‘Pokemon: Let’s Go!’ is exactly what it looks like, for better and worse

As a lifelong fan of the Pokémon series, the announcement of Pokémon Let’s Go immediately filled me with a nostalgia-filled desire to re-explore the Kanto region with my Pokémon friends frolicking behind me. I was practically throwing my money at the screen in anticipation.

The moment the game was available for download I loaded up my copy of Let’s Go, Eevee and began yet another adventure in Kanto. While the Kanto region has been explored to death, these games shake things up from traditional Pokémon titles with the inclusion of a Pokémon Go inspired catch system. Though the game is a bit simplistic in terms of battling and capturing Pokémon, these games are the most fun I’ve had with the Pokémon series in a long time and are the perfect placeholders for a new main entry Pokémon title on the Switch.

Let’s Go revisit Kanto, for the 6th time

The story is essentially a remake of Pokémon Yellow with added elements here and there. Players who have experience with the first generation of Pokémon games will know exactly where to go and what to do, but that’s not a negative by any means. The game very clearly isn’t aiming to have a deep RPG narrative with perplexing puzzles. It’s a cute little catching simulator with relatively easy trainer battles. The game is incredibly simplified in comparison to other Pokémon games. There are no Pokémon abilities, no convoluted evolution requirements, Pokémon can easily be traded in from Pokémon Go to complete the Pokédex, you are constantly told exactly what to do, and you are given plenty of chances to heal so you will likely never faint. If you’re looking for a challenging, lore-rich experience, you may want to pass on these titles.

But who looked at Pokémon Let’s Go and expected a true Pokémon title? If you look at the game for what it is, you’re probably going to have a great time, especially if you haven’t played a Pokémontitle in a long time. It’s easy to jump into, but also has a lot of love packed into it. Little details like your Pokémon following you, being able to fly and catch rare species, the ease of checking and improving IVs and EVs, and so forth are all welcome additions that I really hope find their way into the next generation of games.

In all honesty, I found the main story to be more of a drag than anything. Like I said, I’ve played Red, Blue, and Yellow hundreds of times; I can beat them with my eyes closed, so it may be a bit unfair for me to call the game overly easy when I’ve played the titles it’s based off of extensively. But I was bored out of my mind plodding through the story. I wanted nothing more than to beat the game so I could go complete my Pokédex. Don’t get me wrong, battling gyms and the Elite Four are still fun, but the other trainers in the game are so easy that I often opted to scroll through Reddit while mashing the A button during battles.

Trainer battles trying my patience

It’s fine that Let’s Go wanted to focus more on capturing Pokémon than battling them, but why dumb down the difficulty of trainers? As is, battling non-important NPCs is a waste of time. Hardly any experience points are awarded from trainer battles and money really isn’t an issue with the Elite Four being available for a rematch. I don’t want Dark Souls-esque difficulty or anything, but I don’t need every opposing foe to have a single level 20 Rattata either.

The games are primarily for children, but children shouldn’t have their hands held for them. A fair challenge can be a good thing, but as a child, there was no better feeling than finally defeating a difficult trainer with my specially selected team. Did I get temporarily stuck at some spots? Yes, but figuring out a puzzle or progressing past a difficult trainer felt infinitely more rewarding. It’s a bit sad kids don’t get the opportunity to overcome these obstacles without excessive hand-holding.

My favorite aspect of the game is definitely the post-game content. After defeating the Elite Four, special trainers called Master Trainers appear throughout Kanto with one highly leveled Pokémon. The only way to beat each Master Trainer is to beat their single Pokémon with a better version of that same Pokémon. There is one trainer for all 151 Pokémon, so players will have to raise Pokémon they may normally have overlooked. While I’m not too big a fan of the trainer battles throughout the game, the fun of capturing Pokémon and assembling a team makes up for it.

Without handhelds holding it back…

Let’s briefly reflect on the first Pokémon titles, Pokémon Red and Blue. Older players will remember having to hold our clunky Gameboy under lamplight (or using some ridiculously contrived light add-on) to see our monochrome, pixelated characters walking around capturing 8-bit monsters. While the design was certainly adequate for the time, I think it’s fair to say that a certain amount of imagination was required to construct the game’s world. What did Kanto really look like? Later returns to the Kanto region, such as in FireRed and LeafGreen on the Gameboy Advance or HeartGold and SoulSilver on the Nintendo DS, offer a visual upgrade in an attempt to modernize the game’s aesthetic, but everything in the region still felt small, and to be frank, the world felt empty in comparison to other regions.

Let’s Go perfectly brings to life the Pokémon world I envisioned when I was a young child; from the expansive caves, large water areas, open fields, everything looks incredible. The 3D style certainly fits very well on the Switch, and in my opinion looks far better than the Nintendo 3DS Pokémon games. The colors are bright and varied, character models for humans and Pokémon are improved from the 3DS, and environments are bursting with life with little touches like falling leaves or waves skimming the water.

Most importantly, Pokémon are now running around in the overworld. This little touch really does bring the world to life. It’s only natural that wild Pokémon would be seen, you know, in the wild, and honestly, it’s more than time for this change to have happened. Not only does this make the different routes feel livelier, but it is also far more convenient to catch Pokémon. Instead of random encounters, you can choose which Pokémon you want to capture by simply walking into them. However, while I love this feature, I do find it odd that the battling mechanic was removed for wild encounters. Obviously, this removes the need for excessive grinding, but I personally miss this strategic element from past titles. No longer do you have to plan how to properly weaken the opposing Pokémon without fainting it, you just throw a ball and hope it lands. For future Let’s Go titles I would like to see a mixture of battle mechanics and the motion controls for capturing; maybe have an option to weaken Pokémon before capturing?

Pokémon Go-find-different-mechanics

It does become incredibly aggravating when Pokémon run away from battle without warning. This is lifted straight from Pokémon Go, and honestly, it annoys me in that game too, so I’m disappointed that Let’s Go adopted this from the mobile game. What’s worse in this game than in Go is that Pokémon can run when you throw a ball or even when you change an item. This is ridiculous and only serves to annoy the player.

Speaking of motion controls, they’re… spotty. The game attempts to emulate the capture style of Pokémon Go where players are required to use their fingers to throw the ball at a Pokémon. Each Pokémon has a varying level of difficulty, demonstrated by the colored rings around the Pokémon; red circles mean a higher level of difficulty, yellow is average, and green is relatively easy. Additionally, you can increase your chances of capture by using stronger Poké Balls or hitting the Pokémon when the colored circle is smaller. This translates fairly well to the Nintendo Switch when they work. When the motion controls don’t work, your ball will randomly go careening to the opposite side of the screen despite your joy-con being held straight. This is especially problematic with Pokémon that like to move around to avoid capture. While by no means game breaking, it would have been nice if more time went into making the capture mechanics more solid.

Despite its flaws, it’s still Pokémon

Overall, I loved Let’s Go, but it is certainly far from a perfect game. The story in the first generation games is weak. Again, experiencing it again for the millionth time with dumbed down difficulty and mechanics makes for a worse experience. Motion controls are hit-or-miss, Pokémon Go style gameplay can become old fast, and so forth. Fans wanting a more traditional battle system are going to be disappointed, but those of you looking for a fun, new way to enjoy the Pokémon series, give these games a shot.

To be blunt these games had me hook, line, and sinker from the moment the trailer was released, pretty much guaranteeing I would love the game no matter what. Despite some gameplay issues, I loved the massive nostalgia trip and traversing the land with my trusty Eevee on my shoulder while riding on the back of an Arcanine. Let’s Go gave me everything I wanted as a child, and I can easily overlook many of the flaws, though it is completely understandable if others don’t have the personal connection to the original games and have difficulty getting sucked into the game. Personally, I hope the Let’s Go series expands to cover other regions and addresses some of the aforementioned issues.

Images: taken from ‘Pokémon Let’s Go, Eevee!’

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