It takes something special to be just as popular at twenty two years old, as you were when you were first released into the world. The Pokémon franchise has achieved this, and it is in no small part thanks to the frequent release of new games. The two latest Pokémon games, Let’s Go Pikachu! and Let’s Go Eevee! were easily two of the most popular games at PAX Aus this year. Everywhere you looked, there was someone sporting a Pikachu or Eevee hat or visor, and the queues to play the games rivalled highly anticipated titles such as Smash Ultimate and Kingdom Hearts III.
I had the opportunity to play the 10 minute demo of Let’s Go Pikachu! that was available on the PAX show floor. It is essentially a modernised version of Pokémon Red and Blue, albeit with Pokémon GO influences. While they are not the main series addition that diehard Pokémon fans are waiting for, Let’s Go Pikachu! and Let’s Go Eevee! seem like quality games that will appeal to young gamers, players new to the franchise, Pokémon GO fans, and those looking for some nostalgia.
The demo had me playing as a female trainer (Elaine) in Viridian Forest. My companion, Pikachu, sat on my shoulder wearing a matching outfit. I was restricted to catching Pokémon, battling trainers and exploring Viridian Forest.
The first feature I have to talk about is the Pokéball Plus accessory. It is a Pokeball-shaped controller with a button on the top (that acts as the B button) and a joystick in the centre circle (that acts as the A button, and the directional pad). This is a weighty, wireless, optional accessory that takes the place of the joy-cons. It makes you feel like a real Pokémon trainer, and can be held in one hand – perfect for mid-game snack consumption.
The Pokéball Plus accessory may seem gimmicky, but it complements the in-game Pokémon catch mechanic. Instead of battling wild Pokémon, players simply need to throw a Pokeball at them. With the accessory, this translates to physically making a forward throwing motion. It is a mechanic ripped straight out of Pokémon GO – you can even perform curveball throws and earn rewards for the quality of your throw. I wouldn’t be surprised if Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee are littered with “USE THE WRISTSTRAP” safety notices. Parents beware.
Similarly again to Pokémon GO, wild Pokémon spawn and wander the environment in clear sight. Gone are the days of random encounters (what impact will this have on the Repel market?). Some Pokémon are exclusive to each title eg. in Let’s Go Eevee, you can find Bellsprout, Vulpix, and Meowth; in Let’s Go Pikachu, you can find Oddish, Sandshrew, and Growlithe. You can bolster your Pokédex number and impress Professor Oak by transferring your Kanto Pokémon from Pokémon GO to the Let’s Go games. It’s a one-way journey, so transfer wisely.
Trainer battles are reminiscent of the original games. When you lock eyes with another trainer, you enter into 1v1 turn-based combat between your party of six Pokémon and their party. In this game, Pikachu has received a new move – a strong flying move called Floaty Fall. I wonder how anyone gets anything done in this universe… Do they stare at the floor the whole time to avoid battles?
The experience points system has been updated. As with the previous games, all Pokémon in your party gain experience when you knock out an opposing Pokémon in battle. Now, your Pokémon can also receive experience while you’re walking, if they are stored in the Pokémon Plus accessory (reminiscent of the Pokéwalker accessory from Heart Gold and Soul Silver). Further, I was informed by a Nintendo rep at PAX that each town in the Let’s Go games features a master trainer, who can be repeatedly battled. In this way, players can rapidly accrue experience points, and do not have to grind in the wilderness. I get the idea, but constantly battling the same trainer seems even more boring than grinding through wild Pokémon.
There were a couple of other features able to be engaged with in the demo. Firstly, there is a menu option for clothing. The only available clothes were sports clothes, but it implies to me that you will be able to customise your outfit and your Pikachu’s outfit through collectibles/ unlockables. Secondly, there was a “Play with Pikachu” menu option. Here you could feed your Pikachu berries and stroke it a la brushing your dogs in Nintendogs. Both are purely for-fun features that I will probably never engage with.
Given the 10 minute demo that I played, and press releases I have read, there is nothing about this game that I can fault. It has high production values, and even with the deviations from the main series games, Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee remain true to the Pokémon identity. The simplification of the gameplay, and incorporation of Pokémon GO elements means that these games are perfect for young gamers, players new to the franchise, Pokémon GO fans, and those looking for some low intensity Pokémon time. However, as someone who has played enough of the first generation of Pokémon games and enjoys competitive Pokémon battling, Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee are not a games I will invest in.