I don’t think I’m alone in saying that Pokemon Let’s Go isn’t quite what I was expecting – or even hoping for – out of the series’ home console debut. We Pokemon fans have been waiting more than 20 years for the mainline Pokemon series to come to consoles, but Pokemon Let’s Go only gets part way there. It gets closer than other any of the console spin-offs have, but it isn’t quite the Pokemon that many of us have been looking forward to since the day the Switch was first announced.
That isn’t to say that Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee (the latter being the version I’ve been playing) are bad games. Far from it, and in fact, in a lot of ways, these are the Pokemon games many of us have been waiting for. Or, at the very least, they show shades of the Pokemon games we’ve been asking about for decades.
One of the biggest improvements Pokemon Let’s Go makes over other mainline games is the process of encountering wild Pokemon. No longer do we have to contend with random attacks from unseen wild Pokemon – instead, Pokemon appear on the overworld map in patches of tall grass, allowing us to choose which ones we battle and which ones we pass by.
Right away, the world of Pokemon feels much more alive because of these changes. I love seeing the wild Pokemon appear without having to go through random encounter after random encounter looking for a particular one. This is one of the changes I hope carries over to the mainline Pokemon games next year, because it’s one of the major reasons why Pokemon Let’s Go has been so enthralling despite the fact that I’ve played through the Kanto games a number of times throughout the years.
The biggest – and likely most contentious – changes are in the actual catching of these wild Pokemon. Unlike every other game in the series, you don’t battle a wild Pokemon to weaken it before attempting to catch it. In Pokemon Let’s Go, you simply throw Pokeball after Pokeball until the wild Pokemon either runs away or doesn’t break out of one of them. It’s essentially Pokemon GO’s catching mechanics ported to the big screen, complete with the ability to feed the wild Pokemon berries to make them easier to catch.
I don’t entirely know how I feel about the catching mechanics in Pokemon Let’s Go. On the one hand, it’s really nice to not have to play this careful balancing act of dealing just enough damage to a wild Pokemon, which is something that can be ruined by a surprise critical hit or a high damage roll. On the other, the method found in Pokemon Let’s Go is just as at risk of becoming repetitive and stale. The motion controls that make you emulate throwing a Pokeball definitely get old fast – something that is thankfully alleviated by playing the game in handheld mode.
While I don’t think I’d like to see these catching mechanics spill over to the mainline series, they do help make Pokemon Let’s Go feel like a refreshing departure from the norm. Since all Pokemon in your party gain experience after you catch a wild Pokemon, the process of grinding out levels for an underpowered member of your team is streamlined as well. I can see how these changes to a tried and true system might not sit well with Pokemon veterans, but I think for a game like Pokemon Let’s Go, which is at least partially aimed at pulling Pokemon GO fans and newcomers into the fold, they work well.
Battles are mostly the same as they were before, though there are a few key differences. There are, for instance, no held items or Pokemon abilities in Pokemon Let’s Go, but since this is a remake of Pokemon Yellow, that isn’t really surprising; neither of those features were present in the original Generation 1 games. The lack of things like held items make Pokemon battles, especially against other humans, less complex, and potentially more inviting for someone who is just starting out.
Another instance of streamlining that I really like is the absence of a PC storage system in Pokemon Let’s Go. In most mainline Pokemon games, you’re only allowed to carry six Pokemon with you at any time, and any extras you catch are stored in a digital box system. The same is true in Pokemon Let’s Go, but in this game, you can access your storage boxes through the game’s pause menu, meaning you no longer need to go to a Pokemon Center to change your party.
Some would argue that this makes the game too easy, as you can simply switch up your party whenever you want to give yourself a quick advantage heading into a tough battle. They’re right in that sense, but I’ve found that this new approach to Pokemon storage and retrieval has resulted in me using more Pokemon than I ever have before. In previous games, I would build a diverse team of six Pokemon and spend pretty much the entire game using that team. In Pokemon Let’s Go, my main team changes up much more frequently, simply because I can swap Pokemon at any time.
Things like the new storage system and the changes to how we encounter wild Pokemon are small on their own, but I think they make Pokemon Let’s Go a much more exciting game. I hope these two features in particular make their way into the mainline series, because they’re so great to see after 20 years of the same.
It’s also worth noting that this game is beautiful from top to bottom. Everything from the character and Pokemon models to buildings and environmental objects look great, and this is precisely how I want a home console Pokemon game to look. Combine those excellent visuals with a great soundtrack and we’ve got quite the charming game on our hands. It’s so charming that I can’t help but be happy when I’m playing Pokemon Let’s Go, though perhaps that’s because I grew up playing Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow.
In the end, we have a game that simplifies a lot of things about Pokemon but makes some really valuable changes to the long-running franchise formula. Obviously, I don’t think that Pokemon veterans will want to see the pendulum swing this far toward simplicity in next year’s game, but some of these changes could still work really well in a deeper entry. I’m excited to see what Pokemon looks like in 2019 – I’m particularly curious about which of these streamlined features in Pokemon Let’s Go will make the transition to the mainline series.
People who are looking for a deep Pokemon experience will probably want to wait for that game, but if you want to take a stroll down memory lane, Pokemon Let’s Go is a great way to do it. I don’t expect that Pokemon Let’s Go will build a dedicated community in the same way that each mainline Pokemon game has – it doesn’t seem to have the competitive legs to keep player interest for years to come, and since it only features the original 151 Pokemon (plus compatibility with others through Pokemon GO), building out the Pokedex and catching them all isn’t really the daunting task it’s become in recent years.
That’s okay, though. Pokemon Let’s Go can stand on its own as a casual, nostalgic experience for veterans and an excellent starting point for newcomers. If you’ve never played Pokemon and you’re interested in checking the franchise out, this is the perfect game for you. If you’ve played them all but you have a special place in your heart for Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow, this is also the perfect game for you. If you want something you can really sink your teeth into and play for years to come, well, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate just launched and that seems pretty neat.
What do you think of Pokemon Let’s Go? Were you pleasantly surprised like I was or are you just passing the time while we wait for the next Pokemon game to arrive in 2019? Head down to the comments section and let me know!