Image: Game Freak, IGDB

The catch-em-all approach to making a Pokémon game

I’ve owned my Switch since the day it came out, but there’s never really been that much I fancied playing on it. Mario Kart and Mario Odyssey were a must, of course, and I eventually found a cheap copy of the Crash trilogy that was too good not to buy, but there was nothing that I was desperate to pre-order – there wasn’t a game I was desperate to play the moment it was available. That is, until the release of Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! I’ve played every Pokémon generation since Red, and I was very excited about this new installment – suffice to say, it does not disappoint. 

If you’ve ever played Pokémon Yellow, this game is essentially an updated version of that. And what an update – it’s visually stunning, musically strong (the original themes had been updated into lavish orchestral versions) and great fun to boot. Some of the new features are things that, on the face of it, but they go a long way to making the game feel more streamlined and immersive. You can now see the Pokemon in the grass or in caves, meaning you can actively catch the team you want (and when I first saw a Bulbasaur in the grass in Viridian Forest, finding all of the starters became a quest in itself). They’re also all to scale, from the littlest Diglett to the biggest Onyx, and it makes the Kanto region feel more real and alive.

They go a long way to making the game feel more streamlined and immersive

I’m also really impressed with how the game makes you care about your partner. I chose Pikachu as the lesser of two evils (the other option was Eevee), but I’ve never been particularly fond of it as a Pokémon – this game only includes the original 151 Pokemon, meaning my usual Electric and Normal choices of Ampharos and Miltank were off the table. The game sets up Pikachu as a character, and it has its own personality – I loved it, and I loved playing with it (there’s an option that lets you stroke it and feed it berries, and that took up a good chunk of my playtime). Your Pikachu also rides on your shoulder, and you can have another teammate following you – it’s not really very much in the grand scheme of things, but it makes you feel closer to your Pokémon.

One of the biggest changes in the game is one it takes from Pokémon Go – the traditional catching mechanism of grinding down a Pokémon’s health is gone, replaced with a system in which a Pokémon is surrounded by a shrinking circle, and you just throw a Poké Ball at it. It was very weird for a long-time player to get used to this (I don’t have an internet telephone and, thus, I never played Go), and it was slightly dispiriting at the start when you’re struggling to catch a Caterpie or a Rattata. You’ve several options as to how you’d like to catch – a special Poké Ball controller, the two Switch controllers with motion controls or (my choice of) pointing and aiming the console.

The developers were evidently trying to strike a balance between making a traditional Pokémon game and an accessible entry for new players

However, I quickly found that, if you toss one or two Poké Balls (and you get the knack for nailing an ‘excellent’ hit very quickly), you’re essentially guaranteed a catch every time. This ease leads into my biggest issue with the game – I think it would be a stretch to call them easy, but they’re not exactly challenging either. No member of my team ever fainted in any of the battles (and I never even really had a level advantage, despite the experience from lots of catching – the upwards curve is calibrated about perfectly). The developers were evidently trying to strike a balance between making a traditional Pokémon game and an accessible entry for new players, and they have toed that line really well. That welcoming intent has stripped away a number of the games’ features, like abilities and held items, although you don’t really notice when you’re playing.

Let’s Go, Pikachu! doesn’t really add anything new to the Pokémon formula, but it really refines and perfects most of the core game – it feels fresh and new in a way that many recent Pokémon games simply haven’t. I had a great time re-exploring the Kanto region with my Pikachu, and I would definitely recommend the experience.

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