It’s hard not to forget the first time I ever played Pokémon on the Game Boy. My twelfth birthday in 1998 saw a shiny red box enveloped by cheap birthday wrap, to go along with the sleek black Game Boy Pocket I got that year. I played Pokémon Red for days non-stop, discovering the horrors of Lavender Town and the secrets of the Seafoam Islands. I remember distinctly how proud I was for capturing Mewtwo in Cerulean Cave. It was a feeling of accomplishment sweeping over me after this long journey I went on.
Pokémon as a franchise has that power for young players. It is a sense of joy and adventure that a series, whose primary themes reflect personal growth and friendship, will never leave me. That said, there comes a time where we must remove the sense of nostalgia for the games we love, and recognize our own growth. Playing Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu! and Let’s Go Eevee! finally made me realize how much I've grown up. These are great games, but they're also not for me.
A bold statement for sure, but if you think about it, Let's Go is in a strange position as being a bridge between two generations of fans.Game Freak accomplishes this easily with Let’s Go, and like all their products, it is a polished experience that, for better or for worse, represents a step forward in who their target audience is. For aging fans, the hook will be the updated remake of Pokémon Yellow. For the umpteenth time in the franchise we return to familiar territory in Kanto, but with random wild battles removed. Plus, the fact that the franchise finally hits a home console with a more mainstream Pokémon experience, something that even Pokémon Coliseum couldn’t give us, is by all accounts, what fans have wanted for generations.
At the end of the day, this is more of a game for fans from the current generation. A lot of that is because of fundamental changes to the game's mechanics, taking inspiration from Pokémon Go. This is, of course, part of the design philosophy behind Let’s Go – Game Freak has said as such that this is a game for kids and their parents– so it’s difficult to fault The Pokémon Company for catering more to a specific audience.
Part of what set’s Let’s Go apart from other Pokémon games is the greater emphasis on capturing Pokémon. The wild battles have been replaced with over-world monsters to run into and capture. The capturing mechanics are tied to Pokémon Go, where motion controls are used to net yourself Pokémon more through skill over strategy. You are expected to capture as many monsters as possible, so an abundance of Pokeballs, capture-specific berries, and new items such as lures aid players in that crusade.
One major downside is the necessity of motion controls to play Let’s Go. Game Freak does give the players options with the new Pokeball accessory, the Switch itself or using a left or right joy-con controller, but it is still an issue for those who may not have the dexterity to play the game as intended. The much touted multiplayer is limiting. The second player basically only gets control when capturing and battling in-game. That said, having the option to go through Let's Go with friends or family is a good addition to the franchise that I hope Game Freak expands upon.
Part of the charm of Let's Go is going through the highlights of the first generation. Some changes to the original narrative are present, mostly surrounding the original characters in Pokémon Yellow, but they are surface additions for the game that gently wink at the audience. That nostalgic veneer can only carry the game for so long. The new pacing, thanks to the lack of wild battles, is faster so the main story experience would take a healthy 25 hours to complete before post-game content.
Post-game is mostly what you expect; Cerulean Cave being the primary challenge of course. The addition of 'Master Trainers', experts in using only one Pokémon that you must challenge, adds a little bit of flavor to the game as well. After all, winning a challenge with typically weaker Pokémon offers some new strategic options to try out.
Ironically though it is the battles that become the weakest point of the game. This is mainly due to how much of a slog they are mechanically, being noticeably slower in comparison to the more breakneck pace of capturing Pokémon. The rewards are also not there either; with Pokémon netting more experience through capturing a lot of monsters versus battling in aggregate.
In fact, a lot of changes to the inner workings of the game affect the overall competitiveness side of Pokémon. Natures still exist but abilities have been removed, move sets have been simplified, and breeding is no longer an option for good stats; capturing tons of Pokemon in a chain is the only way to get better statistics in Let's Go. This is in addition to the new training methods, specifically Awakening Values (AV).
AV's are, to put it bluntly, completely broken. AV’s power up Pokémon beyond what their previous stats would normally allow. This makes them all technically competitive but also removes a lot of the need to fully train for online battles, which also return but feel less strategic than previous generations.
Battling is ultimately secondary in Let’s Go, and it shows in how much of the game's design focuses on simplifying the overall experience. Seeing battling take a backseat is an interesting choice, but to Game Freak's credit, it's not discarded completely. However, it does reveal how less complex Let's Go is when compared to other mainstream Pokémon games.
This also fits their ultimate design philosophy for Let's Go. This is a game not for a hardcore battler or competitive player. It is a game for their children, the casual fans in love with the journey of Pokémon. Many have gone on to bemoan that as a problem with the game, the ‘streamlining’ of it as if it is a detriment to the overall franchise. This, to me, misses the point of the overall design.
Pokémon Let's Go Pikachu! Review | Final Thoughts
It's easy to lament all of this even though Pokémon Let’s Go is a fantastically made game from top to bottom. I think back to that boy I was, the boy with his Pokémon, sitting on his stoop in the summertime battling friends with a link cable. It's an unforgettable thought seared into my memories. A sense of joy that I know, deep inside, I can never achieve again in that way. Playing Pokémon Let’s Go will not help me make old memories feel new again.
It will, instead, make new memories to cherish. Let’s Go is the kind of game that I would play with my kids, nephews, cousins young and old. The next generation, born off the backs of Pokémon fans worldwide, can now experience what made the franchise so special for us years ago. Playing together, enjoying the familiar setting of the world we have come to know, and finding a sense of adventure that has long since been lost.
I may no longer be the boy with his Pokémon, but I am glad that my future children will be, and I can share in that experience with Pokémon Let’s Go!
TechRaptor reviewed Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu! on Nintendo Switch with a copy purchased by the reviewer.
- Pokemon Go- styled Capture Mechanics...
- Nostalgia Trip through Kanto...
- Polished Motion Controls...
- Excellent Musical Score...
- A New Adventure If you Let it Be One..
- ...Battling Takes a Backseat.
- ...Mediocre Post-Game Content.
- ...Motion Controls Only Option.
- ...Weak on the Graphical Side.