It was over twenty years ago when we first explored Kanto, unleashed by Professor Oak to maraud past the Pidgey and the Ratata to the gates of the Indigo Plateau. The 90s would become awash with Pokémon, from trading cards at school to following Ash Ketchum on his journey in the animé. The popularity of the franchise would result in a third game being produced called Pokémon Yellow, which would suddenly find itself becoming the inspiration behind the first true Pokémon games on the Switch — Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee.
Nintendo describes Pokémon Let’s Go as a “core RPG” title in the franchise, although this remains an ambiguous term and probably can be answered with both yes and no. What both excites and hesitates is the influence that Pokémon Go has had on these new games, which aren’t generation eight, but experimental titles. Pikachu and Eevee are testing features that could revolutionize the next generation, changing the way we catch and interact with our pokémon.
A Jumanji full of pocket monsters that can be interacted with.
This is a bold move by Game Freak and all those involved in the production of Pokémon Let’s Go. Pokémon Go was hugely successful, but at the same time, it was a fad that dried up as soon as the rain dance began; very few people regularly play Pokémon Go anymore. Niantic has long attempted to inspire a renaissance of support by adding new features and additional pokeémon, but its time had long whited out. However, much like the leek of a Farfetch’d, its flavor can live on long after its extinction.
The most audacious move from Game Freak is the inclusion of motion controls. The Joy-Con acts like a pokéball, as the player mimic the action of throwing a ball to catch a pokémon, and there will even be a pokéball accessory the player can use instead for the real role-playing experience. If the motion controls don’t work out, then catching pokémon will require the same action as in Pokémon Go — an upward swipe on the touchscreen. This is easily one of the most exciting features to have come to a Pokémon title in a while. If anything, it goes further than Pokémon Go does to bring the world of Pokémon to life — a Jumanji full of pocket monsters that can be interacted with.
This leads to the overworld itself, which becomes ever more fascinating. There will not be any random encounters; instead, while roaming in the long grass, pokémon will appear on the screen. Thus, the trainer can choose to interact with them. It sounds great on paper, but how it affects the gameplay won’t be known until we get our hands on a demo. The problem with this approach is of both nostalgia and a diminished sense of finding a rare gem. Anybody that has ever happened upon a shiny pokémon will know the joy a random encounter can bring, but finding one on the screen before the interaction might dilute the excitement. However, this does become a step towards an open world Pokeémon RPG similar in style to Breath of the Wild, and for that it can also be seen as progression for the franchise.
What does seem to be omitted is one of the core features of every main Pokémon game since Generation Two: breeding. The omission of this feature is one of the reasons Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee might not be a core game in the franchise. Without breeding, competitive play becomes less of a contest for some of the hardcore fans, with serious consequences on the post-game content. This also conflicts with the rise of Pokémon as one of the most competitive eSports in the world. There could still be a similar feature added for competitive players to obtain the best possible pokémon, but it currently seems unlikely at this stage.
This doesn’t just affect competitive play, but a large part of the gameplay itself. Without breeding, baby pokémon will only be obtainable through catching them in the wild. This, to some extent, negates the point of a baby pokémon. Admittedly, baby pokémon have always been an odd addition ever since they were introduced in Generation Two, but after almost two decades of their inclusion in the franchise, it would be peculiar to nullify the reason for their existence now. This is particularly true now that Pikachu is once again a starter pokémon. As Pikachu itself is an evolution of a baby pokémon, how does the trainer find its pre-evolved form? It would be an unusual decision by the developers to include starter pokémon in the wild. This also has implications for Eevee, which has multiple evolutions.
While Pokémon Let’s Go has some exciting features, it’s still hard not to feel hesitant about its direction.
Perhaps Pokémon Let’s Go isn’t so much focused on the single-player story, but rather the multiplayer experience that the Nintendo Switch prides itself on. This is the first ‘core’ Pokémon game that has a co-op mode, whereby a friend can jump in on the second joy con and support the trainer in catching pokémon. It’s likely there will be further features for co-op play that have yet to be shown, with the franchise pushing towards a better-integrated multiplayer option for future titles. There’s some skepticism, however, as the fans seemed more insistent on an MMORPG rather than playing helping hand with a friend, but Pokémon has been hesitant to change, to say the least.
To further its connection with Pokémon Go, Pokémon Let’s Go allows the player to transfer Generation One pokémon from Pokémon Go to Let’s Go. What seems odd is that only the Generation One pokémon can be transferred across. This opens up a mystery box that nobody really wanted, and might just answer the question as to why breeding was omitted.
In other words, Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee presumably only features Generation One pokémon. The trailer supports this being the case, as only first-generation pokémon were shown, and that includes the battles and the overworld. Even the pokémon that the trainers were riding were all from Generation One. This is clearly why only first generation pokémon from Pokémon Go can be transferred across, and why breeding is omitted — there’s no need for a breeding feature if there are no baby pokémon. Pokémon Let’s Go is a hybrid of Pokémon Yellow and Pokémon Go, no exceptions.
So while Pokémon Let’s Go has some exciting features, it’s still hard not to feel hesitant about its direction. The biggest worry, especially after the Star Wars Battlefront II saga, is will additional generations be available as DLCs?