (or, better yet, the Poké Ball Plus controller, with which the whole game can be played, using just one hand), it's a chilled-out joy to just flick your arm at the screen and ensnare a new companion. It makes grinding for XP a lot more enjoyable than many RPGs, and it's not like the more tactical side of the game has vanished - it's still there, in the regular battles.
It's worth adding, though, that the game plays just fine without a Poké Ball Plus, or even motion controls. I've played a couple of hours in handheld mode, and aiming your balls is very easy on the small screen. But it's lounging on the sofa where the single-Con gameplay proves its brilliance. Get a brew on the sideboard, or a beer if you're feeling frisky, and you need never put your controller down to take a sip.
The director of Let's Go, Junichi Masuda, wanted to create a Pokémon experience for old and new players alike, that built on the foundations of Pokémon GO but worked in the living room. And with super-accessible gameplay - my five year old is already a dab hand at catching the map-roaming monsters - that marries what you remember playing on the Game Boy with what you're still playing on your phone, I think he's achieved it. And should a younger, or less-experienced player need a little help, by simply shaking a second JoyCon, another player can join the game to lend support.
There's further GO compatibility, as you can transfer Kanto-region Pokémon from your phone to Let's Go - but this new game never feels like a slave to its blockbuster mobile predecessor. It complements it, but is confident enough in its presentation to exist well outside of its shadow. And with Master Trainer battles awaiting those who complete what is a typically simple but bright and cheery story of realising one's true potential (with a host of tiny furry pals), there's challenge aplenty if it's wanted.
But for those of us who just want to chill out with a Geodude and something to take the edge of the day off? That single-Con control is a boon, and no mistake. Ordering pizza without putting your pad down? Perfect.