Pokemon: Let's Go, Pikachu! (for Nintendo Switch) | Tech News
Pokémon fans have been waiting for a full-scale, mainline Pokémon game on a home console for years. Since Pokémon Red and Blue came out on the Game Boy in 1996 (in Japan, 1998 in North America), the primary Pokémon games have been on handheld systems while spin-off games, such as Pokémon Coliseum and Pokémon Snap, appeared on home consoles. Now, the Nintendo Switch is out, and it serves as both a handheld system and a home console, which means a new main Pokémon game you can play on your TV is inevitable. A new generation of Pokémon is coming, but for now, fans must make due with Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu and Let’s Go, Eevee They’re Switch remakes of the original Pokémon games, with a few mobile-influenced twists. At $59.99 each they’re priced like full games for a home console, but we won’t be sure if that price tag is justified until they come out this November.
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu and Let’s Go, Eevee are full remakes of Pokémon Yellow, the enhanced version of Pokémon Red and Blue where Pikachu follows your character around. This time you can choose between Pikachu and Eevee as a constant companion (based on the version you buy). In addition to either Pikachu or Eevee, you get five slots for any of the other 150 first-generation Pokémon you catch. This remake adds elements from the mobile game Pokémon Go to the mix, including the ability to import your Pokémon from the app to the game.
E3 2018 Demo
I played an early part of Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu at Nintendo’s booth at E3 2018. The demo restricted me to wandering around the Viridian Forest, a wild, dungeon-like area between Pewter City and Viridian City. I was equipped with a full party of six low-level Pokémon, including the titular Pikachu. In the full game, just like in the original Pokémon, Viridian Forest is a small area to trek through, where you can find wild Pokémon and fight trainers.
Despite its Pokémon Go influence, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu looks and feels very much like a full Pokémon game. You have an overhead view of the area in classic JRPG style, with tall grass that can hide wild Pokémon and trainers on the map that attack you if you walk past their line of sight. This time wild Pokémon are fully visible both in and out of the tall grass and their 3D models make them easy to identify. A colored aura indicates the Pokémon’s relative size and strength, and whether it’s better than other Pokémon of the same type.
Touching a wild Pokémon initiates an encounter, which clearly draws from elements of Pokémon Go. In Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu, you don’t fight wild Pokémon to weaken them before you catch them, nor do you gain experience by defeating them (but you do get experience capturing them). Instead, the Pokémon appears in front of you in first-person view, and your only options are selecting and using items. You give berries to Pokémon to improve their mood or throw Poké Balls to try to catch them. Simply selecting berries and other non-Poké Ball items automatically gives the item to the Pokémon.
Poké Balls are slightly different, and thoroughly in the style of Pokémon Go. With a Poké Ball ready, a colored circle appears on top of the Pokémon. The color of the circle indicates how easy the Pokémon is to catch, with green circles indicating the Pokémon is very amiable to getting caught and orange or red circles showing that the Pokémon will struggle and likely break free from the Poké Ball. You throw the Poké Ball by gently flicking the Joy-Con or Poké Ball Plus (explained below). If the Poké Ball hits the inside of the colored circle and the Pokémon isn’t agitated and bats the Poké Ball away, the ball captures the Pokémon. After that, it’s a tense wait as the Poké Ball shakes for a few seconds before either clicking shut and staying still (thus, catching the Pokémon) or opening up (letting the Pokémon go free).
Catching Pokémon is easy, at least in the early part of the game. The relatively weak wild Pokémon I found in the demo were quickly swayed by berries and didn’t struggle once they were captured by Poké Balls. The throwing motion to catch them also felt simple, natural, and accurate once I got used to the correct orientation of the Poké Ball Plus controller.
Since you don’t fight wild Pokémon with your own Pokémon, the game awards experience to your Pokémon on every successful capture instead. This means you can steadily improve your Pokémon for trainer battles by grinding with wild Pokémon, despite not fighting them. This raises the question about what to do with all the Pokémon you capture, though. “Trash” Pokémon filling up your storage are common in the main games, and Pokémon Go solves the problem by letting you convert the Pokémon you catch into candy to upgrade the Pokémon you keep. I couldn’t confirm if this will be a feature in Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu during the demo.
Although you don’t fight wild Pokémon, you still fight in Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu Trainer battles are still common and they’re effectively identical to combat in main series Pokémon games. You maintain a team of six Pokémon, each with their own level and up to four moves. Simply attack the other trainer’s Pokémon using the elemental types of each move and Pokémon to exploit weaknesses. I fought a few trainers in the demo and it felt just like any other Pokémon game.
The 3D models in the demo look better than the models in Pokémon Sun/Moon on the 3DS, but that’s primarily because of the much higher resolution of the Switch’s screen, especially when connected to a TV. That’s a pretty strong step up in graphical quality (720p on the Switch itself and 1080p on a TV versus 240p on the 3DS), but don’t expect a ton of detail or photorealism with Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu It looks clean and crisp, like a proper Switch game, but it doesn’t add a lot of complexity to the Pokémon designs or effects.
Poké Ball Plus
I tried Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu with the Poké Ball Plus controller, a $49.99 Switch controller designed for Pokémon Go, Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu and Let’s Go, Eevee (and, we would hope, future Pokémon games). It’s pretty expensive on its own, but you can save $10 with a $99.99 bundle that includes the controller and either version of the game. The Poké Ball Plus is shaped like a Poké Ball from the game series: a half-red, half-white affair just under two inches across, with a button located between the two halves. The Poké Ball Plus also features a wrist strap to keep the ball from flying when you use its motion controls to catch Pokémon, and a USB-C port to charge it. Poké Ball Plus connects wirelessly to the Switch or your phone using Bluetooth.
The button on the Poké Ball Plus isn’t just a button. It’s a small analog stick that you can click by pressing in. It serves as both the left analog stick on the Switch and the A button. A second, non-analog-stick button is hidden behind a small circle on the red half of the ball and works as a B button. It’s also equipped with motion controls, for detecting when you “throw” it (flick your wrist, ideally with the Pokemon tethered to your hand by the included lanyard). While you can’t play many games with these controls, access to an analog stick and the A and B buttons are enough for playing Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu and Let’s Go, Eevee without a Joy-Con or other controller.
The stick is backlit with a colored light, which indicates the status of your Pokémon or the results of your attempt to catch one. When trying to catch a Pokémon in Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu, the Poké Ball Plus vibrates and the light blinks yellow before finally turning green when a Pokémon is caught. I played the game at E3 entirely with the Poké Ball Plus.
Besides functioning as a controller, the Poké Ball Plus has a few other advantages. First, it includes a rare Mew Pokémon for Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu and Let’s Go, Eevee While I didn’t have access to it in the demo, Mew is notable as the rarest Pokémon in the first generation of the series, originally only available via trades at special events.
Second, the Poké Ball Plus lets you train your Pokémon in the game just by walking around. You can store a companion Pokémon in the controller and keep it with you all day. As you walk, a step counter in the controller gives that Pokémon experience. When you return to the game, your companion Pokémon will be stronger.
Third, if you play Pokémon Go, the Poké Ball Plus acts as a Pokémon Go Plus accessory. Pairing it with the app lets you catch Pokémon without looking at your phone, signaling with lights and vibration that a wild Pokémon is nearby and letting you catch it with a press of a button.
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu and Let’s Go, Eevee aren’t full new Pokémon games, but they’re close enough to hold Pokémon fans over until next year. They’re more like the half-step generation remakes of the series’ main games, and are shaping up to feel much more substantial than just a Pokémon Go port for the Switch (even without wild Pokémon fights). We’ll take a closer look at both games and the Poké Ball Plus when they launch this November.