Pokémon: Let’s Go is something that has had me excited as a longtime fan of the series, but also a fan that isn’t necessarily up-to-date or an expert on every series entry to date. The excitement has been primarily fueled from my recollections of Pokémon Blue on the original Gameboy back in 6th grade, as no homeroom class was complete without some under-the-desk Pokémon action. The memories made while exploring the 8-bit goodness of the Kanto region as a kid is something I’ll likely never forget.
Fast forward 20 years to Pokémon: Let’s Go, a full-fledged remake of the Generation I games (more specifically, Pokémon Yellow) but with a few key differences. Fundamental changes have been made to the game to attempt to incorporate (or bridge the gap, if you will) the player-base of Niantic’s massive Pokémon GO mobile game into a more traditional franchise entry. But does the blend of old and new do anything beyond cashing in on the Pokémon GO hype or the nostalgic reserves of Gen I babies like myself, or does it actually prove to be worth the time of any Pokémon fan?
Pokémon: Let’s Go tells a coming-of-age story from the viewpoint of a boy or girl, whose rite-of-passage involves experiencing the world in its entirety by filling out a Pokémon bestiary (aka Pokédex) while also sparring with any other trainer you might encounter along the way.
With nothing more than the satchel on your back, a Pokédex, and either Pikachu or Eevee, you set off to make a name for yourself in the massive region of Kanto. But no journey to self-promotion is complete without a rival, right? In the case of Pokémon: Let’s Go, your lifelong friend’s aspirations are a carbon copy of your own, and somehow, they manage to always be one step ahead of you despite constantly losing to you at duels.
In addition to your rival, you also have Team Rocket to worry about, which is a crime syndicate whose Pokémon exploits likely send all sorts of alarms towards PETA. They are hell-bent on using Pokémon for their own personal gain, meaning you will constantly butt heads with them throughout your adventures in Kanto. If you have any experience with previous Pokémon titles, you should have a good idea as to what to expect in Pokémon: Let’s Go when it comes to the story. Seeing as it is a remake of Pokémon Yellow, it never really steers away from those roots that much. There are a few surprises here and there that might make veterans of the first Pokémon generation grin, however.
No doubt the most controversial changes that have come with Pokémon: Let’s Go have been the formulaic adjustments to the series’ traditional catching mechanics. Outside of a couple of special cases, you will never battle wild Pokémon in order to “weaken” them for a catch. The departure from the whole fight-to-catch system in favor of the Pokémon GO ring-styled alternative is something that franchise fans might never get used to, because it definitely makes catching feel like a shadow of its former self.
That doesn’t mean the Pokémon GO-inspired system is terrible however, as there is a surprising amount of depth involved with it even though it isn’t the ideal solution for seasoned Pokémon fans. The key to catching Pokémon in Let’s Go is to aim and time your “throws” into the inner-ring when it is at its smallest. You will know that your throw is considered optimal if you see a Nice, Great, or Excellent echoed on the screen. These throws will grant you more experience than a sub-optimal throw, and should increase your chances of bagging the Pokémon in the process. I use should loosely because it doesn’t always feel like the best throws make that much of a difference in regards to your catching success.
EXP is given when you successfully catch a Pokémon, and is one of two primary ways to level them up (with the other being from traditional battles). Honestly, EXP is given out a little too generously and also is shared among your entire current active lineup of Pokémon, a huge difference in comparison to its more restrictive Gen I origins. Catching the same kind of Pokémon in succession generates a catching bonus that A) further increases the EXP multiplier and B) improves the odds of finding more uncommon or “Shiny” Pokemon.
Since you’re likely to catch a multitude of Pokémon, you can send your excess over to Professor Oak in exchange for candy. Candies are stat-boosting items that can increase single or multiple stats by one point (depending on the type of candy), with the series staple level-up-inducing Rare Candy also making a return. While it is nice to supplement a Pokémon’s innate stat weaknesses with the new candy system, it obviously is also a bit broken in practice.
Whenever your Switch is docked, Pokémon: Let’s Go requires you to do the whole ball-throwing gimmick in order to catch Pokémon. While the scheme works decent enough for catching basic creatures, it can quickly become a ball-wasting crapshow when faced up against on-the-move or more difficult creatures that demand a lot more finesse to catch. Fortunately, catching Pokémon in handheld is way easier as you can simply aim the Switch and “throw”, or by manually aiming with one of the sticks. What is truly annoying is the fact that both systems exist, yet are limited to docked and handheld modes respectively.
Why is it not possible to utilize the far superior handheld catching controls while playing in docked mode? I found myself jumping to and from the couch multiple times if I was playing docked and happened to come across a more difficult-to-catch Pokémon, and that just shouldn’t happen when both forms of controls exist already. While a certain level of “git-gud” might be due, giving the player more options, especially when it comes to controls, is never a bad thing. I don’t think anyone legitimately thinks that the whole faux-throwing motion is a good thing in a Pokémon game except for Nintendo. It isn’t a dealbreaker by any means, but feels really bad to be pigeonholed into one or the other control scheme depending on your current setup.
The removal of wild Pokémon battles also paves way for individual Pokémon to appear on the map rather than through a random encounter, which again is a totally different ballgame in relation to previous entries. While it can potentially omit any sort of frustration fueled by not knowing what to expect, it also removes the magic surrounding the mystery of a random encounter itself. Being able to pick and choose your encounters with wild Pokémon is both a blessing and curse because it ends up saving you time in the long run while potentially making the whole event feel less rewarding in the process. There is something to be said about doing the old fashioned grinding through random encounters to finally happen upon a really rare Pokémon, but that feeling is somewhat lost In Let’s Go.
TL;DR: The fundamental changes to catching creatures in Pokémon: Let’s Go works, but is not ideal. Having the ability to set your throwing mode to the handheld control setup even when docked would have went a long way in being less frustrating when encountering the more sought-after Pokémon of Kanto.
While the catching system present has seen a drastic rework in comparison to past titles, the combat in Pokémon: Let’s Go is more or less of traditional design. Even though it is undoubtedly odd not to have random bouts with Pokémon every few steps, there are just as many, if not more trainer battles to be had across the newly-revitalized Kanto region than in the original game. Key differences as to how combat unfolds between the original and remake do exist, however.
You’ll immediately notice that most regular trainers only have a single Pokémon at their disposal, whereas they might have had two, three, or more in the original. There are some higher-tiered trainers that generally have three to four beasts at their disposal, but they are few and far between in relation to your everyday generic trainer. What this means is that veterans will likely never run into any sort of challenge out in the wild, especially if you’re taking time to catch Pokémon (thus level up) along the way. Gym Leaders (eight “powerful” trainers scattered through Kanto) and the Elite Four (four of the “best” trainers in Kanto) are also not really that difficult either if you have any predisposed knowledge of Pokémon elemental affinities whatsoever.
If you aren’t in-tune with how Pokémon works, combat is all about elemental strengths and weaknesses. All Pokémon can be categorized into one or more types, with each type having their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, hitting a Water Pokémon with a lightning attack will deal extra damage while doing the opposite will severely reduce your damage potential. The analysis and exploitation of Pokémon is key to mopping the floor with your opponents.
To make things easier, Pokémon: Let’s Go occasionally clears your current Pokemon of any negative status effects in battle, among other things. While certainly a nifty feature for younger or less experienced players, it is entirely unnecessary and teaches the player that it’s often okay to ignore negative combat conditions, as they may simply clear up on their own. While Pokémon: Let’s Go isn’t completely void of any sort of challenge, series veterans are going to be hard pressed for any sort of nail-biting situations without resorting to Nuzlocke or other self-induced limitations, at least until the post-game.
In post-game, you can face off against master trainers, among other things. There are as many of these trainers as there are Pokémon, with each of them specializing in a single, powerful version of that creature. Facing these with the same exact Pokémon of your own and winning rewards you with bragging rights in the form of a title, which can be seen during multiplayer events.
The co-op features found in Pokémon: Let’s Go are fantastic, fully-functional, and do not feel like an afterthought like they do in many other games. You can have a partner jump in or out with you at any time to help catch Pokémon or to battle trainers. This is a great way to experience the game with virtually anyone regardless of their skill level, and the fact the it is handled so seamlessly means that it’s always a boon and never detriment to the overall flow of progression. Just keep in mind that it trivializes the difficulty of content even more as you’re doubling up on both catching and combat while playing with a friend.
Graphics and Sound
I’m not going to lie; being able to revisit the Kanto region in improved graphical and audio fidelity is enough to bring tears to the eyes of an old Gen I baby like myself, and it being on the big screen for the first time makes it even better. Pokémon: Let’s Go manages to adhere to the iconic Pokémon look and feel established back in the original Gameboy era while easily being the best looking game in the series to date. I just can’t even with the cuteness of Pikachu and Eevee riding on your shoulder throughout your entire trip, and being able to take an additional Pokémon out of its ball to venture alongside you is pretty great too. Seeing, and even RIDING some of these Pokemon in their full glory is just an awesome thing to behold.
And the fun doesn’t stop there, as the fully re-imagined soundtrack is equally a treat. I find that remakes of songs in games have a tendency to lose their identity in the process (*cough* Secret of Mana Remake), but that’s not the case in Pokémon: Let’s Go. For example, compare the original and new version of the Cerulean City theme, both of which are excellent.
As great as the new renditions are, it would have been amazing to have been able to flip-flop from the old and new soundtracks on the fly, similar to how it was handled in Secret of Mana Remake. I would have loved to have been able to swap to my favorite Pokémon track from Generation I while strolling through its respective routes in Let’s Go. I mean really, does that sense of grand adventure ever get portrayed better than the original Route 11 theme?
Game Freak and Nintendo have made it clear that Pokémon: Let’s Go is not a replacement for the core RPG experience coming in 2019, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t appeal to series veterans at the same time. It is true that the exclusion of random encounters and wild Pokémon battles (among other things) is weird and makes the game a whole lot easier. However, Let’s Go still manages to exude that Pokémon essence we all know and love despite the changes. Being able to experience the wilderness of Kanto on a TV for the first time is wonderful, and the option to play with even the least experienced player out there definitely has its perks. Pokémon: Let’s Go has the potential to scratch that catch-em-all itch for a while, although hardcore challenge seekers will really have to get creative with self-limitations in order to maintain any true level of difficulty before reaching post-game. But if we’re being honest, isn’t the most difficult part of any Generation I-esque game getting Mew out from under that blasted truck near the S.S. Anne?