For a brief time in the summer of 2016 it seemed like the entire world was doing one thing: catching pokémon. The Pokémon Company’s and Niantic’s game “Pokémon Go” had just launched on smartphones, and was uniting people around the globe.
And while the initial fervor may have died off, millions are still logging in to catch pokémon and take over gyms. Heck, in June 2018, research firm SuperData reported that the game had recorded the highest number of players since its debut thanks to some timely updates.
And now “Pokémon Go” is making the jump from smartphones to home consoles with developer Game Freak’s “Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu” and “Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee” for Nintendo’s (NTDOY) Switch. The games, which like all Pokémon titles, are virtually mirror images of each other, marry the creature capture mechanics from “Pokémon Go” with the graphics capabilities of a home console.
And while it’s certainly not the same as a full-blown “Pokémon” offering, these two are just as addictive as any other title in the franchise and a bit more approachable.
Gotta catch ’em all
“Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu” and “Pokémon: Let’s Go Eevee,” which I’m just going to call “Pokémon: Let’s Go,” take you back to the Kanto region of the “Pokémon” universe. Yep, that’s where you originally started out in the original “Pokémon Red” and “Pokémon Blue” games for the Gameboy.
It makes sense to do that considering how much “Pokémon Go” pulled on the power of the franchise’s nostalgia for millennial gamers. It featured the original 150 pokémon, after all.
As always, you play a young adventurer, you can choose between being a boy or girl, and you set out on a quest to find and catch as many pokémon as possible.
You’ll meet Professor Oak, get a Pokedex and pick your first pokémon…sort of. See, instead of grabbing one of three initial starter pokémon as you’ve always done, “Pokémon: Let’s Go” will start you off with either Pikachu or Eevee depending on which version of the game you buy. There’s also a story in there, but come on, no one plays “Pokémon” games for the story.
A new kind of capturing
The biggest difference between “Pokémon: Let’s Go” and prior “Pokémon” role-playing games is that “Pokémon: Let’s Go” uses the same capture mechanic as “Pokémon Go.” That means, instead of battling wild pokémon until their hit points are low and capturing them, you simply have to toss a poké ball at them and hope they don’t break free.
There’s a bit more nuance to it than that, of course. You have to choose the right kind of poké ball depending on the pokémon’s strength and can feed them berries to make them easier to catch, but that’s about the gist of it.
To throw a poké ball, you have to either flick your Switch’s Joy-Con controller when the system is docked or in table mode or use the Switch’s motion controls while playing in handheld mode to adjust where you’ll throw the ball and press the A button to fire away.
If you’re playing with the Switch in its TV dock, you’ll only have to use one Joy-Con controller to navigate, do battle and browse menus. It was a little disorienting using a single controller for the game at the outset, but I slowly began to feel more comfortable with the concept as I played. I just wish there was an option to disable the motion control feature in handheld mode. Capturing a pokémon on a bumpy subway ride was almost impossible.
Nintendo is also selling a Poké Ball Plus accessory for the game, which is a controller shaped like a poké ball that you can use rather than a Joy-Con. The Poké Ball Plus is the only way you can get a mew in the game, too, which is kind of a bummer, though you can also store pokémon in the ball itself and carry it around with you. When you shake it in the real world, it will make the noise of the pokémon inside and vibrate.
For people who’ve been playing the games since the early days, the switch to “Pokémon Go’s” capture system will seem strange. Battling wild pokémon in previous games allowed you to gain experience for your individual pokémon, which you could use to make one or two the MVPs of your party.
In “Pokémon: Let’s Go” you gain experience for every pokémon you catch, which is then split across all of your pokémon. To build up individual pokémon, though, you’ll have to battle more trainers. To that end it feels like Game Freak put more trainers in “Pokémon: Let’s Go” than previous games to offset any sense that you aren’t using your pokémon as much. I asked Nintendo representatives if this was the case, and will update this piece when I hear back.
Of course, it goes without saying that in addition to battling other trainers, you’ll have to take on the likes of Team Rocket and the Elite Four. So, yeah, this is definitely still a classic “Pokémon” game.
The ‘Pokémon Go’ connection
“Pokémon: Let’s Go,” doesn’t just use “Pokémon Go’s” capture system, though. The game also allows you to connect directly with your “Pokémon Go” account to import pokémon you’ve captured on the mobile game to the Switch title. To do that, you’ll have to get to the Pokémon Go Park Complex in the game’s town of Fuchsia city. There you’ll find your “Pokémon Go” pokémon and can capture them for use in “Pokémon: Let’s Go.”
The Go Park Complex is pretty far into the game, though, so don’t expect to be able to jump in, grab your level 50 Onix and start cleaning house from the start. After all, you’re never going to be the very best by taking the easy way out. Unfortunately, the feature wasn’t live for this review, but I’ll update it when I dig into it.
“Pokémon: Let’s Go” also lets a second player jump into your game so you can battle against opponents with a little bit of help. To join, a second player simply has to shake a Joy-Con controller and their character will appear on screen. Outside of helping with battles and capturing pokémon, though, the second player can’t do much, which is probably for the better. I can only imagine how many relationships would crumble under the stress of one person being the reason you both missed catching a Growlithe.
Should you get it?
I’ve been a pokémon fan since the original games game out in the U.S. And while the changes brought over from pokémon Go don’t add much to the experience, they don’t detract from it either. This is still an addictive and exciting pokémon game that you won’t put down until you’re the champion. Just make sure you don’t accidentally throw poké ball-shaped controller at your TV while playing. It leaves a mark.
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