2018 is a big year for the Pokémon world. Pokémon Let's Go, Pikachu!/Let's Go, Eevee! is the first time the series will appear on Nintendo Switch, the console everyone's (still) talking about. Because of its unique nature, the Switch will allow players to do something fans have been requesting for years: enjoy a Pokémon adventure on the big screen (which, curiously, is the opposite of what's happening with other Nintendo IPs that are hitting the mobile market for the first time).
Let's Go is the name Game Freak and the Pokémon Company have given to an experience that will hopefully attract the typical console crowd, players on handheld, and those newer players who have been walking the streets with their smartphones throwing Pokéballs. It's a game with the potential to connect the casual audience with the hardcore one through its mix of experiences; the conventional RPG elements, its own mechanics, and aspects drawn from the popular Pokémon Go.
Along with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Pokémon Let's Go is the other ace Nintendo showed at E3, and now we've been able to try it ourselves. We were directly transported to the Viridian Forest that we've visited more than once in the past. Located behind Viridian City, it's a location we've explored at least four times (GB, GBC, GBA, and DS) and for several minutes it became our new playground.
Recently, Junichi Masuda, (director, producer, composer, designer, and so on) said that the design for the Pokémon Yellow Version remake was chosen in order to calm parents who see their children playing video games at home. But that choice could have a side effect on those who have visited this region a thousand times as the game will make you feel at home as you recognise locations at a glance, and the only difference is that this time you won't be playing it on a Game Boy that chews through all of your batteries.
Setting aside the technical evolution, the main feature that makes a difference is that the Pokémon are there the whole time. Those classic random encounters in the tall grass have been completely erased and now we see the creatures moving around the region with total freedom, although you'll see that some of them occasionally have a blue or red glow around them (depending on whether they're smaller or bigger than usual), allowing us to choose which one to catch.
Every time you make contact with one of those pocket monsters, a Pidgey, a Weedle, a Rattata, or even a Butterfree, there's a transition that brings you to a familiar screen for Pokémon Go players. The game switches to a first-person camera so we face the Pokémon and decide what we're going to do: throw the ball to catch it, use items, or run away. If you have an encounter with a Legendary (something we didn't experience) you'll have to fight it like you would in the old games, which makes a lot of sense, and all of this means these creatures are unique and shows they're not an easy catch. It's also a way to help newbies get to know the classic mechanics of battling and catching.
When we first saw a wild creature, we decided to have a look at our character's inventory, but the Bulbasaur we had run into didn't want to get in the ball. Razz Berry, Nanab Berry, and Pinap Berry were available, and there was a variety of Pokéballs, so we tried using the first one to decrease its resistance, but it kept getting away. Because it wouldn't stop moving, we slowed down its movement with a Nanab Berry, which calmed things down a lot. This time, with a small movement of the Pokéball Plus and a good throw, we were able to put it in the Pokémon bag.
We're dropping some concepts here that may sound weird to those who haven't played Pokémon Go. Let's Go is built around a catching system that looks exactly like the one used in the mobile game, even though we can see some important differences (especially when throwing the ball). To catch your target you have to make the throwing gesture at the right time, however, there's a circle that keeps getting smaller, but if you can manage to throw the ball and get it inside while the circle is small, you'll get an added bonus that translates into more experience points for the whole team (the character catching pokémon also levels up). Also, if your team is full, there's no PC to transfer extra pokémon (or, at least, we didn't see one) but they're collected in a bag and can be converted into candies.
We must add that our only controller for this demo was the Pokéball Plus. This replica of the iconic accessory has two buttons: one on top and another one that takes the role of the control stick that handles movement. Since the number of buttons has been reduced to two, it's really easy to use, and this fits well with the philosophy of simplifying the first Pokémon game released on Switch, also paying tribute to the Game Boy originals. It's the only way to get the coveted Mew in Let's Go! as well (or you can get it from the mobile game).
In the game, you need to "throw" (through a gesture) the ball, but the system left us with mixed feelings. The Pokéball is released once you've made the curved movement in a certain direction, depending on the strength and the throwing angle. At first, it seems a bit unnatural, since you don't see a direct interaction between your hand and the ball, as opposed to Pokémon Go, however, you can master it quickly and it's quite important because some Pokémon simply won't stop moving.
On the other hand, there's also, as you can take any creature from your team with you on your travels by transferring it to the Pokéball Plus. If you shake it, the Pokéball will light up and you'll hear its reaction. You can even stroke the top of it and you'll sense vibrations and hear some little noises coming from the creature inside. We could only interact with Pikachu but we're told that all Pokémon can be transferred and taken for a walk. These adventures will also give them experience and they'll grow stronger.
We would have liked to have experienced the co-op mode or even try riding an Onyx, but these features weren't available. The demo instead focused on rediscovering a place we've already visited lots of times, enjoying the new look, mastering encounters with monsters, and, naturally, battling with other trainers. Classic duels are just as they were before and use the same traditional mechanics. In fact, the battles work exactly the same: choose your first pokémon, then there's the turn-based system of attacking and trying to find their weaknesses and/or changing to another if required.
The few battles we could fight were pretty easy, except for a Kakuna that multiplied its defence several times by using Harden. However, we're aware that it was the initial part of the game, and bigger challenges are waiting to be found later. Anyway, we didn't exactly miss harder battles; Pokémon Let's go! is meant to be a peaceful and relaxing game, not a challenging one. The Eevee and Pikachu editions are aimed at new fans who want to widen their experience with Pokémon Go, and so they can get help from people like us who've faced Red on Mount Silver.
We know there are lots of surprises waiting for us, as we can tell by the counter that shows up when you catch a few Pokémon of the same category in a row, and we still have to find the Shiny, get the regional forms, and so on, but in general our first impressions are just what we expected. There was a nostalgic feeling that kept growing as we walked through the Viridian Forest. Honestly, that vibe is natural because the best way to bring older players back into the fold is by hitting them where it hurts: with nostalgia.
It doesn't matter that Pokémon Let's go, Pikachu! and Let's go, Eevee! sport simpler mechanics. Game Freak isn't afraid of showing the changes because they know that, while leaving behind some of the essential aspects of the series is kind of risky, this is one of those games that you have to mess around with. Yes, we missed a more tactile sensation when we threw the Pokéballs at those little monsters, and we wanted to try out the co-op, but we're pretty relaxed because the changes don't feel heavy-handed. On the contrary, they make the experience more accessible.
Our first proper look at the game has us excited, not only because of the return to Kanto, but also because there's a possibility of sharing the Pokémon experience with other players and cooperating, and not just battling. We've got a lot to discover and even more secrets to unravel, but we can relax knowing that the basics work well and that this first region hasn't lost any of its charm even with all the changes. Newbies and long-standing players alike, we think you're going to enjoy it.
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