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The past and future of Pokémon come together in Let’s Go!

Nintendo

The first Pokémon RPG to hit Nintendo’s latest console might not be everything that fans want, but it still delights.

Pokémon has always been my favorite video game series.

Ever since I embarked on my first journey through the Kanto region, I’ve had an obsession with capturing and collecting the hundreds (and hundreds) of colorful creatures that define the franchise. Rooted in a primal urge to travel the world and make new friends, it’s no surprise that these light-RPGs got as big as they have. Ask anyone remotely interested in video games, and they probably have a story about Pokémon.

Looking at Let’s Go!, it is important to understand what makes Pokémon special. These new entries, Let’s Go Pikachu! and Let’s Go Eevee!, combine the core mechanics of the core role-playing games with the accessible gameplay of Pokémon Go, appealing to a bigger audience than ever before.

Given the nature of video game development, it is extremely likely that a well-loved series will diverge from the standard in this way. Mobile spinoffs, multiplayer focus, and casual appeal have all been used to whine that a series is effectively dead. With the recent and embarrassing backlash against Diablo Immortal’s reveal and the reticence fans feel for Fallout 76‘s online features, it’s become easier to identify the entries that will eventually anger the most dedicated fans.

Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu Pokemon/YouTube

And so it went with many bemoaning the reveal of Pokémon Let’s Go! as the series shifting in an undesirable direction. While it looks stunning, several of the foundational pillars of Pokémon’s gameplay have been significantly altered past the point of a remake. Though Let’s Go! is far from the core RPG players have been waiting for, the first Pokémon adventure on Nintendo Switch is truly special—a joyous celebration of its history that dares to try something different.

At first glance, these games are undeniably Pokémon.

Pallet Town looks much like it did in 1998, though rendered in gorgeous 3D. As a swarm of Pidgey flap across the screen, I feel the warm nostalgia only a game like Pokémon provides. Within an instant, it’s made clear that these games are all about delivering the trademark charm and levity the series is famous for.

Any “hardcore” aspects have been dropped. Random enemy encounters are nowhere to be found. Instead, gorgeous models of each creature roam the overworld. Using Pokémon Go’s capture mechanic, the emphasis on battling monsters has been replaced by a motion-heavy control scheme. Streamlined progression and a lack of significant challenges might give the impression that this is a breezy, undemanding experience—but beneath the surface, there are plenty of engaging systems to find.

For example, chaining captures of any species yield big rewards. It took a while to reprogram my brain against grinding enemies, but learning Let’s Go’s new mechanics was surprising. Your entire team earns experience for making a successful catch; even more if it was your first throw or a well-timed hit. With different kinds of tools and berries at your disposal, it’s easy to make what might feel like a mindless minigame more exciting. However, the motion controls are inconsistent and frankly annoying. A flick of the wrist might carry your throw far off-screen where a deliberate straight line is picked up in a flourishing spiral.

This could easily be attributed to the Switch’s JoyCon controllers simply not being as adept as something like the Wiimote, but with games like Super Mario Party making excellent use of the hardware, it’s disappointing to see something so central in this game come off as a nuisance.

Pokémon Let’s Go is best played undocked because of this, killing some of the excitement that comes with the series’ first “proper” game on a Nintendo home console. Still, the visuals, amazing orchestral music, and charming minigames make for a consistently engrossing adventure.

Pokemon lets go Pokemon

Inspiration from Pokémon Go doesn’t end with the controls. Powering up monsters has been reworked in a way that prioritizes expanding your collection and catching as many new Pokémon as you can find. Not only do you earn experience for the process, but you’ll also amass candies that can be used to raise the party’s stats. Where I first thought Let’s Go would be laughably easy due to these changes, it’s actually more engaging in ways I didn’t expect.

While straightforward battles are more simple, aspects of the game that I never consider in a typical Pokémon experience were more important. Inventory management, buff items, and team composition kept me frequently finding new ways to change strategy.

Even though I knew Let’s Go’s story like the back of my hand, new cutscenes and character moments were a joy to see. This is far from a cheap cash-in on the hype of Pokémon Go. My journey with Pikachu provided every emotion I expect from a Pokémon game, though through a different lens.

Pokémon has always been approachable, and Let’s Go mostly serves to drive the series’ accessibility. Connectivity with Pokémon Go allowed me to access a bank of powerful monsters on-demand, at the cost of losing them in the mobile game. It’s nice to see this kind of connectivity supported, but the one-way communication is a bit disappointing. Drop-in cooperative play is supported in a great capacity and never gets in the way. However, the control scheme being limited to only one JoyCon is a frustraroadblockblock that dampens the entire experience.

Overall, it would be great to see this spinoff live on in a separate lane from the core RPGs. The Let’s Go moniker is obviously aimed at younger players or those who crave something different from Pokémon. These games follow a simple but encouraging loop, providing a great new way to experience classic adventures. I’d love to see Gold and Silver, my favorite games of all time, given the same loving treatment.

At the end of the day, these are great remakes with interesting diversions. Pokémon has a long and storied history, with plenty of exciting developments, and plenty of missteps. Let’s Go is more the former. These games imagine a beautiful, friendly future for Pokémon, and they’re more than worth any interested player’s time.

4/5

Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee are available now for Nintendo Switch. This review was written based on a version of the game provided by the publisher.

AJ Moser

AJ Moser

AJ Moser is a Brooklyn-based reporter who focuses on video games, movies, and internet culture. His work has appeared in Paste Magazine, Game Informer, and Big Spaceship.