Pokémon is in a weird place right now. The beloved pocket monsters have never been more popular following the immense success of Pokémon Go, but a wide swath of players who love Pokémon have no familiarity with the RPG they come from. Let’s Go Pikachu (and its counterpart, Let’s Go Eevee) aim to bridge that gap by swapping random battles with mechanics from Pokémon Go. As a Pokémon trainer, you still battle your peers, but you no longer fight wild Pokémon — just catch them. It’s an interesting balance between the old and the new.
Most of Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee is built from classic Pokémon games. You are still exploring the world, catching Pokémon, and building up a team of six to duel with rival trainers. Let’s Go will be an easier game to approach and understand, and likely won’t get caught in the drudgery of the classic RPG grind (a long-standing issue for the series).
Like Go in its early days, Let’s Go Pikachu appeals to lapsed and Go-first Pokémon fans with a strong connection to the original Pokémon games and cartoon. As a trainer, you explore the Kanto region — just as in the original Pokémon Red and Blue — and catch the original 151 Pokémon. Depending on which version you choose, you’ll have a primary Pokémon, Pikachu or Eevee, that rests on your shoulder and acts as leader of your Pokémon lineup.
A new way to catch them all
Catching Pokémon in Let’s Go is a hybrid of the original RPG and Go. Pokémon pop on the open world, as in traditional Pokémon. Once you see and engage one, however, you enter a first-screen with a small menu, very similar to Pokémon Go. To catch a Pokémon, you have to a throw a Poké ball. Literally. Using a Joy-Con or the new Poké Ball Plus accessory, you simulate throwing the ball with a vertical, “tossing” movement.
Catching a Pokémon isn’t hard, but there’s some finesse to the timing.
Like Go, a thin circle zeroes in from the circumference of your aiming reticle — ideally you want to throw your Poké ball right as the circle closes at its center. The color of the reticle — green, yellow, or red — indicates how difficult the Pokémon will be to catch.
Catching a Pokémon isn’t hard, but there’s some finesse to the timing. If you don’t keep your arm straight, your Poké ball will veer off to the side. You can also under- or overshoot your target. Tougher Pokémon may also move to trip you up. Pidgey occasionally jumps in the air, dodging mistimed Poké balls. Butterfree flies from side to side, forcing you to actively time your throws. In practice, catching Pokémon feels predisposed to frustration the moment things get truly tough, but it’s neat to simulate the experience. We also thinking catching Pokémon without battle fits better into the game’s theme than the more traditional combat, where trainers beat up the cute creatures before capturing them.
Always keep a Poké Ball handy
The Poké Ball Plus is technically an optional accessory, but it completes the experience, to the point where we question if the game would hold our attention for long without it. The small, ball-shaped controller features an analog stick and two buttons. In Let’s Go Pikachu, you press in the analog stick instead of pressing “A,” and a button on the top of the ball to press “B.” You can play the game entirely using the ball, no Joy-Con required.
The controller turns Let’s Go Pikachu into a Pokémon simulation that, at least from a gameplay standpoint, is more interesting than Pokémon Go. Moving a Joy-Con up or down to toss a Poké Ball feels very fluid. Having a ball-shaped controller in your hand, you automatically pretend to throw the ball on every try. It also enhances your Pokémon trainer aesthetic with some small theatrics. When you successfully catch a Pokémon, the Poké ball clicks, and you can hear a small cry from the Pokémon “inside.”
Let’s Go Pikachu appeals to lapsed and Go-first Pokémon fans.
It might be more compelling if you play the game in conjunction with Pokémon Go. The ball connects to both games, giving you the ability to carry around and level up a Pokémon without playing the game. It also gives you the ability to transfer Pokémon Go to Let’s Go Pikachu, or vice versa. It’s a nice way of making Pokémon a part of your everyday life, outside of games, if you so choose. That said, we’re hesitant to carry any controller with an analog stick in our pocket day-to-day, for fear of breaking it. On the other hand, at $50, or part of a $100 bundle with the game, it’s a steep price to pay for a little extra immersion.