Thursday, 9 May 2019

Review No. 148 Pokémon: Let's Go Pikachu/Eevee - Nintendo Switch (7+)

Strong Points:
Streamlined approach to the games
Great graphics and art style
References to other games in the series and general lore
Legendaries are an event to catch again
Catch mechanics add a different style to catching Pokémon...
Small cutscenes show visual flair and small changes in gameplay show creativity
Pokémon in the overworld means you can pick Pokémon you want
Customising appearance of Trainer and Partner Pokémon is nice
Rideable Pokémon help to speed the game up (and have some nice visual gags)
Pokémon Go comparability is well implemented
Catch combos reward perseverance...
Master Trainers offer a tough endgame...
Shiny catching is improved and visual
Pokémon Box and secret techniques being taught to partner are efficient...

Weak Points:
Unreliable motion controls
Barebones co-op
Removal of many conveniences and well-established features
Some lag in areas such as Viridian Forest doesn’t bode well for the sequels
...although they don’t offer a lot of depth
A slight jump in animation between walking and running (allows rideable Pokémon to get out of Pokéball)
... although catching every Pokémon in sight so as to transfer removes the special bond between trainer and Pokémon
Partner Pokémon becomes an unstoppable machine by the end, and you are pushed towards not changing your team
...albeit a slightly tedious one
...Although the need to go through multiple menus isn't
Actual Pokémon battles against legendary Pokémon and minibosses feel tacked on

Eevee gets more costumes than Pikachu

In-depth Review:

Release Dates:
World Wide: November 16th, 2018

Controls: see in-game

Main series Pokémon is on a home console. Let that just sink in for a moment. Main series Pokémon is no longer in 240p. There are cutscenes. There are (slight) changes in facial animations. The world looks crisp and sharp. You can be carried by a Snorlax on its belly. This is truly next gen.

It's slightly odd what we forgive the main series Pokémon for, compared to other games. Call of Duty is attacked for recycling similar ideas year on year, Mass Effect Andromeda was attacked for broken facial animations and Crackdown 3 for last gen graphics. None of that seems to really affect Pokémon, a series which almost singlehandedly has kept the handheld consoles afloat. And I've got to say, I was ready to not only agree with some of these statements with Let's Go but add another - it seemed like a step back. Of course, this feeling changed after the first hour or so with the game. It's not a step back, far from it, instead, it's a streamlined experience of Pokémon for the next generation of players and of consoles.

Going back to Kanto allowed for a streamlined experience, perfect for newcomers. Without abilities, breeding, held items or 700 extra Pokémon, players aren't overwhelmed by choice when they first start. The story is streamlined too. Gone are the morally questionable and grey area antagonists of USUM or X and Y. Instead, we have Team Rocket and Giovanni who are evil simply to be evil. While I did enjoy the extra features and motives of the previous games, Let's Go is certainly easier to just jump into. Also, without all the extra parts Let's Go has a substantially more hands-off approach to tutorials and handholding between story beats, hopefully showing that extra tutorials don't necessarily denote an easier-to-understand game.

Of course, there's an opposite view to all of this. Gen 1 was rather bare bones compared to later generations and removing all of these features does make the game feel more shallow than previous iterations. Extra minigames such as Poké Pelago, Contests, Battle Towers and even the game corner (due to legal reasons) don't make a return and as such you are often left with only one goal - to catch 'em all. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing - that motto was what made Pokémon the juggernaut it is today, it does feel odd to have so many extra features stripped from past gens. As such, the game simply isn't as long as the previous iterations, with myself finishing the story in around 15 hours compared to the 35 or so with UM. This combined with the changed mechanics of catching etc. does make Let's Go feel quite different to the other games.

So, these new catching mechanics. Simply put, they take the gameplay of Pokémon Go and expand upon it. No longer do you have to battle Pokémon to weaken them, instead, you have to throw a Pokéball into a circle and hope that Arceus allows it. These do speed up battles quite considerably, especially when combined with the fact that Pokémon now roam free in the overworld (with Shiny Pokémon even showing up differently). No longer do I get a cold chill when seeing a large patch of grass in front of me when all I want to do is get to the next town. Instead, you can plan which Pokémon to catch and when, saving time and Pokéballs.

Which you'll need when you come up against a powerful Pokémon. As you can no longer battle Pokémon or use status effects to weaken them, when you get to a Pokémon with a red circle (denoting it's tough to catch) there's not a lot you can do to increase your chances. Throw a Razz Berry (which are surprisingly difficult to find unless actively looking for them), use a better Pokéball and try to aim for an 'Excellent' circle. Otherwise, just be prepared for the long haul and potentially the crushing disappointment of a Pokémon eating your Gold Razz Berry and then running away. And this is without the difficulty of motion controls being added to the equation.

Ah, motion controls. I've got to say, I enjoy using them. They make a more visceral experience for the player than just buttons, and as long as you're not playing on a cramped train full of angry office workers, I'd recommend using them for Let's Go - it also gives you more exp points with 'technique bonuses'. However, if it's a Pokémon you really want to catch or a Pokémon which moves around a lot, then I'd stick to just handheld mode. As there's no recognisable sensor for the Joy-Cons to aim at or target shown on the screen, I would sometimes through a Pokéball in completely the wrong direction. Sometimes some other electronic item would interfere with my Joy-Con and I'd drop the Pokéball as well, which never helps the frustration of losing 40 Ultra Balls to an escaping Rhydon.

Overall, though, I'd say the Switch is a perfect fit for Pokémon. Battery life wise, I've never encountered a problem, just as long as you charge it every couple of days when travelling. And being able to beat the League on a big screen then carry on catching Pokémon on the train has been great fun and has made me actively want to play the game more than USUM (not only because the Switch is just faster than the 3DS).

Alongside the promise of a big screen worthy main series title came the hope for some properly animated cutscenes, and Let's Go actually delivers. Some of the time. We have a great couple of opening cinematics, a humorous meet-up with Bill and then... Not a lot, besides the occasional legendary battle encounter. It's like they wanted to show what the game was capable of to begin with but then just ran out of steam by the end (I know games aren't necessarily built in chronological order but still). The League especially, has less flair than even Black and White with you just walking into a room and facing an Elite Four member. Game Freak could have really shown off the power of the Switch with cutscenes similar to X and Y but instead, I was left with a feeling of wasted potential. Maybe with Sword and Shield?

On a similar note, we had small changes of gameplay throughout such as being able to control Pikachu to grab the keycard (Dragon Quest 8 style), flying and the classic Blaine quiz show. These were fun and showed the near-willingness to change up the formula but just like the cutscenes, felt barebones at best.

Now onto something which Pokémon still does very well. Battling. It's a similar affair to previous instalments, just more streamlined, as Z-Moves, abilities and even items no longer play a factor. It's just your team versus another. Or more likely, your starter versus the entire world as due to the special partner moves increasing your coverage, you won't really have to use anyone else. Still, battles are enjoyable, although be prepared for a lot of one or two Pokémon trainer battles due to the rebalancing of the world after the removal of random battles.

Now, legendary battles are an odd experience. On the one hand, still getting to battle the legendary birds, Mewtwo and some mini-bosses really puts into focus how strong they are meant to be. On the other hand, having the only objective being to defeat them within the time limit so as to move on to the Go-esque catching mechanics removes any strategy. It's hit first and hit hard. And when they're mostly flying types and you're electric, well... You do the math.

Of course, your partner Pokémon can't be an unstoppable machine all the time. Sometimes they just need to play. Yes, Pokémon-Amie is back but only for your partner Pokémon this time. Maybe don't look into the psychological games Pikachu/Eevee play if you want to sleep easy. Anyway, you can pet your Pokémon or feed them, and they'll respond with pleasure or hate depending on their mood. For some reason, my Pikachu seems to be have become permanently angry with me as soon as I started completing the Pokédex. Maybe it's jealous? All is forgiven though, as you can dress them up with a Diglett cap.

Don't worry if your favourite Pokémon isn't your partner however, as Pokémon can now follow you again. The attention to detail in this feature is great, with Dratini floating alongside you and moving down to the floor when you talk with it, or Electrode actually rolling. Oh, and Venasaur acting like a frog. You can also ride certain Pokémon, from Snorlax to Dragonite, and while there are a few outliers (especially for flying), most Pokémon you think you can ride are rideable. Just remember - a flying Charizard can't easily go into a Pokémon Center. Far too much to burn.

On a slight side note: not using a rideable Pokémon throws up an interesting animation bump when transitioning to running. This slight pause would have been used to get the Pokémon out of the Pokéball but without one, your character just sort of judders before running. A nitpick sure but something which you'd think would have been fixed quite quickly especially with games such as Uncharted 4 and even Nintendo's own Breath of the Wild showing what's possible with animation in games now.

Onto a completely different point now (not everything can be connected, you know?). Pokémon Go connectivity. Let's Go obviously has some sort of connectivity, it's in the name (I'm waiting for an app called Let's now). The connection consists of being able to transfer Pokémon from Pokémon into Let's Go, allowing you to fill up the Pokédex easier than before, play minigames, catch Meltan or even show off your horde of 300 Ratatata. Overall, I found it really easy to connect and send Pokémon from my phone to my Switch, although even something as simple as changing the title from Bring Pokémon to Bring Pokémon from Pokémon Go would help people further.

Now, a slight change in Let's Go comes from the adoption of the Pokémon Go mentality. In previous games, I would usually catch one of each Pokémon, and battle the rest, never running. But with the addition of catch combos, transferring and more, this way of doing things doesn't really work. It took me a while, but I soon adapted to the new style of play, it's just something to watch out for if you're a veteran player.

Something else which has changed is the addition of a Pokémon Box in your bag, allowing quick access to your Pokémon at any time. This is a great, time-saving addition to Pokémon. What isn't, in my opinion, is the rearrangement of the bag. I understand it's a change due to the single screen nature of the Switch, but some of the items are just not in pockets I'd have thought they would be (Mega Stones for example). Furthermore, if you're going to put some items in pockets, can you put everything in pockets, please!?

One of the most exciting additions for Let's Go for me was the promise of a co-op mode. Being a twin, local co-op games are held in high regard in our household and having a Pokémon adventure with two people was always a dream. Sadly, co-op is quite barebones in this game, with them only being able to walk around and throw Pokéballs or battle to help you, the main player. They can't even interact with Pokémon in the overworld, and if I'm being honest, the only time I used co-op was by myself while catching Clefairy for EXP as it gives you more. Not quite the travelling the same world and doing quests style of co-op I had in mind. Online as well, is quite barebones, with trading and battling being present only in a basic format (single and double battles only), with no battle rooms or extra modes.

Right, time for visuals. Let's Go's graphics are, quite simply, the best you've seen for a main series Pokémon game (although I still think the art of FireRed-HeartGold is my favourite). Each character model is clean and highly detailed, there are many, many animations, no podiums for battling and the colour palette is gorgeous. At first, I didn't think it was much of a leap compared to Sun and Moon, especially if you compare it to Breath of the Wild. But then I went back to USUM to collect the last Z-Crystals and oh boy is there a difference. I won't be able to go back to 240p, that's for sure.

Musically as well, this game is great. Due to Gen 1 and Kanto's history, the score is instantly familiar to any Pokémon fan and has some of the best tracks out there for a Pokémon game (I'm humming Route 2's theme while writing this review). Game Freak has also doubled the amount of voice-acted Pokémon there are in the game to a staggering two. Yes, Eevee now also has a voice actor and I've got to say, it really adds life to the Pokémon. Maybe in 100 years and the 13th remake of Red and Blue, we could have the entire Kanto Pokédex voice-acted?

I'm going to finish this review with a slightly cautious look at the future. Pokémon Sword and Shield are on the horizon, and with well over 800 Pokémon expected. That's a lot of polygons (and probably the reason they seem to have gotten rid of Pokémon walking beside you). This is a problem, as I have already encountered lag in certain areas of Let's Go, namely, Viridian Forest. Now, experience with hardware will always help to improve optimisation and it's definitely coping better than Ultra Sun and Moon did on the Switch, but please Game Freak. Be smart about this.

Conclusion: overall, I enjoyed my time with Let's Go more than I thought I would, and the streamlined, slightly hands-off approach of Kanto was a nice change of pace to the handholding of Gen VII. Hopefully, Sword and Shield can merge the best bits of both and create another great entry for both newcomers and veterans, but only time will tell.

Rating: 82%

Thanks for reading, Satamer.

P.S. who would have thought a 'streamlined' Pokémon game would still have so many features? If there are any features I've had to miss out and you still want to know about, leave us a comment and I'll try and respond with information

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