What’s Old is New:
Pokémon Go has been my most played videogame of 2018, which is saying a lot considering it’s a mobile game. It’s not a device I ever get much use out of when it comes to gaming, but countless days and nights this year have been spent out and about catching, trading and evolving virtual critters. All of which is to say, when Nintendo announced this year’s Pokémon game would be a love child of the original Gameboy games and Go, I was intrigued to say the least.
Pokémon Let’s Go is a retelling of Pokémon Yellow – the third version of the games that started off the craze that has since swept the planet. Twenty-some years on people are just as interested as palling around with Pikachu as we ever were, but now the little yellow rat has some competition in the form of the adorable Eevee. Depending on which game you choose to buy, you’ll get a different Partner Pokémon for the duration of your game.
As we set off on our first adventure all over again everything starts falling into familiar places, with enough fun twists to make the adventure worth retaking. Because whilst you’ll recognize a lot of what’s here from those initial outings, there’s plenty of tweaks and subversions that brought a huge smile to my face as a long time Pokéfan.
The story is a refreshingly light affair compared to the overly talkative Sun and Moon games from a couple of years back, with a comforting lack of text boxes in lieu of the far more exciting battles and catching mechanics. When the game does have something to say, however, whether that be a funny run in with your atypical rival or the goofball trio of Team Rocket, it’s usually worth listening to.
Let’s Go’s biggest changes to the Pokémon formula occur when you’re in direct control, however. The game functions as it ever did, with an isometric viewpoint allowing you to navigate the sprawling land of Kanto and its many towns, forests and caves – catching, rearing and battling the eponymous Pokémon. What’s changed, however, is how you’ll interact with these fun and varied creatures.
Instead of random battles rudely interrupting your adventure, Pokémon now – finally – appear on the overworld. I can’t quite put into words just how relieved I am that the series has finally taken this step, and I pray that the proper series entry next year follows suit. Adventuring is no longer a tense affair where you pray you can make it through this cave before another Zubat impedes your progress, instead it’s an exciting prospect where the adorable creatures pop up around you, inviting you to grab the ones you love and ignore the one’s you can’t stand. Whilst you’re still encouraged to Catch ‘Em All, Pokémon no longer makes that mission such a random one.
There are countless such quality of life improvements in Let’s Go – with many cues being taken from the series’ mobile outing. You don’t have to battle random Pokémon at all, skipping straight to the catching mechanic instead. This is handled with an accuracy minigame that mobile fiends will find themselves immediately savvy at – though it does force players to use motion controls. The catching could have been handled with buttons – much as it is when the game is in handheld mode – so it’s annoying to see no such option for TV play. Still, I found the mechanic to be fun and immersive, getting me ever closer to the childhood dream of being a real Pokémon trainer.
Trainer battles could have learned a thing or two from the hands-off approach to catching. Much like they always have, if you walk in front of a trainer they’ll initiate a dull battle with you. By now we’re all pros at this – take advantage of typing and don’t be an idiot and, much like myself, you’ll likely make it through Let’s Go without a single team wipe. In this regard Let’s Go is very much the same game Pokémon has been since its first ever release, and the formula has certainly gotten stale. These turn based battles need some serious shaking up, and I’m a bit disappointed that now wasn’t the time to do that. With how experimental Let’s Go is willing to be elsewhere, it would have seemed a safe place to mess around with this convention, as well.
To their credit Nintendo seem to understand how flavourless battling has become, allowing you to skip most of the trainers in the game if you’re patient and wait for them to turn around. With this allowance, I don’t get why the ‘line of sight’ mechanic wasn’t dropped entirely and instead allowed you to initiate battles by talking to NPCs you see outside of towns. You don’t even lose levelling and experience by skipping fights, considering that catching Pokémon nets you ten or twenty times as much EXP in a fraction of the time. As such, the ‘dungeons’ of the game – set pieces that force you through a building or cave packed with Rocket Grunts or other ne’er-do-wells for a gauntlet of scraps – become the most tedious moments of an otherwise joyful game. It hurts that they all happen one after another in the game’s midsection, too.
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