The second great Pokemon boom echoed around the globe with Niantic's Pokemon Go, which has led directly to the release of Pokemon: Let's Go, Pikachu and Let's Go, Eevee.
A soft reimagining of Pokemon Yellow not a part of the "core" series, Let's Go is a savvy balancing act between the casual approach Pokemon Go takes and the in-depth RPG mainline series that started back in the 90s.
A console release and full-fledged handheld experience complete with smooth motion controls and a unique controller, Let's Go is a surprisingly fun traditional romp through Kanto capable of ushering in newcomers to the series because of Go, while also deep enough to entertain hardcore players awaiting the next massive RPG in the mainline series.
Surgically executed to appease both crowds, the Pokemon boom isn't fading.
Graphics and Gameplay
This is indeed a Pokemon game, meaning a colorful experience with an anime influence.
Expectations were likely all over the place for a console Pokemon release, but Let's Go strikes the ideal balance, taking the original Yellow's tone and throwing it into 3D when applicable. It's fun to see nostalgic places like the Pokemon Tower in Lavender Town wholly recreated on the Switch.
Outside of the familiar environments, the revamped battle animations are where Let's Go really shines from a visual perspective. Fully-animated battles with detailed move animations create an immersion a Pokemon game hasn't had before. The faces of other trainers even change based on events, which sounds like a small detail, but it is a notable development coming from a primarily handheld series.
Visually, it feels like the developers took a relaxed approach to the style on the Switch before really ramping up for the expected bigger 2019 release. But that doesn't take away from the smooth-looking charm here.
The tried-and-true gameplay is here as well. Players once again start from humble Pallet Town beginnings and set off across Kanto, challenging eight gyms and battling the likes of Team Rocket. Those battles with other trainers are still turn-based affairs and offer more depth and strategy than meets the eye.
Perhaps the biggest departure from a gameplay perspective is the overworld changes. Players no longer encounter random Pokemon in tall grass or in caves—the wild Pokemon capable of being caught are walking around just like the player and are either avoidable or capable of being caught.
Catching Pokemon has dramatically changed as well, though arguably for the better. Players no longer battle wild Pokemon with their team. Rather, Go's influence is biggest here in the catch minigame that unfolds just like the mobile game. A ring of varying difficulty colors shrinks around the wild Pokemon and players must manage timing, throw accuracy and a variety of usable items to secure the catch.
In rare cases, players will have to fight a Pokemon on a five-minute timer before then moving into the catch minigame. But otherwise, the minigame is a fun new addition to the series for this particular release and catching droves of even the same Pokemon is a very fast way to level all six Pokemon in a player's party, as all get experience for trainers making a catch and bonus points for things like throw accuracy.
Let's Go is undoubtedly a faster, easier version of Pokemon, but the fact the developers found a way to bypass some of the deeper grinds isn't a bad development.
Switch Functionality and More
Pokemon keeps evolving with the times.
Back around the time Yellow launched, hooking up with friends via link cables for battles and trading was all the rage. This time, it's linking via local Switch consoles or over the internet wirelessly for the same thing. This works just as well as the original releases, if not better, enabling trade-only evolutions and endless replayability via battles.
The versatile powerhouse Switch console is an ideal home for Pokemon. The Poke Ball Plus is a fun way to experience the game, though not necessary by any means while playing on the TV screen or in tabletop mode. But the analog stick on it is as responsive as the stick on a Joy-Con and the feedback via sounds is an added bonus. A single Joy-Con can serve the same function, though.
Let's Go works just fine in handheld mode as well, which is reminiscent of the Game Boy games of the past. The catch minigame is still fluid here, with the handheld's motion controls working well and the timing of a "throw" coming down to a button press. It's easy to get lost playing this game in handheld mode like the other Pokemon games, but it's nice to have the option to play it on a big screen as well.
Pokemon Go itself is also weaved in here. While a bummer to see the Safari Zone taken out of the game in favor of a Pokemon GO Park, the functionality is fun. Players can transfer Pokemon between smartphone and the Switch game, opening up some interesting leveling opportunities. Throwing some Go captures into Let's Go provides bonuses on top of the impressive technology itself.
Little else will surprise about this release, especially for veterans of the series. Pikachu and Eevee are the starters and unfortunately can't be evolved, which is an odd choice given the latter's tree of progression, though it does pay homage to the player's rival picking Eevee in the original Yellow. Running through a reimagined Kanto is a blast, with some parts of the story changed here and there (players will see more of Jessie, James and Meowth than in the original Yellow). Some new map traversal methods and interesting character appearances round out a quick and brilliant offering.
There are some sacrifices made in an effort to dial down the difficulty compared to the original. Maintaining a relationship with a starter will allow it to sometimes avoid fainting or simply shake off status effects. And those starters are absolutely beefed up in the stats department and can learn a variety of moves across all types to compensate for the fact they can't evolve—which makes it easier than ever to power through the game with the starter overleveled.
But some of these alterations are fun and were worth a gamble by the developers. Nobody should miss running away from the 100th Zubat in Mt. Moon after a random encounter while trying to hunt for rare Pokemon or simply finding a way out. Grinding a wild Pokemon down or putting it to sleep after a False Swipe and playing the RNG game with Pokeballs can be tiresome after all these years. And with traversal, there isn't any need for an HM slave, meaning a sixth Pokemon on the team loaded with moves to help the player move around the map is a good thing.
These are small quality of life risks the developers decided to take, and they work. They won't win everyone over, and this isn't saying they should be in every game moving forward, but it's nice to know there are improvements that can be made to the longstanding formula. Now more than ever, Pokemon has to flirt with these ideas to compete with the onslaught of mobile games.
Speedrunning Tips and Esports Appeal
Pokemon games have been a staple of the speedrunning space for a long time. Whether it's exploiting code in the original Game Boy games or traditional runs, Let's Go is easily speedrunning material.
As always, a few options exist. One is filling out the Pokedex, another is an any-percent run. Either way, Let's Go offers some interesting challenges. While this is technically a simpler version of a deep series, roadblocks such as needing a certain amount of captured Pokemon in the Pokedex to challenge a certain gym create problems.
A speedrun in this game will weave in a few old and new ideas. Slamming through dialogue is a must, but so is a reimagined strategy for catching Pokemon considering these aren't traditional battles anymore. Skill will come into play more than it has in the past thanks to the timing-based capture games, as will inventory management to put the player at an advantage when trying to capture.
Fortunately, player skill in battles with other trainers themselves will help. Being underleveled while powering through the gyms isn't the end of the world if a player uses the strengths-weaknesses system properly. It helps the starters are overpowered to begin with, and, without getting into spoilers, there are ways to acquire certain moves for the starters that will come in handy based on the gym blocking their path.
Map navigation through memorization and inventory management itself will make for some interesting runs as well. Gone is the PC system from past games, as players have access to all the Pokemon they have ever caught now before sending extras off to Professor Oak. And catching droves of extra Pokemon and sending them away in exchange for candies that help level a player's starting six might actually increase speeds of a run to power through gyms, not set them back.
Once again, Pokemon has another game with esports appeal on its hands. This time players can battle over the Internet, so the logical tournaments and streams will follow. Some of the underlying systems that went into stat rolls and such aren't present, but a streamlined process won't take away from watching two players with stacked lineups face off in a last-Pokemon standing battle.
With a narrower pool of Pokemon than recent releases and by far the most recognizable faces in the franchise at their hands, streamers and those organizing tournaments won't have a hard time drawing audiences.
Let's Go is the perfect launching point for a new wave of lifelong Pokemon players.
Younger players or those whose first Pokemon experience was Go on a smartphone can dive in and experience those same mechanics, while filling out a Pokedex and also being fully introduced into the game's mainline experience.
For those who have been here before—good luck not losing track of time while riding a bit of nostalgia in a new and pretty package with fun functionality.
For those upset a console release isn't some full-blown RPG with the usual depth, it's important to remember those will only happen if Pokemon remains the beast it is. Let's Go will bring in a whole new generation of players to ensure it is, while also giving those turned off by its simplicity something to do as they await the next major mainline release in 2019.
Let's Go isn't some glorified mobile game or a cash-in on the Pokemon name. Rather, it's a good-looking retelling with a few innovations hinting at what comes next on the Switch, while still managing to be an enjoyable time sink with a proven formula.
A non-core game and appetizer to something bigger or not, Let's Go is a strong release capable of standing on its own regardless of one's experience in the Pokemon universe and easily one of the strongest titles in the Switch's library.