Pokémon Let's Go (Back to Kanto again)

Minor content spoilers ahead, major if you've somehow managed to avoid one of the most rereleased games of all time
For veterans like us, Pokémon Let's Go is our fifth tour of Kanto starting with Pokémon Blue and Pokémon Red in 1999 then returning to a future version of Kanto in 2001's Silver and Gold, then a redux/remix with 2004's Fire Red and Leaf Green and the last visit to the region with 2010's SoulSilver and HeartGold. We've been there, done that. Got the T-shirt, medals, badges, magnets and pokéballs to show for it. So what does Pokémon Let's Go Pikachu and Pokémon Let's Go Eevee add to the well worn roads and highways of the game that kicked it all off?

Silver lining an all that
The answer is strangely, not nearly enough. If like us, you've followed the Pokémon games for a while, there is something satisfying in seeing the evolution (no pun intended) of ideas across the games. Pay close enough attention and the best elements from almost every game, including some of the spin offs, can be traced from game to game in the series. If it wasn't obvious from the name of the game, Pokémon Let's Go aims to bring a bit of the trash fire that is Pokémon Go to the series and, I dunno, perhaps try to convert some 'players' of the problematic app. to the mainline games. Maybe.

Here there's the catching mechanics from Go, then the partner pokémon fondling from Hey You Pikachu!Pokémon Channel and Pokémon-Amie from recent DS/3DS games. Thrown in with that are pedometer elements from HeartGold and SoulSilver's Pokéwalker and the much loved feature from the same games where a buddy pokémon follows you around in the field. In the post Elite 4 end game there's a smattering of open world exploration that Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby brought to the series. The Go connectivity in the form of the Go Park has obvious parallels with non-game My Pokémon Ranch and the painstaking Pal Park in HeartGold and SoulSilver as well as building on the series' hallmark or inter connectivity between games.

New features include being able to see pokémon wandering around in the field (probably the most requested feature since the original games) instead of the ageing random battles from before and the turn based battling is reserved for battles against opposing trainers, encounters with wild pokémon now trigger a catching game almost straight from the Go app.

I promise you, this never got old.
So you'd think that Pokémon Let's Go would be even better than the sum of its parts and with 22 years of making this game you'd expect it to be a world away from the originals. Combine that with being able to play it on the television like a proper gaming experience and exclusivity on current-darling-of-the-console-world-didn't-we-play-all-these-games-on-the-Wii-U Nintendo Switch. What could go wrong?

Let's Go is generally just less fussy than previous mainline Pokémon games. Just 153 of the titular monsters are in this one including the original 151 and two newcomers to the series. From start to beating the Elite Four is about 20 hours of gameplay. There's much less inventory management and running back to Pokémon centres to heal now that battling is reserved just for trainers. There's also something about the big screen treatment without the perpetual interruption of random battles that makes what was tedious treks through long winding caves like a quick stroll through an underpass. There's no longer any pokémon you only have one chance to catch, the game generously spawning most in the field and even multiple legendary pokémon should you put in the time. Abilities are gone. Item holding is gone. All those contrived evolution methods have gone. Breeding is out. Online battling and trading is striped back. Z moves have gone. Day/Night cycles and time based events are largely gone too. There is some depth when it comes to training but it's significantly pared back. Part of us miss some of these. Part of us is so glad we don't have to do some of this shit anymore.

All these words are just a front to show you these screenshots actually. Nothing changes.
We don't interact much with the wider 'pokémon community' because it's more toxic than a Salazzle holding a toxic orb but we imagine that there's been widespread whingeing about it being Pokémon but dumbed down if such a thing was possible (we kid, of course, it takes at least a degree's worth of knowledge to breed that perfect nature, perfect IV, shiny competitive pokémon with an egg move)  God forbid the series be accessible to those who haven't been slavishly playing  this game for the last two decades.

Unfortunately, however, these hypothetical critics might be right. With all the modern trappings it's pretty much a straight remake of the original game making only the slightest of nods to the other 5,000 games in the series and not borrowing liberally enough from the best of them to make the 'end game' content engaging. Even the worst of the 'story' in Pokémon Red/Blue remains largely unchanged including the bit where you go back and forth between Lavender, Celadon, Saffron, Pewter and Cerulean cities. Cubone's mum is still dead. Dentures still need to be found. The guards are still gasping for a drink. The sleeping Pokémon are still blocking the roads.

Animation-wise we literally had flashbacks of Pokémon Stadium on the N64. Pokémon still jump on the spot to represent moves or turn into silver, green or purple sausages for moves like iron tail, wrap and power whip. Some pokémon have gorgeous models and others really quite bad (in particular Gloom looks like its N64 model from some angles). In this day and age and with a trimmed down cast (okay by the time you throw in gender differences and forms it's more than just 153 models) is it unrealistic to expect more than two models awkwardly doing moves on the spot, with crude animations representing contact? I'll answer that. It isn't.

It's also incredibly easy if you want it to be. Your partner Pokémon learns some fairly broken moves early on that allows you to waltz through all but the hardest of type match ups. With a second Joy-Con a second player can jump in and basically 2v1 every trainer in the game without any kind of difficulty scaling whatsoever.

I don't remember quite so much prolapse talk in the original but it has been a while
Pokéball Negative
If this latest addition to the series is supposedly to be more of an entry level gateway to the sprawling world of Pokémon then there's one thing that is the opposite to a concession to beginners and that's the control options. Pokémon Let's Go is played differently in handheld switch mode, docked mode and it's arguably slightly different again if you forked out for the Pokéball Plus- yet another potential one game use bit of plastic for the pile alongside the GBA wifi accessory, the typing game keyboard, the pokewalker, the Detective Pikachu amiibo, the N64 microphone, the...

Choose the form of your destructor. Waggle left, waggle right, hand cramp or JUST CHOOSE THE LAST ONE FOR GOD'S SAKE
Each control method has plusles and minuns. By far the best way to play this is in handheld Switch mode with the full suite of buttons and a bit of gyroscope control for the catching minigame. The downside being that you don't get to play on a large screen this way. In docked mode, the game can be played with a single Joy-Con controller, however controlled this way forces the use of motion controls. For most things it's a case of a quick shake but there are some real issues with the catching mode using the joycon that bring back memories of some of the worst waggle offenders on the Wii. Unless I missed something about the controls unlike in handheld mode, it's impossible to pan the catching screen and the motion controlled aiming fails when you're not throwing in the middle of the screen. At its very worst you miss catching some pokémon as they wobble, hop and jump about through no fault of your own. It's almost enough to want the turn based catching back. I spent a fair portion of Sunday morning flailing at the TV and shouting "shitting Electrode" as the tenth ultra ball in a row heads off the left side of the screen. Problems with catching pokémon in a pokémon game is, well. A problem.

Motion controls seem to be a bit better with the Pokéball Plus, however, the golf ball-sized controller only has three inputs. Shaking the ball functions as a button in the menus (judging from Reddit threads about this accessory, this is really not clear to a lot of players) in addition to poking, prodding and stroking the titular partner pokémon. 'B', more often than not 'cancel' is a soft button inside the top of the ball but most frustrating is 'A', the button you press about 10,000 times an hour in this game. It's a stick click input that for most will sit under the thumb. So, unless you have Trump hands, playing for any length of time with the Pokéball Plus will leave you with a claw hand, the likes of which have not been seen since Kid Icarus: Uprising. RSI aside, what's the most baffling about this controller is that with only three inputs on the ball, you can't access some of the menu options and you can't quickly go to the Switch home menu without connecting a Joycon at the same time.

You get the best outfit quite early on. Don't @ me
Pokéball Plus also works like the Pokéwalker from SoulSilver and HeartGold so you can pop one of your pokémon in it and take it on a stroll for items and experience. On top of this, it also works with Pokémon Go and there's added functionality of connecting it to Go with a Let's Go friend inside. When carrying a pokémon and/or connected to Go vibrations, coloured LEDs and noises communicate what's going on. The absolute killer problem with all of this is none of it's explained anywhere and it's easy to run into problems if you've got the app and game on at the same time as the Pokéball Plus is fussy about what it connects to and when. We've now got our heads around what the noises, colours and sounds mean in specific instances but occasionally it still shits itself when connected to Go until both phone and ball are disconnected, closed and reconnected. It's unusual for Nintendo to have released something that's not polished to the nth degree but with Niantic, the undisputed kings of tripping over their own dicks, expect to spend some time puzzling over the Niantic dilemma (is it working, but shit, not working properly or just broken). A decent tutorial or even documentation on either Let's Go, Go or the Pokéball Plus website would help. Typically, games media are falling over themselves to create high click pages on this accessory but none of them give any needed detail.

Poor old Hiker Nob. Bullied through school. Bullied at the Hiker's club then beaten by a Pidgeotto I kinda accidentally trained.  
Made It Through Without a XXXX 'em All 'Gag'
Overall, it's a tough recommendation really. If you're a fan of this series you could like it for the fan service features or hate it for stripping back the core mechanics. Equally you could admire it for the respect of the source material or hate it for being so easy. If you just love the adorable creatures then you may just have a blast hanging out with some of your first generation favourites and fondling a Pikachu for giggles. If you're a newcomer then the 1996 'story' and progression feels so out of touch with what modern RPGs are doing you might question what all the hype is/was about. If you're a Pokémon Go fan then, well watching the automatic doors open and close at ASDA will probably get your game of the year nomination in any case.

As a long time fan of the series, it's great to see Kanto in such vibrancy and on the big screen we barely remember travesties Pokémon Colloseum and Pokémon XD. The rearrangements of the classic tunes through proper speakers is a real joy and the all too rare 'cutscenes' bring to life what was once imagined from pixels and chiptunes. We've come away from the game with an SD card full of screenshots and a temptation to tackle some, if not all, of the Master Trainers which will likely tide us over until the next 'proper' game is out on the Switch.

It also has Omastar in it so 10/10 game of the year.


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