Since announcing Pokémon Let's Go Eevee and Pokémon Let's Go Pikachu, Nintendo has been quite clear that these new Switch titles are not core releases for the series. Having taken some time to play Pokémon Let's Go Pikachu on the E3 2018 show floor this year we now know just how true that is.
Pokémon Let’s Go is a very stripped back version of the core Pokémon games and for hardcore fans it’s probably not going to feel like nearly enough. However, it’s a much more involved and engaging evolution of Pokémon Go’s gameplay making it the perfect stepping stone for those looking to take their interest from mobile to console.
Being inspired by Pokémon Yellow, there are certainly parts of Pokémon Let’s Go that will appeal to long-time fans of the series. The chance to return to the original Kanto region with the best graphics of the series is genuinely exciting, and having Pikachu or Eevee as well as another Pokémon of your choice join you outside their Poke Balls has always been a popular feature.
Not only that, being able to play something that’s visually close to a mainline Pokémon game at home on your TV is hard to pass up - the level of detail you can see on Pokemon when you send them out to battle may seem like a small thing but it delighted us anyway.
But there are gameplay changes in Let’s Go which could be off-putting for fans of the core games purely due to the fact that they greatly simplify the experience. These changes to the traditional Pokémon formula are clearly made to appeal to those coming to the series from Pokemon Go since they’re so similar to how the mobile game plays.
The most immediately obvious change is that there are no more random encounters in long grass. Instead, like in Pokémon Go, you’ll be able to see wild Pokémon while you’re walking around and approach those you’re looking to catch.
Once you do encounter a wild Pokémon, you’ll also notice that you don’t battle them and weaken them to catch them anymore. Instead you use the Go method of throwing berries to settle them down before throwing a perfectly-timed Poke Ball.
Essentially all of these changes are made to streamline the experience of playing and reduce frustration. While that’s great for accessibility, there’s something about a game that’s doing its best to make things easier for you that’s frustrating in its own way.
Fortunately, battling against other trainers in Pokémon Let’s Go remains a familiar experience for existing fans. You can carry up to six Pokemon in your team and when you send them out to battle you choose the best move you can and wait your turn to attack. When you win your Pokémon will gain experience which, when you have Exp Share turned on, is distributed evenly across your team.
Like the core games, trainers will also give you money when you beat them, though for some reason they’ll also give you Poke Balls despite the fact that they can also be purchased in PokeMarts.
Pokémon Let’s Go will also have drop-in co-op option so you can explore Kanto and battle other trainers with a friend. Although we didn’t get to try it for ourselves, this seems like a pretty exciting addition to the series and a natural extension of the social gameplay encouraged by Pokémon Go.
It’s the Poke Ball plus that’s a real highlight of the Let’s Go experience and it’s something we’ve wanted Nintendo to create since the launch of the Switch. The controller is a simple sphere, just about the right size to fit neatly into the palm of your hand. Where the button of the Poke Ball would be there’s a joystick which also doubles up as an A button.
Like the Joy-Cons the Poke Ball is motion-controlled so you can use a throwing motion to catch Pokemon in the game, which is extremely satisfying. Even more satisfying is the way the Poke Ball Plus rumbles in your palm to make it feel as though the Pokemon you’re trying to catch is shaking around and if you hold it up to your ear you can hear it inside.
The Poke Ball Plus is the part of Pokémon Let’s Go that will have the greatest appeal to both hardcore and casual fans. There aren’t many Pokémon fans who haven’t dreamed of being able to throw an actual Poke Ball to catch their team in the game and the ease of use and one-handed controls will appeal to those used to playing on their smartphone. Even better, it does the same job as the Go Plus accessory, while offering a massive visual improvement.
After a short time with it we can say that Pokémon Let's Go Pikachu is utterly delightful and excellent fun. For anyone looking to go deeper into the Pokémon universe from Pokémon Go, it offers a natural transition and it makes sense that Game Freak and The Pokémon Company are going down this route - they’re unlikely to lose fans with this release but they could gain hundreds of thousands before the next big core release.
That said, we’re really glad it’s not the permanent direction that the Pokémon franchise is taking because while Pokémon Let’s Go is fun, when the core 2019 RPG is released it’s unlikely to be able to hold our full attention.
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Emma Boyle is TechRadar’s ex-Gaming Editor, and is now a content developer and freelance journalist. She has written for magazines and websites including T3, Stuff and The Independent. Emma currently works as a Content Developer in Edinburgh.