Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! Review — Simple and Clean
While Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! starts slow and is quite different than usual, it's still a very enjoyable and accessible RPG.
I’ll be the first to admit I was somewhat tepid and hesitant going into Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!. I was disappointed by last year’s Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon as they made some parts of their predecessors worse. Coming into this entry, I saw the stripping away of traditional battles for something more akin to the popular Pokémon GO registered as a risky move. On the other hand, I was excited to see a full-fledge Kanto realized in 3D for a home console, and the GO connectivity and co-op did intrigue me.
After playing through I entire game, I came away thoroughly surprised. While the simplification of some mechanics and lack of true difficulty make getting the first couple gym badges a slower paced slog, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! creates an entry-point for the series that is easy to understand and play.
At its core, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! is set up very similarly to Pokémon Yellow, my personal favorite of the Generation 1 games. While I respect Generation 1 for creating this beloved series and starting a pop-culture phenomenon, when I went back and played the original GameBoy games after getting into the series with Generation 3, I saw that especially Red and Blue haven’t aged very well due to choppy presentation and tons of bugs.
For that reason, I have a ton of respect for Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen, the original Kanto remakes. While the abundant tutorials and the Sevii islands were somewhat odd additions, these remakes kept the core games intact and realized Kanto’s true potential as a great region. The best remakes are more than a face-lift with better graphics, they actively fix issues and enhance the games they are remaking for the better.
Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen did that very well, so I was somewhat surprised that Game Freak found the need to revisit the region once more, this time in 3D. That being said, I can clearly see why they did it after completing Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!, and it isn’t just to capitalize on “Genwunner” nostalgia, though that’s probably part of it. Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! takes the series in a fairly new direction in various different ways, so the familiarly of Kanto makes this changes a bit more palatable.
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! also succeeds more when looked at as a remake of Pokémon Yellow rather than as a remake of Pokémon FireRed. The stripping away of mechanics like held items and abilities actually give the game a “back to basics” approach that surprisingly works out for the most part. That being said, if you are a fan of the plethora of mechanics that have been added to the series from Generation 3 onwards, you may be in for a bit of a shock here.
I initially was too, and the beginning of the game doesn’t do a great job of getting you onboard. As you’ve probably heard, the biggest change in Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! is how wild encounters work. Instead of the traditional system where you must whittle down a Pokémon’s health before throwing a Pokéball at them, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! instead asks players to capture Pokémon like they’ve gotten used to in Pokémon GO.
Basically, this new system features a constantly shrinking ring. In order to have the best chance of catching a Pokémon, the ring should be as small and centered as possible. Higher level and evolved Pokémon are also harder to catch, which is signified by a yellow or red ring. Players can calm the Pokémon down through the use of stronger Pokéballs or by feeding the Pokémon berries, some of which also make the Pokémon yield better items and candies when caught.
Even as someone who liked Pokémon GO, I was very wary about this system being implemented in a mainline game due to its simplicity when compared to the strategic wild Pokémon battles of yesteryear. Surprisingly, this simplicity actually proves to be a strong suit. Both the feedback with vibration and comments like “Great!” and Excellent!” and the light motion control elements here work well enough, though throwing towards Pokémon at the side of the screen is a bit difficult to get the hang of with motion controls at first.
The system also makes a flawless transition into co-op, with its simplicity allowing even non-gamers like my parents to join the fun and enjoy. Catching Pokémon is also quicker and tends to yield more experience than battling, which made it my preferred way of training and light-grinding. The available Pokémon being pigeonholed to just the original 151 Generation 1 Pokémon also made the classic “gotta catch ’em all” premise of the series feel obtainable for the first time since Pokémon Gold and Silver.
Whether you like it or not, that simplicity also carries over to most areas of the game. Several staple battle mechanics such as held items and, most notably, abilities have been stripped away. While this might sour the experience for some of the more competitive players, like with catching there is an interesting rawness to battles going back to a simplistic state not seen since Pokémon Gold and Silver.
It also makes battling mechanics super digestible to new players as well, helping cement Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! as a great game for series newcomers. That being said, some new additions like the Fairy type are included in the game which helps the game stand on its own when compared to what it’s remaking.
While I did find some enjoyment with the simplicity, I would still say Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!’s battles are the weakest the series has seen in quite a while. They are completely overshadowed in training by the revamped catching system and are way too easy. While the post-game trainers actually did challenge me, the main game was a breeze, especially when I played in co-op.
The game goes out of its way early on to boost your titular Pokémon’s stats and give them special and very overpowered moves, which makes the beginning of the game feel like press-A-and-win slog. I really didn’t enjoy the first few hours of the game for this reason, as I breezed through the first two gyms with an over-leveled Pikachu and Oddish, both of which I caught within the first 10 minutes or so of playing. Plus, the plethora of healing items given all without ever stopping to grind meant I only went to a Pokémon Center once.
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! is easy and accessible, sometimes to a fault. Being able to feed Pokémon candies to permanently boost their stats constantly also made the game feel like a breeze to get through. Fortunately, the region opens up quite a bit and trainer Pokémon levels begin to increase much more consistently once players beat Lt. Surge. As I expanded my team and began to focus on capturing more than battling, I started to like Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! a lot more.
While I didn’t mess around with the GO Park very much as my Pokémon GO days are behind me, it is a cute and fun reward for those who have sunk a ton of time into the mobile game. Co-op is also another way to ease those players into the experience, and while it makes 2v1 battles laughably easy, as a longtime fan there’s still an unrequited charm to being able to run around the game’s world, catch Pokémon, and battle. I know I would’ve loved and constantly used the co-op feature with my brother if I was younger, so hopefully, it fills that same role for some young kids today.
Interacting with Pikachu is also a ridiculously cute distraction that increases your bond with your starter. Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! also has some other great features like letting you ride and be followed by Pokémon, and hopefully features like these stay in all future Pokémon games. I have sorely missed Pokémon that follow you since Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver, and don’t want the feature to go away again.
As both a seasoned gamer and longtime Pokémon fan, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! certifiably gave me an interesting feeling, sometimes to a fault. I ended up enjoying the Pokémon GO-esque capturing system, which finally gave me the motivation to “catch ’em all” for the first time in years. Seeing Kanto in 3D, the implementation of co-op, and Pokémon following you once more all appealed to me as a fan, so playing Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! made me feel giddier than I’ve been with this series in a long time.
That being said, I was quite underwhelmed by the battling side of things in this game, as well as some small presentation errors like occasional lag and weird animations. Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! sets out to create something accessible that radically changes some things while somehow still playing it pretty safe and basic in other areas.
I’d say it succeeds in doing just that and that I liked Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! for it, even if it’s a direction not all fans wanted. If you are fine with the series going in that direction in the interim until the next mainline entry like I am, you will likely have some fun with Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!; if the premise as a whole seems off-putting to you, I’d recommend giving it some time and seeing if you enjoy the game more once Kanto opens up.