I’m the first to admit I was a little sceptical when Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu! & Let’s Go Eevee! were announced. I could never really settle into Pokémon Go, and the idea of doing away with some of the series’ core mechanics rubbed me the wrong way. However, after starting up Let’s Go for the first time, my fears were soon washed away. Gone are the blocky sprites and dodgy glitches of the Game Boy Colour days, and in is this adorable, fun new take on the series.
At its core, Let’s Go is a remake of Pokémon Yellow. Its main purpose is to reignite the nostalgia with long-time fans, but most importantly introduces the series to a whole new generation of kids; those kids who have played Go with their parents or their older siblings, and who want to get into the series proper. There’s something so pure and refreshing about returning to where the series all started, especially for me whose very first RPG was Yellow. I could remember where items were hidden, what gym leaders had, and exactly where to go next. It brought me back to the days where my own older brother and I would huddle over the GBC as we adventured around Kanto. Now I’m doing it myself for the first time in nearly 20 years, and yes, I did get a bit misty-eyed more than once.
For veterans, Let’s Go is essentially a much prettier version of the original. So much of the game, right down to the dialogue, is exactly the same. There’s still the annoyance of trading with friends to get some evolutions; version exclusives still exist, and I think the lack of changes to the core structure of Pokémon may disappoint some. However, when I say it’s pretty, I really mean it. The series’ delightfully colourful world translates to the Switch perfectly, and seeing Kanto in glorious 3D is amazing. While we’ve seen Pokémon in 3D before, the Switch has breathed new life into them. Everything from the locations, to the fully-orchestrated soundtrack, is lovingly recreated to evoke those childhood memories and send you right back to when you were a kid. If my six-year-old self knew she’d be able to pet her own Pikachu, dress it up and cut its hair, she’d be delighted. I’m not ashamed to say I spent hours simply playing with my little yellow mouse and making sure he was happy. It’s too adorable to ignore!
There are a couple of differences to the Let’s Go games that I think veterans will appreciate. The most immediate of these is the lack of random encounters. No longer do you have to run around in the tall grass aimlessly until you encounter a Pokémon, instead these little critters appear on the screen for you to approach if you feel like it. This is an essential change that the series should adopt going forward — random encounters are just not fun anymore.
The other huge difference is that there are no wild battles. Instead, catching Pokémon is very much like it is in Go, where you simply feed the creature berries and throw Poké Balls at it until you catch it. This speeds up completing your Pokédex and levelling up your team, immensely, though I admit I did miss battling in the wild to some degree. There are a few choice encounters where you have to wear your opponent down before you can capture it, but ultimately this makes the game less grind-y. Of course, there are still trainer battles so you can get your quick battling fix. It also makes catching shiny variations much easier. To catch a shiny, you have to catch the same creature over and over again, and because you can see them on the screen, this makes it less about luck and more about patience, which is much easier to deal with.
One thing I do think the series should ditch straight away are the forced motion controls. When the Switch is docked, you only have the option to play with one Joycon. For running around and managing the menu, this is fine, but when it comes to capturing Pokémon, the game forces you to use motion controls. To catch your next critter, you have to hold the Joycon straight and flick it forward to throw your Poké Ball. If it hits the creature, you have a chance of capturing it, but most Pokémon don’t stay in the centre of the screen. I found it really difficult to aim my throws left and right of the screen, and my throws never went in the same direction twice. I recommend playing the game in handheld mode, where you can throw your balls with a well-timed button press, and aim either by the Switch’s gyroscope or by using the left stick.
If you are the kind of trainer who likes to battle, then there are still many competitors waiting to take you and your party on. These are the same as they’ve always been, but without any of Generation 1’s bugs, glitches, or lack of physical and special moves. However, it’s worth noting that Pokémon no longer have passive abilities like Intimidate, which reduces your opponent’s attack at the start of battle, or Sturdy, which prevents your enemy from fainting in one hit. This reduces the number of tactics you need to consider to win battles, and as a result, makes the whole experience a lot simpler for new players to grasp.
The other minor annoyance is that held items can no longer be used. In many other games, you have the ability to “equip” an item on a Pokémon, whether it be some leftovers for a regen-type effect, or something to boost your fire-type moves. It’s another layer of strategy that’s been taken out of Let’s Go for the sake of accessibility. This is about enticing new players into the fold, those who loved Go but may be apprehensive toward embarking on a 20-30 hour quest.
There are some challenges hidden away, as beating the Elite Four is not the end of your journey. You can do the usual and catch ’em all, and rechallenge any Gym Leader and the Elite Four, but the most exciting thing in Let’s Go’s post game is the Master Trainer battles. These battles put you up against a trainer who is a master of one particular Pokémon, but also only battles against the same creature. So, if you encounter a Beedrill Master, they only fight with Beedrill, but also only challenge you if you have a Beedrill. And you also have to use it, and it alone. These are a true test of your skills, and add a really interesting flavour to the series that Game Freak should consider experimenting with later down the line.
As a long time Pokémon fan, Let’s Go has warmed my cockles and brought me the same joy I experienced when I first picked up Yellow all those years ago. With Generation 8 on the horizon, there are many lessons these upcoming entries can take from Let’s Go, although the entire format should always remain separate. I’ll always want the mainline games, and I don’t see myself continually coming back to Let’s Go like I have done the standard entries, but as a gateway for newer, younger players, I can’t think of anything more perfect that Let’s Go. I can’t wait to see the smiles on kids’ faces as they start up their first ever Pokémon adventure.