Review: Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! & Let’s Go, Eevee! (Nintendo Switch)

Remakes are nothing new to the Pokémon series. Between FireRed, LeafGreen, HeartGold, SoulSilver, Omega Ruby, and Alpha Sapphire, trainers have been given several opportunities to return to their favorite regions. Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee!, then, certainly aren’t anything groundbreaking, but they do shuffle the norms of the series by introducing ideas from the mobile sensation Pokémon GO. Are these changes welcome ones, or do they butcher the decade-old foundation of the series with unnecessary fluff?

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Story

Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! take place in the Kanto region and start out exactly like you’d expect: depending on your game version, you receive your starter Pokémon (Pikachu or Eevee) and set out on a quest to defeat the eight Gym Leaders and to take down the Elite Four and Champion. Only the original 151 Pokémon exist (plus series newcomers Meltan and Melmetal, which can only be obtained through Pokémon GO) and most of them can be caught in one game whereas a few remain version exclusives.

Having a relatively small selection of Pokémon is a bit of a double-edged sword. It’s a shame to see so many beloved Pokémon excluded from these titles, but on the contrary, it makes each individual Pokémon seem more valuable. Creatures like Raticate, Sandshrew, and Weezing are often overlooked in main series titles, and Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! essentially reminds you they exist. Less Pokémon also means the game is less overwhelming to new players, and it also makes completing the Pokédex a very realistic goal.

The starter Pokémon, Pikachu and Eevee, may seem to be weaker than juggernauts like Charizard and Venusaur, but their base stats have been increased (for their starter forms only, not wild counterparts) and they can learn new moves. The starter Pokémon ends up extremely strong and makes battles a lot easier despite not being able to evolve; the game itself is harder than previous entries and is even more difficult if you opt not to use the starter Pokémon. Kanto is mostly unchanged from its previous iterations in FireRed / LeafGreen and HeartGold / SoulSilver. It can definitely serve up some nostalgia to players of the original Red and Blue versions, but to players who started in Black and White or and the region will feel very basic. Compared to more recent regions like Unova and Kalos, Kanto is very “square” and doesn’t have much variety in terms of environments; the region’s areas consist solely of grasslands, caves, and the ocean.

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Visuals & Audio

Graphically, Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! look great. For the most part, the Pokémon models are reused from Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, but the overworld and battle environments pop thanks to colorful graphics. The Pokémon have fluid animation and even appear on the map to follow their trainers. Unfortunately, the overworld trainers’ animations are a bit rough; in particular, the rival’s movement is never fluid. Instead of changing direction while running, he will run in a straight line, stop, turn around, and then start running. It’s a nitpick, but it makes the characters seem less believable, in a way.

I certainly enjoyed the soundtrack (which is fully orchestrated), but I do feel like HeartGold and SoulSilver had better renditions of most of the Kanto themes. Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! have objectively pleasant music, it’s just that it seems to lack the soul and inspiration seen in previous titles. This might just be me, but it’s something to note either way.

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Gameplay

Right off the bat, you’ll notice big changes in Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee!. For one, Wild Pokémon now appear in the overworld and no longer jump out of tall grass. This gives wild battles a greater sense of purpose, as you can essentially choose which Pokémon you see. Once encountered, Wild Pokémon cannot be fought; instead, you are tasked with capturing it immediately in the same vein as Pokémon GO. The Pokémon will jump or run around the screen and you must use motion controls (which cannot be switched off) to align and toss a Poké Ball at the right time. Pokémon occasionally become temporarily invulnerable to capture, encouraging you to memorize their movement patterns and lock in your timing. For Pokémon that are harder to catch, Razz Berries can be used to increase your odds of capture. Other types of berries are also available. Upon a successful capture, all of your party Pokémon will gain experience points, and these points are more than the amount earned in trainer battles.

On paper, the capture mechanics are a welcome change. They’ve been heavily streamlined from previous titles and feel less luck-based and more skill-based (in terms of whether the Poké Ball actually captures the Pokémon). As mentioned before, Pokémon appearing in the overworld helps make wild battles seem worthwhile and makes the world feel more alive. Unfortunately, these new mechanics come up short in a big way, as the motion controls in docked mode are absolutely atrocious and cannot be toggled. The Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Cons aren’t Wii Remotes: they can’t point to a specific location on-screen and throw the ball. Instead, the Poké Ball is “auto-aimed” but the throw power is determined by the angle and force with which you flick the Joy-Con. As a result, the first several hours of Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go Eevee! will consist of many, many missed Poké Balls. Luckily, the motion controls are easier to work with in handheld mode; the Switch uses its built-in gyroscope which makes aiming much simpler. Unlike in docked mode, tilting the control stick will actually move the camera, which means motion controls are not required on the go. I found myself playing exclusively in handheld mode due to the easier capture mechanics; I almost never played in docked mode due to the frustrating difficulty of the controls.

Worth noting is the Poké Ball Plus, an additional controller sold for about $50 USD. It’s a neat little trinket: it’s fairly small, can be used with one hand, and features all the necessary buttons. The Poké Ball Plus also contains Mew, which can be transferred to your version of the game in a one-time connection. After Mew is transferred, it cannot be received again even if you restart your save file. The Poké Ball Plus is a neat idea, but in my opinion it is far too expensive for the fairly small novelty it brings to the table.

Setting the docked mode motion controls aside for now, the game itself plays quite well. In both the docked and handheld modes, it can be played with one hand. The Joy-Con’s A, L, and R buttons all count as the same button in-game and can be used interchangeably to advance dialogue or interact with objects. This makes the game’s control schemes surprisingly flexible. In terms of performance, Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! run at thirty frames per second regardless of the Switch’s mode. In titles like these, sixty frames per second isn’t really necessary; unfortunately, certain areas in the game cause notable frame drops, particularly Viridian Forest in handheld mode which appears to drop to fifteen frames per second or less.

Many features aside from the capture mechanics have been inherited from Pokémon GO. While Levels still exist, Combat Power (CP) is a new stat that is calculated from a Pokémon’s HP, Attack, Defense, Sp. Attack, Sp. Defense, and Speed stats. Combat Power doesn’t play much of a role in determining a Pokémon’s power, though; I found it somewhat redundant given that you can just look at a Pokémon’s Level to have a better idea of its strength. Candies now replace Effort Values from previous titles, and this means Pokémon no longer gain EVs from knocking out opponents. There are many different type of Candies, both stat- and species-specific, and they can all be used to enhance a Pokémon’s power. A lot of Candy is required to max out a Pokémon, so it’s tough to say for sure whether or not EV training was the faster method.

Held items have also been removed from these games in line with the original Pokémon Red and Blue versions. This removes a layer of strategy from competitive battles but makes them simpler and more accessible to newcomers. TMs are retained from the previous titles and there are much more of them. HMs are still gone from Sun and Moon and are replaced with overworld abilities that don’t require a moveslot. This, in turn, continues to free up your party so that you don’t need to carry an “HM slave”.

Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! have also made a large amount of quality-of-life changes. There is no longer a PC in Pokémon Centers; instead, a Pokémon Box option has been made available that allows you to store and retrieve Pokémon anywhere in the game. Their HP and PP are not restored when they are deposited, so the feature can’t be used to restore health in a pinch. The Pokémon Box is more convenient, but the organization factor of the PC is certainly missed.

Pokémon GO account can be linked to Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee!. Pokémon captured in Pokémon GO can be transferred to a special area in Fuchsia City where they then must be captured. It’s a handy feature and there’s no limit on the amount of Pokémon that can be transferred, but they can flee in battles and waste a massive amount of Poké Balls in a short amount of time.

There is almost no postgame to speak of in Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee!. Besides capturing Mewtwo, the only content worth noting is Master Trainers. There is a Master Trainer somewhere in the Kanto region for every single Pokémon, meaning there are 153 Master Trainers in total. These trainers specialize in a specific Pokémon and can only be battled in a mirror match; their Pokémon are often above Level 70. This is fine and dandy, but then you realize that the Caterpie and Weedle trainers have a Level 70 Caterpie and Weedle. You can’t fight these kinds of trainers with their evolved forms; you must use the exact same Pokémon. Worse still is that there is no Everstone, so you will have to press the B button during the evolution screen every single time it levels up. Unfortunately, most of the Master Trainers will require a ridiculous amount of grinding and the rewards for beating them are nonexistent.

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Closing Thoughts

Overall, Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! are certainly solid entries, but they are held back by a slew of flaws in terms of both controls and mechanics. Compared to the previous releases (Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon), the Let’s Go games are sorely lacking in content; they aren’t lacking in new ideas, but a good amount of them bring the experience down (motion controls). Their charge price of $60 is steep for the amount of content on offer, especially considering that the $40 Pokémon games have more postgame, more Pokémon to catch, and a deeper battle system. There’s absolutely enjoyment to be found in Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee!, but they seem closer to $40 releases than full-priced $60 ones. Fortunately, Pokémon Sword and Shield are on the horizon and will hopefully retain the key mechanics and features the series is known for while introducing fresh new ones (that aren’t motion controls).

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