Back in May when the Pokémon Let’s Go games were revealed, I was underwhelmed. And perhaps that was to be expected given that Nintendo made it clear that this wasn’t aimed at me. These games are there for a younger audience who perhaps aren’t as familiar with the game series, with an as yet untitled Poké project for battle-hardened fans teased for late 2019. But nevertheless I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed by these seemingly stripped down remakes of Pokémon Yellow, the removal of random battles in favour of Pokémon Go style catching felt like an insult to Pokémon Masters everywhere.
That was at least until I started to think about it. In my everyday life I experience all manner of irritations, traffic, nuisance calls, people walking slowly in front of me, internet trolls, the crushing realisation that I’ve essentially done nothing with my life, yet none of that compares to running in to the 528th Zubat in Mt. Moon and having to waste precious PP taking it down. With all this in mind, I thought even with my limited interest it might be worth me trying it out while I had the opportunity, and it seems I wasn’t the only one. Within 5 minutes of the doors to EGX opening, the queue to play Pokémon was over 2 and a half hours long and it stayed that way consistently! But was it worth the wait?
My play session dropped me right into Viridian Forest, familiar territory for a man who has played through Red/Blue and FireRed/LeafGreen more times than I care to admit. The layout even appeared to be the same, and it was pretty much as soon as the demo started that all scepticism left me and a rush of nostalgia hit me like a rock in the Safari Zone. There was one quite obvious change from the games of yore though (other than the beautiful HD graphics). This time I could see all the Pokémon ahead of me. You see them dotted about the long grass and can then choose to approach or avoid them. This to me is a literal game changer, my aforementioned Zubat problem flies right out the window. Plus it just makes the world feel more lived in, for a land populated by hundreds of creatures the GameBoy games always looked sparse, this is now a gorgeous, vibrant landscape brimming with wildlife.
Should you decide to engage with one of the wild Pokémon you’ll be presented with a screen that would be familiar to anyone who’s played Pokémon GO (which is surely 99% of the population). Catching is a fairly simple affair, no battling or weakening, just chuck balls using the motion controls (if you’re playing in handheld mode you wave your Switch around to aim the balls then launch them using a button). However, if that all sounds a little pedestrian, fear not, trainer battles are still very much intact and play out in the familiar turn-based fashion. You choose attacks, swap out pocket monsters, use items etc… and at the end of a battle EXP is earned to level up your party members. My biggest concern when these games were announced was that they initially seemed like less of a fully fledged game and more of a companion piece for Pokémon GO. There is integration between the two (you can send Pokémon from GO to Let’s Go!), but honestly playing this on a big screen it felt like the open world Pokémon Stadium game I’ve been dreaming of since the late 90s (Before you mention it, yes I played Colosseum, it was a good game, but it didn’t scratch that itch quite like this).
It would be remiss to talk about this game and not mention the Pokéball Plus, the £45 accessory made just for this game. Let me start by saying that this peripheral is in no way integral to the Let’s Go! experience, and even after using one I feel it’s overpriced and that no-one should buy it, but I’ll be damned if I’m not tempted to stump up the cash for it. First things first, you’d think a sphere was not the most ergonomic shape for a controller, but I can assure you it sat naturally in my hand, even with my big old man hands. The button on the front of the ball serves as the analogue stick for movement and can also be depressed to select menu items and interact with things in the world (your A button). There is then a secondary button hidden at the top of the red half that you use to go back (B button).
Build quality wise it definitely didn’t feel cheap (which is good because it’s not), and it features all your Switch mod cons like HD Rumble, as well as an LED ring around the analogue stick and a speaker which lets you hear your Pokémon inside the ball! You catch a Pokémon, you hold it to your ear, you hear its cry. These little touches are what turned it from a pointless gimmick to a, well… a pointless gimmick that will convince you, you need it. And if you didn’t need any further pushing to invest in it, buying the Pokéball Plus will net you a free Mew in-game. It seems unclear at this point if the 151st Pokémon will be obtainable by other means so if you wanna “catch ’em all” you might have to cough up. It’s also worth mentioning that the Pokéball Plus can be paired to your smartphone and carried with you everywhere to serve the same functions as the Pokémon GO Plus, vibrating whenever a Pokémon is near and allowing you to catch it with the simple press of a button.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by Pokémon Let’s Go!. Prior to my play session, I had little to no interest in it, content with just waiting to see what Game Freak would serve up next year, but now this game has taken a firm spot on my Christmas list. Yes, a lot of this comes from nostalgia but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. They have managed to successfully capture the essence of Pokémon while delivering what feels like a fresh experience. Whether that holds through the whole game remains to be seen but right now this seems to be a perfect game for both first timers and those more familiar. (For anyone out there who took that Christmas line seriously, it’s Lets Go! Eevee that I want, I don’t really care much for the little yellow electric rat, think he’s a bit overrated personally)