After 21 years of Pokémon games, we’ve seen more spin-offs than you can shake a Turtwig at. From Pokémon Ranger, Mystery Dungeon and Rumble to Hey You Pikachu!, Pinball and Trozei!. In 2018, Nintendo has added a new one to the mix, the mystery game Detective Pikachu.
In Detective Pikachu you play as Tim Goodman, a young boy journeying to Ryme City to find his father, Harry. Now, there are many questions about this premise. Why did he wait two months to start his journey? Why is his father in the city when his parents are seemingly not separated? Where the heck is Officer Jenny? These questions will likely go unanswered, so it’s best to just accept the set-up and move along.
Shortly after arriving in Ryme City, Tim runs into a Pikachu. Of course, this isn’t just any Pikachu, as he’s wearing a Sherlock Holmes style cloche hat! Just kidding, what makes him special is that he can talk. Tim is the only one who is able to understand what Pikachu says and after discovering that this electric, eclectic and amnesiac detective used to be his dad’s partner solving cases, they decide to team up and track down Tim’s dad.
Chapter one is a nice little introductory mystery that involves a naughty Aipom who steals a little girl’s necklace. While it’s not exactly Professor Layton for Pokémon in terms of the strength of the mystery and the puzzles, it is accessible for all ages and built on a solid foundation of detective work at the crime scenes. You’re not likely to be staring at your 3DS and agonizing over a puzzle for hours. Unless you're like me and temporarily forget how to tell right from left.
Detective Pikachu keeps track of clues and testimonials for you, letting you browse back through what you've seen or heard at any time. This means that you don’t need to complete each mystery in one sitting. Whenever Pikachu has something to contribute, he'll starts jumping up and down and waving his arms around. Sometimes these are clues or valuable insights. Sometimes, you see a funny shot of a Driftloon manhandling Pikachu. For younger players, the game gives you the choice to start in Easy Mode, which includes helpful hints as you go along.
Each mini-mystery gets its own chapter, with the overarching mystery of Tim’s father woven throughout the journey. The first few chapters will take about an hour or two apiece to complete, depending on how thorough you want to be with your investigations. There are several recurring characters who pop up, including the head of the Baker agency, local café owner Pablo, and cute and intrepid TV reporter Emilia Christie (who is either the love interest or the villain, I haven’t figured out which yet).
Ash’s Pikachu also makes what may be my favorite cameo appearance ever, as Tim runs into him on the street and mistakes him for his own Pikachu. When the two come face to face, the Great Detective Pikachu tells the other that he hopes he and his partner have fun on their adventures and “to be the best, like no one ever was,” before Ash’s Pikachu happily scampers away down the street.
The overarching mystery is where this game really shines. It is well-written and divulges the clues little by little, as opposed to dumping them on you all at once. The dynamic duo are friendly characters and easy to connect with. You find yourself wanting to know how their story ends up, not just playing because you want to know the solution to the mystery. Though I’d like the solution too, because three chapters in and unless the solution involves body-switching, I’m stumped. If the solution does involve body-switching, I’ll be amazed.
The voice acting deserves special mention. Pikachu's voice is an almost perfect Danny Devito soundalike that fits into his “hard-boiled detective” persona. I’m almost positive that Jesse McCartney voices the far more soft-spoken and less gung-ho Tim, but I have no way to access the credits until the end of the game. Either way, they’re both fantastic and very well cast.
Thus far, Detective Pikachu is an engaging, fun game. It’s probably not going to satisfy those looking for a hardcore mystery or puzzle game. However, the storyline and characters draw you in and the gameplay itself is solid. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some more sleuthing to do!
Detective Pikachu was sampled on Nintendo 3DS with a copy purchased by the reviewer.