The release of Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon Let’s Go, Eevee! has been a long time coming. Not these games specifically, but a more substantial fullscreen Pokémon experience for console players had been sorely lacking up until this point.
Sure, we could transport our original Pokémon party over to our Nintendo 64 to battle it out in lovely 3D with Pokémon Stadium, but core titles in the series have had their roots firmly planted on Nintendo’s handhelds. As the Switch converts from handheld to set top console rather effortlessly, it was only a matter of time before the franchise showed up.
With Let’s Go, Nintendo seems to be bridging the gap between players of the hit mobile title Pokémon GO and the gameplay more often associated with the Game Boy and Nintendo DS/3DS releases.
Longtime fans of the series may be put off by what may understandably be seen as a dumbing down of the game’s mechanics as well as its return to the original 151-Pokémon roster. But much like Capcom did with Street Fighter IV winning back lapsed players of Street Fighter II, Nintendo (and series developer Game Freak), are banking on some heavy handed nostalgia along with a visual modernization.
The result is a game that feels like how you may remember Pokémon Red and Blue feeling like the first time you played them. You set out on your adventure to discover and collect Pokémon for Professor Oak. Along the way you’ll battle the region’s top Gym Leaders as you attempt to be the very best.
A few key things have changed, however, and for the most part these feel like improvements, overall. Depending on which version of the game you pick up, your starter Pokémon will be either Pikachu or Eevee. You don’t keep them in a Poké Ball. Instead, they sit lovingly on your shoulders. In one of the biggest changes from the original, random map encounters with wild Pokémon are now gone and instead replaced with encounters that you have a lot of agency in either accepting or avoiding since the Pokémon are now visible on the play field.
Battles with wild Pokémon are also gone, now replaced with a more Pokémon GO approach to capturing, where instead of wearing down a Pokémon by beating up on them (kinda cruel when you think about it), you try your best to aim a Poké Ball at the Pokémon and then give it a throw. Depending on your control preferences, this could mean hitting the A button, flicking the joycon forward, or – the best option – using the Poké Ball Plus accessory.
Gimmicks are nothing new when it comes to the series. Remember the Poké Walker? I miss it. But the Poké Ball Plus brings a new sense of enjoyment to the game. Modeled after the in-game Poké Ball, this peripheral allows you to play the game with just one hand. Super helpful for laid back players or for those who always have a hand in a bag of salty snacks! It even has a built in speaker and some fun LED lighting effects that help bring the game experience into the real world.
I’ve been having a lot of fun with Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu! and exploring the familiar but different Kanto region has been a kind of comfort food for me. There’s enough here to keep longtime fans entertained but it’s accessible enough for anyone to pick up and play. Each Pokémon has its own personality which shines through in this updated cutesy style, and nice visual throwbacks like the pixel art icons in the menus pay a nice winking homage to the series’ roots. The game’s mostly laid back, even during some of the more intense moments, but there are a few battles throughout the adventure that will have you rethinking your strategies.
As the holidays approach and I have a chance to wind down a little bit for the year, I look forward to continuing my quest to be the very best, like no one ever was, and to catch ’em all!