The Pokémon franchise has grown tremendously in both scope and complexity since its inception in 1996, adding more creatures and mechanics as time goes on. However, as the games got more complex, they also focused more on their core audience, alienating newcomers and casual players.

Pokémon GO, launched in 2016, brought the franchise to the masses once again with its simplistic appeal, but it also caused a big division among Pokémon fans. There are those who prefer the simpler mechanics of the mobile title and those who see the complex mechanics of traditional titles as essential to keep the essence of Pokémon.

Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! are an attempt at building a bridge between the simplicity of GO and the complexity of the core entries of the franchise, and they're also the first Pokémon titles in the main series to be released on the Switch. As usual, they're released as a pair of virtually identical games, save for some version-exclusive creatures, so the following review applies to both.

The games are developed by Game Freak, and they're based on Pokémon Yellow, which launched in 1998, featuring the same 151 Pokémon from that title, plus the two new Mythical creatures, Meltan and Melmetal. As a stepping stone for casual players and newcomers, the titles do almost everything right.

Catching Pokémon

Catching Pokémon is one of the two most essential pillars of any game in the franchise, and this is where Let’s Go takes the most inspiration from GO. In this title, you no longer have to fight wild Pokémon before attempting to catch them, you’re simply tasked with throwing Poké Balls at the creatures.

Battles are still present against remarkable Pokémon, but battling and catching are still completely separate. You first have to defeat the opponent, and then you’re taken to the same catching process as with any other Pokémon.

Throwing Poké Balls uses the motion controls of the Switch – in TV mode, you swing your controller in the right direction to throw the Poké Ball, and in handheld mode you aim using the gyroscope and press A to throw. Swinging your Joy-Con isn't always reliable, so you might waste some Poké Balls, but it's not too frustrating.

Let’s Go puts a bigger emphasis on catching than most previous titles in the main series of the franchise, and it’s now become one of the most important ways to gain experience to level up your Pokémon, especially in earlier parts of the game.

The game also inherits other catching mechanics from Pokémon GO, such as the use of berries to facilitate catching, though some additional variants have been created for Let's Go. This means that you can no longer use them as healing items or any of the purposes they traditionally have in core Pokémon games.

The way you encounter Pokémon is also much better now, and this is one of the things I would love to see being maintained in future titles. No longer are you stuck with random encounters, being forced into battles before knowing what creature you’re about to face. Wild Pokémon now show up in the overworld, and you can choose to avoid them as you please. This makes it much less tedious to find the Pokémon you want, and it takes away a lot of the stress of being constantly interrupted by battles.

This change also greatly affects a new mechanic called Catch Combos. Catching more of the same species of Pokémon in a row can grant you a lot of benefits, and this is made much easier when you can tell what creatures to look for and which ones to avoid. Achieving higher combos grants you rewards such as stronger Pokémon and a higher chance of finding a "shiny" creature.

Battling

Pokémon battles are the second cornerstone of the franchise, and while Let’s Go inherits most of what you’re accustomed to from previous core titles, it also takes some steps to simplify them. Many moves from previous titles were removed, as were Abilities and held items, removing a lot of the complexity from battling.

Let’s Go also introduces a few new moves focused on the two partner Pokémon you can choose from, Pikachu and Eevee. Some of these moves can indeed make the game noticeably easier, especially with the partner Pokémon being significantly stronger than regular Pikachu and Eevee, but that’s part of the motif of making the game more accessible. Besides, you can bypass them if you’d like a bigger challenge.

Accessibility and simplicity

Many components of the game have been simplified, and the results of that are a mixed bag. Starting with the positive things, Individual values (IVs) are still present, but they’re now much easier to understand. A new “Judge” function now gives you a clear, straightforward look at the potential your Pokémon have regarding their stats, so you no longer have to go on the internet to calculate those numbers.

The “Candy” introduced in Pokémon GO are also here, but they've been adapted to add some complexity. Candy are used to raise a Pokémon’s stats, and there’s a kind of candy for each stat. There are also species-specific candy that raise all of the stats. These replace the Effort Values (EVs) found in previous games, and they’re also much easier to understand.

Not every change is good, however, and I was especially bothered by the removal of eggs. Granted, Pokémon breeding doesn't exist in GO either, but eggs themselves do, and breeding isn't all that complex. This could have been an easy way to introduce a little more depth to the concept for those who are just getting into the franchise.

The multiplayer mode is also disappointing. Pokémon Let’s Go is the first main series title to allow two people to play through most of the story together if you're using the same console, so two people can cooperate in battling and catching Pokémon. For catching, both players can throw Poké Balls, and if the timing is right, the two will be merged and provide increased effectiveness.

Battles, however, become unfairly easy, with the players having two Pokémon facing off against a single opponent. The most annoying thing about this is that, for battles that are scripted to have two Pokémon on each side, the secondary player is cast out from the battle, and the main player controls the two. It’s ridiculous that the only situation where having two players would be fair is also the only situation where the secondary player can’t participate.

As for online and local wireless communications, things are also watered down. The friend system and the typical global system are gone and instead, you’re asked to enter a code that will link you to anyone who entered the same code. This is still randomized, and it just seems to be more confusing than offering the previous online systems found in the games.

World and characters

The game's world stays pretty close to the title it's based on - you have the same eight Gym Leaders, the same Elite Four, the same Professor Oak, and the same 151 Pokémon, with the addition of Meltan and Melmetal. The game also includes Alolan forms of Pokémon that have them.

Your character and your rival aren't the same, though, and the new rival is much friendlier than in the original game. To me, this isn't especially good, as it’s harder to develop a rivalry with a character that’s constantly helping you do things and being nice to you rather than being confrontational.

The whole game is also easier than usual and tries to teach you some of the more basic mechanics of the franchise. For example, you can’t enter the first Gym without a Pokémon that has a type advantage over the Gym Leader’s team. You don’t have to use that specific creature in the Gym, but it's clear that the game is trying to guide newcomers.

One big new feature is the addition of Master Trainers. These are found throughout the world after you've beaten the Pokémon League, and each one specializes in one species of Pokémon. You have to beat them using the same creature they use, so victory is completely up to your training and strategy. There isn't much more to do after beating the main story, aside from a few throwbacks to the original games.

Easily one of my favorite changes to the overworld is the ability to have any Pokémon from your team following you around as you walk. This was seen in Yellow with the special Pikachu that the player started with, and again in 2010 for Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver, which expanded that to any existing Pokémon at the time.

Since then, I’ve wanted the feature to return, and this title executes the concept even better. Each Pokémon moves differently in the outer world, and some can even give you a ride. Large flying Pokémon like Charizard and Dragonite can even be used to fly over most of the game world after you complete the story portion, which makes traveling much easier.

I’d like to touch on the visuals of the game as well. The visual enhancements moving from Nintendo’s smaller handheld systems to the Switch is undeniable, but in some ways it feels like a minimum-effort upgrade compared to what we saw on the 3DS. Many move animations look almost exactly the same, and I feel like there's room for improvement.

I’m also baffled at how poorly Game Freak continues to adapt to Nintendo’s new hardware. Some portions of the game - something as simple as opening the menu - can feel like a crawl due to the low frame rate. I really hope this is improved in future Switch titles.

Pokémon GO connectivity

One of the distinct features of Pokémon Let’s Go is the ability to connect to Pokémon GO, so you can transfer Pokémon from the mobile game to your console, which is one of the few ways you can obtain Alolan forms in the game. Some creatures can’t be transferred, such as those that are part of special events and, of course, those that simply aren’t available in Let’s Go. You also can’t transfer them back to GO, so you’ll want to make your choices carefully.

Transferring Pokémon from GO is also the only way to obtain Meltan in the Switch game. Once you transfer any creature from one game to the other, you’ll receive a special item in the mobile title, which you can use to attract Meltan for 30 minutes. You can do this once a day until you have caught enough Meltan to evolve one of them. By the way, this is the only way you can evolve it and obtain Melmetal. I’m intrigued to see how this will be handled in future releases if communication with GO is no longer possible going forward.

Poké Ball Plus

Lastly, I want to talk about the Poké Ball Plus accessory which was launched alongside the game. It's completely optional, so if you're not interested in buying it at all, you can skip over to the conclusion. With that being said, if you're considering it, it's hard to recommend.

For starters, it’s designed to only work with Let's Go, so you can’t use it with any other title for now. You might think this means that it’s at least made to work perfectly with this game, but it doesn’t. The game acts as if you're using a regular Joy-Con, telling you to use buttons you don't even have. This means that you’re going to be guessing a lot of the time, and some functions don’t even work at all, so at times you’ll simply be forced to use a Joy-Con.

I do love how natural it is to use when throwing a Poké Ball to catch a Pokémon, and the vibration, sound, and light indicators add a fun degree of immersion to the experience. But if you’re paying a $40-$50 premium on top of the $60 price tag of the game, it should give you the best possible experience. Considering its limitations, the price to pay is too high.

When you’re not actively playing the game, you can send one of your Pokémon into the Poké Ball Plus and take it with you on a walk. While on a walk, you can get rewards from playing with your Pokémon by shaking the Poké Ball, caressing it, or responding when it calls out to you.

This works much better with the real voices of your partner Pikachu or Eevee, which are adorable, by the way. The somewhat neutral sounds made by other Pokémon are especially hard to hear if you’re in any sort of loud environment, and the vibration motor isn’t strong enough to get your attention if you have the accessory in the pocket of a jacket.

You can also use the Poké Ball Plus as a sort of controller for Pokémon GO, but I personally didn’t see any use in this. Since I have to keep the app running anyway, I’d rather just use the phone. All in all, it's hard to recommend the Poké Ball Plus unless you're really into everything related to Pokémon. Nonetheless, you can find it on Amazon for $50, or get it as a bundle with the game, which saves you around $10.

Conclusion

Pokémon Let’s Go isn’t for everyone, but it sets a clear goal from the start and delivers on it almost to perfection. It’s an enjoyable stepping stone for those coming from GO and a great introductory game for the younger audience just getting into the series. Some components of the execution fall short of their potential, but overall, the game is fantastic for what it aims to do.

Many changes made in this pair of games would also be a great fit for future titles, but some are better left to serve as a stepping stone for newcomers. Ultimately, I hope that the existence of Let’s Go means that upcoming releases can embrace some of the complexity that’s been dropped with more recent games in the series.


This review was conducted using a physical copy of Pokémon Let's Go, Pikachu! which was acquired through Portuguese retailer Worten. As the only differences between the games are some of the Pokémon you can encounter in the wild, the points made in this review apply to both variants of the game. You can find Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee! on the Nintendo eShop.

 

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