The games are an attempt by Game Freak to appeal to the nostalgia of longstanding Pokémon fans whilst simultaneously convincing players of the mobile game Pokémon Go to make the jump to the mainline games. Elements of both are present: these are HD remakes of the legendary 1990s GameBoy games Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue with the wild Pokémon battles of the original games replaced with the Pokéball-throwing catch mechanic of the mobile app. This at first filled me with trepidation as it sounded like the compellingly intricate Pokémon formula of old was going to be dumbed down for more ‘casual’ audiences. While this fear was to some extent realised, Let’s Go turned out to be a deep and rewarding nostalgia trip regardless.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock since 1999, you’ll have some idea of what Pokémon games entail. The basic premise hasn’t changed: you catch wild Pokémon monsters and train them up to battle other trainers at Pokémon ‘gyms’, eventually earning enough gym badges to challenge the Elite Four trainers and become crowned a Pokémon Master.
The game doesn’t end there – if you enjoy collecting things, you’ll carry on catching Pokémon until you have all 151 different types, despite the voice in your head telling you to grow up and go to an actual real life gym.
Battles haven’t changed much since the ’90s and still use the old-school turn-based format of classic RPGs. Learning which Pokémon are weak against which move types and taking advantage of this in battles is as rewarding as ever. Some early reviews griped that battles were too easy due to the overpowered Pikachu or Eevee companion given to you at the beginning of the game, but I chose not to use my Eevee at all, making battles just challenging enough to keep me engaged until the end.
Where Let’s Go really differs from the classic games is the catch mechanic. Back in the day, a Pokémon had to be weakened in battle before being caught in a Pokéball. In Let’s Go, no battle occurs; you offer berries to calm the creature before chucking Pokéballs until it’s successfully caught. The mechanic is a carbon copy of the one used in the Pokémon Go mobile app, but instead of swiping a phone touch screen to throw, Let’s Go requires you to make a throwing action picked up by the motion sensor in your Switch controller. This was a fun novelty on the first few attempts, but quickly became my only major criticism of the game.
The direction of your throw just isn’t accurately picked up which makes catching active Pokémon who move around the screen a frustrating chore. Luckily, detaching your Switch from the TV and playing in handheld mode allows you to aim with a control stick and throw with the click of a button, massively increasing your catching ability. Game Freak’s decision to block access to this superior control option when playing through a TV is frankly baffling, and it often forced me to play on the Switch’s small handheld screen when I really wanted the full cinematic experience of the TV.
That isn’t to say that playing in handheld mode is in itself a negative experience – Pokémon was created with portability in mind and they are perfect games for playing in short bursts on flights or bus journeys. Being able to then play on the TV when you get home feels fantastic, and seeing a Pokémon game in glorious 1080p HD on the big screen for the first time is a joy to behold.
The game’s visuals may seem basic and childish at first, but the intensely colourful art style and detailed creature designs give the environments a warm and inviting atmosphere that will charm even the most cold-hearted of gamers.
Let’s Go also excels in its sound design – the soundtrack is phenomenal, and hearing tunes first heard as beeps and boops on a GameBoy two decades ago remade and fully brought to life on a modern sound system is almost too nostalgic to bear.
Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee are for the most part exactly the same game, and your choice will largely be based on which of the titular characters you want to start your journey with. Aside from this Pikachu or Eevee starter choice, the games differ in a handful of Pokémon who are exclusive to each game. This forces you to get social and trade creatures with a friend who has the other version, either by local Bluetooth or over the internet.
You can also battle other real life trainers online, increasing the potential playtime of the game well beyond finishing the main story. Fans of Pokémon Go on mobile will be delighted to hear that they can even send Pokémon from their phone to their Switch via Bluetooth.
In Pokémon Let’s Go, Game Freak has succeeded in delivering a game which appeals to hardcore fans whilst becoming more accessible to casual gamers and the next generation of players. Despite some disappointing issues with motion controls, the game delivers on its promise of comfortably easing new players into the world of Pokémon without sacrificing the complexity and challenge craved by established Pokémaniacs.
Chris Brown is a perpetual manchild attempting to pass off playing video games as a real hobby. Originally from England, Chris has been living and working in Phuket for four years.