Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!

A visually spectacular return to Kanto innovating the decades-old formula with fresh new mechanics & modernized GO-centric tricks, Pokémon Let’s Go is the perfect way to introduce newcomers or reintroduce old-timers to the magic. 9.6/10.

Plot Synopsis: Returning to the Kanto region of the original Pokémon games: Red/Blue/Yellow, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee! take the series in new directions for the series first home-console release on the Nintendo Switch.

*Possible spoilers ahead*

Review

It’s become tradition on every new platform the franchise expands to: start the new partnership off with a return to where it all started: Kanto. As a mega-fan of the Pokémon having lived and breathed the games from every generation since I was 7, and purist to the original formula that changed gaming in 1996 starting an $85-Billion franchise, I was ecstatic when I heard the announcement of the series’ first home-console release on the Nintendo Switch. This franchise has lived up to its opening promise of continual RPG innovation and the deserved title-bearings of several of the greatest video games of All-Time having also never really delivered a loser in over 7 generations and 802 Pokémon to date. However, the manner in which they announced the new games drew speculation and worry, announcing a reinvention of the formula to include mechanics from the billions-downloaded mega-app Pokémon GO that inevitably made some masochists refusing any touching of that sacred formula angry, somewhat warranted seeing how they announced it in a way that made it seem they were making too many tweaks like removing battling altogether that were simply poorly communicated and overblown. I didn’t know what to expect when I opened the cover, but what I did not expect was how much I LOVE the new additions and streamlining of the formula they made, and how it arguably makes the already-legendary RPG that shocked the world Pokémon R/B/Y.. even better.

Let’s start with all the things it gets right; this could take a while. First, the graphics are absolutely JAW-DROPPING. I expected a visual boost in graphics with the movement to the powerful-processing Nintendo Switch, but what we got is some of the most visually resplendent graphics I have ever seen in gaming. The textures are absolutely crisp, and color palettes so rich that on numerous occassions I stopped gameplay to audibly gasp at how stunning beautiful the Kanto region rendered is: from the vivid green pine-lined grasslands of Pallet Town and the Viridian Forest to the azure waterways of Cerulean City to the steamy caves of Diglett Cave to sweeping cityscapes of the chilling lavendery graveyards in Pokémon Tower. It’s almost tear-enducing, and, recently-checking the preceding series entries Pokémon S/M/US/UM, a light-speed boost in visuals and what I could’ve only dreamed my favorite game series ever could like, confirming what I always believed for others to see (especially due to the power of these creatures ranging from cute and cuddly in Pikachu to absolutely badass and intimidating with amazing powers in Charizard to Gengar to Kyogre to Rayquaza): the Pokémon universe is the ultimate fantasy universe to just get lost in nostalgia within.

It also features more anime-canon than the originals, and Easter Eggs that will make any Pokémon fan smile uncontrollably. The infamous Team Rocket’s presence is greatly boosted with more Jessie/James/Meowth shenanigans adding humor, nostalgia in everything from physical slapstick to their iconic blasting off saying, and cinematic cutscenes even exploring emotional themes like the gut-wrenching killing of Cubone’s mother as a ghost in Pokémon Tower anyone with feeling will tear up at. These make the villain of the game feel more fleshed out and, well, villainy as a great spicing up of in the game. There are also other strong anime-canon additions to the game like a couple of Brock’s thirstiness teasings for beautiful girls, more involvement from the other two most important characters in Pokémon in Misty and Brock, and even Squirtle Squad, Bulbasaur, and Charmander mini-arcs that feel right at home as the most iconic episodes from the Kantonian anime I am so happy they expanded here. You truly feel even more like Ash running through this game, and that is an indescribable joy. What’s also amazing is that The Pokémon Company (TPC) clearly listened to Sun/Moon player reactions and rightful complaints about them nerfing gameplay and including too much hand-holding for younger players at the expense of their biggest and most loyal customer base of lifelong fans. The game is challenging again with original-feeling toughness in battles and gym series feeling even more epic and like sports events with additions like seating and revamped gym designs, and the genius inclusion of even tougher Coach Trainers even the most experienced trainers will have trouble with. Amazing.

Finally, it actually does the unthinkable and something no one ever expected: improves upon the already near-perfect and legendary original formula with fresh new mechanics and modernized GO-centric tricks. All of the best parts of the game from battling to character interactions to variety of pokémon to visuals are maintained or boosted but remaining exactly-true to the originals. However, Let’s Go really innovates through a genius reinvigoration of one of the admittedly usually repel-heavy and ignored parts of the game: catching/Pokédex-filling. Even lifelong fans living and breathing the game usually breeze through this part rarely spending much time on it or fulfilling the series’ slogan/promise of catching them all. Who wants to run through grass only to get hit with RNG pokémon you don’t want like Pidgeys and Rattatas you have to run away from, or battle when you do find the pokémon you look for to make them faint or click many times through your bag to find pokéballs and potions? TPC prophetically innovated and took the risk of revamping this system with an experiential 4D catching and vastly superior preview-based grass hunting system that that lets you see nearby pokemon (and shinies!) from outside and hone in on what you specifically want rather than leaving it to chance, and making one of the core systems of Pokémon strong enough to lead a whole new app nearly-singularly focused on it in Pokémon GO.. fun again!

Now, there are some minor flaws; real ones, not made up ones by whiny masochists still stuck in 1996 and refusing any changes to the formula (even if they make gameplay better). I do not like the friendly rival and find it maddening and probably the only pandering remnant serious players complained about from Sun/Moon that carries over to Let’s Go. They even included Gary Oak, the best rival hands-down in Pokémon history, so WHY not just make him the main rival like the originals, instead including this little kid-looking, too nice, and uninteresting husk you can’t wait to get out of interacting with and back to the story? Bad decision. Also, the motion controls when catching can be inconsistent and fritzy at times, which becomes especially annoying later in-game when Pokémon start to move around more as it is very difficult to get a straight throw at them when they move to the side and misses can make them run away (even worse when trying to stack catching streaks for shinies). Finally, I wish they hadn’t put so many limitations in customizability in the game against serious players: limiting to only Generation 1 Pokémon excluding serious players from importing their carefully-built-over-decades teams to play with even post-game is a thoroughly frustrating and pointless decision. If this game is truly aimed at intergrating the markets for Pokémon GO with the main series introducing new players to the core games, they won’t be able to important past teams from games like Sun/Moon, HG/SS, White/Black, ORAS, etc. so why limit serious players who have a core team they desparately want to play with from being able to do so? Also, it’s bizarre how they seemingly took a step back in trainer/look customizations allowing for fewer options to change the look of your character you play the whole game with. Finally, the inability to transfer Pokémon over from Pokémon GO until really late in-game in Fuschia City was a head-scratching nonsensical and poor decision. If the game is so integrated with Pokémon GO that is shares part of its name, why limit players from even importing their favorite shinies or monsters from in-game until they have over 5 badges and have completed hundreds of battles?? Again, that doesn’t affect newcomers to the series who likely don’t have any maxed out Mewtwos or Snorlaxes if they’re seriously just now finding out about the biggest media franchise in the world, it is a slight only affecting and limiting the full enjoyment and experience of serious lifelong players that should’ve really been allowed.

Overall though, Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu! is visually spectacular with some of the most jaw-dropping textures and rich color palettes I’ve ever seen in gaming, nostalgic to the Kanto originals while including even more anime-canon of everything from more Jessie/James/Meowth shenanigans to Brock’s thirstiness to Squirtle Squad, Bulbasaur, and Charmander arcs, increased in difficulty in battles showing TPC learning from Sun/Moon player reactions to buff gameplay and remove some of the hand-holding, and reinvigorating/streamlining the Pokémon experience with new GO-centric tricks that actually make the game better: Battles are still maintained (and crisply rendered with powerful new Switch-processing) but catching – one of the admittedly usually repel-heavy and ignored parts of the game by even its biggest fans – is made fun again with experiential 4D catching and vastly superior preview-based grass hunting that lets you see nearby pokemon (and shinies!) from outside and hone in on what you specifically want rather than leaving it to chance and getting hit with endless Rattatas and Pidgeys you aren’t looking for. Now, there are some minor flaws (real ones, not made up ones by whiny masochists still stuck in 1996 and refusing any changes to the formula (even if they make gameplay better)) like limitation to only Gen 1 pokémon excluding serious players from importing their carefully-built-over-decades teams to play with even post-game, friendly rival, inability to transfer from Pokémon GO until late in-game in Fuschia City, and inconsistent/fritzy motion controls when catching at times. But, overall, Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu! is a stunning Pokémon experience with original feel, nostalgic tone, glorious visuals, and thoroughly-entertaining RPG gameplay both acknowledging the franchise’s history & lore maintaining its best parts, while continually experimenting and innovating to hit that sweet spot of user adventure. The near-perfected Kanto experience.

Official CLC Score: 9.6/10