If I wanted to introduce new, returning, and mobile players to the mainline Pokémon games, this isn’t the game I would have given them.
Pokémon Let’s Go! Pikachu/Eevee was destined to be a controversial set of games from the start, as the game attempted to merge the various Pokémon fanbases and placate them all with a single title. It was an ambitious goal, but Let’s Go! tried to accomplish it by taking the best pieces of past games and created an updated HD rendition of the world that kick-started the original phenomenon. With nods to Pokémon Go, Pokémon Yellow, and even the Pokémon anime, there was bound to be something for everyone to enjoy, as well as something for everyone to quibble over.
As a longtime player who cut their teeth on the Game Boy version of Kanto, I was prepared to have some philosophical differences with Pokémon Let’s Go! Eevee. What I was not prepared for, however, were the number of technical issues I experienced with the game, and how it lacked the usual level of polish I expect from a Nintendo game. While the Pokémon charm is still here, I don’t think the final product lives up to its $60 price tag.
My specific thoughts about the game are as follows:
- Pokémon Sun/Moon/Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon never ran particularly well on my 3DS, but at least Nintendo had the excuse of pushing the boundaries of its aging hardware, and the game reportedly ran fine on newer 3DS/2DS models. However, I’m seeing the exact same performance issues with Let’s Go! that I saw in Sun/Moon, which is completely inexcusable on a new, higher-powered console like the Switch. The transition into battles is surprisingly slow (especially when entering a Team Rocket battle), and occasionally the game takes an extra second or two to process my battle commands, leaving you waiting as the camera zooms around the battle. All of the animations still run fluidly at normal speed, but these little delays add up over time, making you wonder how much unoptimized code this game borrowed from Sun/Moon.
- The art style itself is a cross between the cute, chibi style of Pokémon X/Y and the more-realistic style of Sun/Moon, and while the game won’t blow you away with its breathtaking visuals, it’s still a nice upgrade from the 3DS. The overworld is a faithful rendition of Kanto from Pokémon Yellow, and while there really aren’t any surprises for veteran players, it’s still kind of neat to see the whole place in HD.
- While this is technically a G1 game, it’s nice to see some of the refinements from later generations appear as well (natures from G3, the physical/special split from G4, reusable TMs from G5, countless new and reworked moves from all generations, etc.). Of course, there’s also the return of Pokémon that follow you in the overworld, which is made even more interesting by how different monsters interact with your Trainer. Sure, riding on Pokémon is all well and good, but watching your Bellsprout race excitedly ahead of you as you wander around is just too precious. (Also, watching your character get chased around by a Venemoth is kind of unsettling, as it should be.)
- Some prior features, however, are only half-implemented for some strange reason. The biggest examples of this are G6’s Pokémon Amie and Trainer/Partner customization: You can only play with your special partner Pikachu/Eevee, and the clothing options for both you and your partner are fairly limited. Interacting with your Pokémon and expressing your Trainer’s individuality through fashion was a lot of fun in X/Y and Sun/Moon, so to see those options only partially implemented here was a bit of a bummer.
- One new concept I enjoyed was being able to transact business like party and name changes without having to find a PC or Name Rater. Being able to do something from anywhere is the Switch’s modus operandi, so seeing that idea extended into Let’s Go! was a nice touch.
- My biggest complaint about Pokémon Yellow was that my Pikachu was so weak and useless that it was just a waste of a slot in my party. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here: Eva the Eevee is an absolute powerhouse, and thanks to some helpful move tutors scattered throughout the game, she can also learn several new elemental moves to improve her type coverage and better prep her for Gym battles. (They can also learn “Secret Techniques” that handle out-of-battle HM techniques without taking up an attack slot.)
- Random encounters have been replaced with monsters that spawn in the overworld, which lets players cherrypick which fights they want to take and which they wish to avoid. (Sometimes Pokémon will target the player, but they’re still not too hard to avoid.) It’s a nice quality-of-life improvement that brings the game more in line with Pokémon Go, but you’ll still end up waiting a while if you’re looking for a rarer creature.
- The most controversial change, of course, was the random encounter mechanic: Instead of battling wild Pokémon, you simply throw Poké Balls at them until you catch them (which grants your party Pokémon experience points). This is my biggest philosophical difference with the game: As hokey as it sounds, I find battling to be the best way to form an emotional bond with your Pokémon, and limiting people to Trainer battles leaves you less invested emotionally in your team. (You also end up with a bunch of useless monsters in your bag, which just feels wasteful to me, even if you can trade them in for stat-boosting candies.)
- The big thing you’ll notice with the new random encounter mechanic is that you’ll be going through a ton of Poké Balls as you explore Kanto. Luckily, the game’s economy has been rebalanced a bit to account for this: Poké Balls are cheaper than in past games, you earn Poké Balls as prizes for winning Trainer battles, and if you’re stuck in a dungeon there’s usually someone around who will give you more Poké Balls if you run low. (Berries, on the other hand, seem to be a lot harder to come by, so be careful how you use them.)
- While I still think the Go-style random encounters could have won me over, there’s one major problem: The motion controls in this game are absolutely horrendous. One moment they’re finicky and you’re either air-mailing your Poké Ball throws or bouncing them in like a third baseman, and the next moment they’re completely off-kilter and you’re throwing Poké Balls in the exact opposite direction you intended. If you’re throwing straight at a stationary Pokémon, you’re usually okay, but once they start moving around, fuggedaboutit. You’re much better off using the Switch in handheld mode and aiming it Splatoon 2-style at what you want to hit.
- Another issue I have with the catch mechanics: Nice/Great/Excellent throws don’t seem to have any correlation with whether or not you catch the Pokémon you’re aiming for. I haven’t been able to confirm whether or not there’s a link between throw quality and capture chance, but I’ve have numerous encounters where a small-circle “Excellent!” throw doesn’t even keep the Pokémon contained for two shakes of the ball…and a few throws later, I catch it with a throw that bounces off the monster’s leg/arm/wing and isn’t anywhere near the inner circle. If you’re going to give the player feedback on the quality of their throw, their should be a clear connection between it and the chance of capturing a monster. As it is, the player is just left wondering what the point of improving their throw is beyond some extra experience points.
- Trainer battles work the same as always, aside from a few simplifying changes (Abilities are not here, for example). However, another polish issue crops up here: Whenever an opponent uses an item, the text that pops up says you used it instead! Beyond that, the biggest oversight I see here is the removal of the Sun/Moon feature that tells a player if a move is effective or not against a monster they’ve seen before. Something like that seems like it would be a godsend to new players (and anyone who hasn’t memorized all the type matchups), so its omission here is baffling.
- The online setup for Let’s Go! is surprisingly random and feature some questionable design decisions. Wonder Trades are gone (about time), but so is the usual ‘offer X’ or ‘look for who’s offering Y’ mechanic as well. Instead, you’re matched up with people via ‘Link Codes,’ which seem to no serve absolutely no purpose at all. I just ended up blindly punching in three monsters and getting matched up with random people for online trades and battles. (The first guy I met in battle had a Mewtwo with a Key Stone…you can probably guess how that match ended.) Battle matchups are no more or less random than they ever were, but the inclusion of this extra step with no discernible purpose is just confusing.
- Pokémon has never been known for its difficulty, and that continues with Let’s Go!. Sure, NPCs are a little smarter than the ‘use one of the four moves randomly’ AI of earlier games, and there are Master Trainers you can conquer eventually, but for the most part you can rely on type matchups and get through the game with minimal grinding. (If you really want to coast, you can also bring in a second player to make all battles 2 vs. 1 in your favor.) The game is more about catching than battling overall, and in that light, the decision to go easier on players makes sense (it encourages them to try out more and different monsters, even if they’re a bit lower-leveled).
Put it all together, and the word that springs to mind when thinking about Pokémon Let’s Go! Pikachu/Eevee is “rushed.” This really doesn’t strike me as a game where enough time and thought were put into its design and development. Instead, a bunch of existing ideas features seem to have been slapped together in a halfhearted attempt to bring all of the Pokémon audiences together (and placate the masses until G8 arrives sometime next year). I’m sure Pokémon Go players will find a few things familiar and lapsed players may enjoy a trip down memory lane, but I’ve been here before (heck, I was just here a few months ago), and there’s really nothing here that excites me about come back. The biggest indictment of Let’s Go! that I can make is that a few days after I bought it, I opted to go back to messing around with Ultra Sun instead.
This game is Pokémon, all right, but it’s not $60 worth of Pokémon. Let’s hope Nintendo and The Pokémon Company do a better job dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s when G8 arrives.