Pokémon: Let’s Go: a journey back to the Kanto region and the days of Indigo League

Every Pokémon Generation usually contains one original game, and one remake of a previous game. For example, in Generation 4 Pokémon Diamond and Pearl were original games and Pokémon SoulSilver and HeartGold were remakes of Pokémon Silver and Gold from Generation 2.

When Generation 7 rolled around with Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, and the new kid on the block Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee, it struck me as odd that there were two original games released in the same generation with no remakes. Huh, strange.

Little did I know that Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee WERE remakes – of the original Generation 1 Pokémon Yellow released in 1998 no less.

Unfortunately, Generation 1 had already been and gone by the time I was born but you don’t need to have been there to know that Generation 1 was the generation that defines the Pokémon franchise to this day. 5 of the 10 most popular Pokémon of all time belong to Generation 1 – with 932 Pokémon across 8 Generations to choose from, that’s got to count for something.

My first ever experience with Pokémon was watching the wildly successful animated TV show Pokémon Indigo League – chances are it was the same for you! I bet you’re even singing the theme song in your head right now. Did you know that the “Pokémon Theme” was only ever featured on Pokémon Indigo League and didn’t feature in any of the other 20 seasons? You probably wouldn’t have guessed it since it remains the defacto Pokémon franchise theme to this day.

Anyway, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to experience the magic of Generation 1, albeit with a fresh coat of paint and some much needed quality of life modifications.

You play and interact with the iconic Generation 1 roster

Long ago, in a time consigned to distant memory, Pokémon designs were fun, quirky and original. These were the days of Generation 1, where Pokémon designs were inspired by awesome things like dragons, birds and uh, chunks of rock, instead of stupid things like ice-cream cones, keychains and literal bags of trash. Back before Nintendo started to get really desperate for ideas.

Bulbasuar, Charizard, MewTwo, Jigglypuff, Gengar, Snorlax, and of course Pikachu. Whilst Generation 4 and 5 are very close to my heart, the original 151 are iconic for a reason – it’s because they’re the most fun to play with.

A spiritual successor to HeartGold and SoulSilver

Back in the day, Pokémon SoulSilver and HeartGold were my all-time favourite Pokémon games for one simple reason – they were the first (and for the longest time the only) Pokémon games that allowed you to interact with your Pokémon outside of their pokeballs. I was delighted to find that, in this way, Pokémon Let’s Go is somewhat of a spiritual successor to HeartGold and SoulSilver: not only do you get to watch your Pokémon waddle along behind you wherever you go, but 15 Pokémon species can be ridden! What child in the 2000s didn’t dream of riding Rapidash into battle?

The partner system

If you watched Pokémon Indigo League as a child, did you ever think it was strange that Ash’s team was full of powerful, fully-evolved Pokémon, but he kept his partner Pikachu in his team until the very end, despite Pikachu being an objectively weaker Pokémon than the rest? Pokémon Let’s Go might help us explain why.

Depending on which game you play, you’ll get either Pikachu or Eevee as your partner Pokémon. Your partner Pokémon is always by your side, sitting on your shoulder to accompany you wherever you go.

These partner Pokémon aren’t just for decoration – they have guaranteed perfect base stats and are much more powerful than a regular Pikachu or Eevee, so much so that there’s really no need to switch them out for another Pokémon even at end-game. They can learn exclusive partner moves and “secret techniques” (like HMs, but they don’t take up a move slot which is really useful) if your friendship is high enough. You can pet them, feed them and play with them, similarly to Pokeamie in Generation 6 and 7. You can even dress them if you feel like it.

Are you seriously going to look at me and say that Eevee giving you a little high-five isn’t the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?

Gameplay shifts the focus from battling to catching

There are two types of Pokémon players: the ones that give a damn about filling the Pokedex, and the ones who don’t.

Some Pokémon players are happy to spend hours grinding for those sweet EVs that give them the edge in battle; others prefer to wander aimlessly through the grass hoping to catch a glimpse of that one Pokémon with a 2% encounter rate. However you choose to waste time in these games is your business, but one thing is for certain – one of those two groups is going to be sorely disappointed.

Catching Pokémon is the name of the game in Pokémon Let’s Go, not battling them – you’ll spend more time chucking Pokeballs at things or searching for things to chuck Pokeballs at than you’ll spend doing anything else.

Pokémon Let’s Go has been designed from the ground up to incentivise the player to catch as many Pokémon as possible. When you win a battle, you’re awarded with more Pokeballs instead of money. Your PC is accessible from anywhere in the world so you don’t have to keep running back into town to switch up your party. You can opt to send the Pokémon you don’t want to battle with back to Professor Oak, and in exchange, he’ll award you candies that boost you party Pokémon’s stats. Battling trainers isn’t even the best way to earn EXP for your party anymore – catching Pokémon is. So you’d better be cramming anything and everything that moves into one of those little plastic balls.

For some players, this emphasis on catching and collecting will be a wet dream come true, but those for whom battle and competition is what Pokémon is all about may find Pokémon Let’s Go to be a boring, shallow experience, sapped of much of it’s challenge.

The motion control feature

In Pokémon Let’s Go, you can choose to play with the Switch joycons if you’re playing in TV mode – to catch Pokémon, you need to flick the joycon in the direction you want to throw the Pokeball. The speed and ferocity of your flick will determine how far the Pokémon is thrown and what the trajectory is. That’s cool, but does it work?

No it does not.

When will game developers learn that, in 99% of cases, motion control features are a bad idea? They never seem to do what you tell them to do, and in a game where the Pokémon will run away if you don’t throw your Pokeballs accurately, that’s a really big problem.

I recommend playing in handheld mode – you can control the direction of your throw by physically turning and tilting the Switch, but you can just press the ‘A’ button to throw the Pokeball. This is a much more reliable way; you’ll save a fortune on wasted Pokeballs.

Videogames Make Me Happy concludes… that Pokemon Let’s Go exists mostly to scratch a nostalgic itch

After 25 years of near constantly churning out Pokémon games, I applaud Nintendo’s willingness to go out on a limb and try something new. The presentation of Pokémon Let’s Go is immaculate, with a soft, soothing aesthetic and features specifically designed to make you go “Awww.” Whilst the shift in focus from battling to catching didn’t suit my tastes, it’s easy to see how other players would find the change enjoyable and refreshing.

Sadly however, I don’t think most committed Pokémon fans will find anything of substance in Pokémon Let’s Go. The game’s story is really uninspiring (presumably because it’s a story ripped straight from a game released in 1998 and standards for the industry have changed a lot since then) and seems to crawl along at a snails pace. Everything from catching to training to travelling between cities feels like it takes far longer than it should; without a compelling narrative or unique game mechanics to keep my interest, the game felt like a slog at times.

When all is said and done though, Pokémon Let’s Go is sweet but superficial; feel-good but formulaic; a game designed to fritter away your time and take your mind away from the complexities of your life. To those ends, it succeeds, and if expectations are managed, Pokémon Let’s Go can be a delightful little distraction to help you switch off your brain.

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