Remakes are an increasingly popular facet of entertainment media. Hollywood cranks out remakes or reboots of classic movies all the time. The games industry is no stranger to remakes either, and older games are often re-released with a shiny coat of high definition paint. The cynic in me wants to just write all of this off as a way for studios and developers to cash in on nostalgia to make a quick buck, but deep down I know the vast majority of these projects seek to celebrate, to elevate even, what made the original games special. All that being said, the Pokemon franchise is no stranger to remakes. Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen released in 2004, and were a reimagining of the very first Pokemon games. Since then, Game Freak has released a new pair of remakes every five years or so. These generational remakes have been great experiences for veterans and new players alike by providing enough new content to make revisiting an older game feel like a new experience while also letting the younger generation of Pokemon trainers see where the beloved series got its roots. Game Freak’s newest entries in the series, Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee!, both for the Nintendo Switch, aim to continue this tradition of making old things new again.
The two Let’s Go games, while retaining the structure and gameplay of the originals, are not strictly remakes of Pokemon Red and Blue. Instead, they are an intersection between a classic Pokemon game and the more recent mobile offering in the series, Pokemon Go. Let’s Go is set in the Kanto region, the locale from the first games, and only features the 151 (plus two, but we will get to that) Pokemon originally found in that region. Players are tasked with exploring the world around them, catching as many Pokemon as they can, and ultimately rising up to be the best trainer around.
Early on in your adventure, the game already deviates from tradition. Instead of choosing a starter Pokemon for yourself, you cross paths with either mascot Pokemon for the version of the game you are playing. In my case, I joined forces with a rambunctious Pikachu. This “partner” Pokemon becomes your constant companion on your journey, with much of the adventure being framed around your relationship with this special pal. Pikachu rides upon your shoulder for the entirety of the game and reacts to the world around him pretty frequently. I was initially disappointed that I could not choose a traditional starter, but Pikachu is more of a sidekick than a pet. He helps you find hidden treasure and even helps to solve a few puzzles during your adventure. Pikachu also provides a lot of utility by learning secret techniques that let you surf across rivers or quickly travel from town to town. These secret techniques replace the old HM moves of past games, and not having to teach a bunch of story required abilities to your team keeps your squad competitive as well streamlines the process of exploring the world.
There are almost no wild Pokemon battles to be found in Let’s Go. That probably sounds like sacrilege to some, but the random battle system of old has been replaced by an evolution of the catching system found in Pokemon Go. Wild Pokemon freely roam the various roads and caves of Kanto; no longer must we fear what lurks in the tall grass. If you bump into any of the frolicking creatures, you attempt to catch that specific Pokemon. A ring appears around the critter and your goal is to successfully chuck a Pokeball at it. The ring slowly shrinks, and the smaller the circle when you land a throw, the bigger bonus you get. After a few wiggles, the Pokemon is either captured or breaks free and you start tossing Pokeballs again. If you’re playing with the Switch system docked, you throw your Pokeballs by flicking your Joy-con controller as if you were tossing a ball. The motion controls are functional but are definitely less than ideal; the preferred catching method comes from using the console in handheld mode where a simple button press will launch a ball.
There’s an abundance of items you can collect to help you with the catching process: stronger Pokeballs, berries that make Pokemon more likely to stay put in their Pokeballs, and lures that draw out more elusive Pokemon species. Successfully catching a Pokemon not only adds the critter to your collection, but also provides experience points for your team of Pokemon. A catch combo system further rewards your efforts by giving out additional experience for each Pokemon of the species you catch in a row. It took a little getting used to, but I think the new catching system is the best new element added in Pokemon Let’s Go. Building a big catch combo feels rewarding and being surrounded by actual wild Pokemon adds on to the sense of adventure that comes from a Pokemon title. When a rare creature suddenly comes bounding through the grass, there is a real sense of excitement to be had from chasing after it. Long Pokemon hunts also help to keep the experience fresh between more traditional sequences of Pokemon battles or environmental puzzles. Catching ‘em all has never felt more fun than this.
In contrast to the new catching mechanics, the battle system in Let’s Go is as classic as it gets. You maintain a battle-ready squad of up to six Pokemon, with each Pokemon knowing up to four moves. As you level up a Pokemon it can learn new moves; most Pokemon will also evolve into a stronger creature when it passes a certain level threshold. Pokemon and their moves have specific types, for example Pikachu is an electric type who primarily blasts foes with various lightning-themed moves. Moves of a certain type are more or less effective against other types. Using Pikachu as an example again, his electric type moves are going to be super effective against water-type Pokemon but will not affect ground-type Pokemon at all. The goal as a trainer then is to build a strong team that can compete against as many different types of Pokemon as possible You battle dozens of other trainers along the many routes that make up the Kanto region; most battles are pretty inconsequential but serve as training for the eight Pokemon Gyms scattered throughout Kanto. A Pokemon Gym is themed around a specific Pokemon type and are led by a stronger-than-average trainer called a Gym Leader. Defeating a Gym earns you a shiny badge for your efforts: collect all eight badges and you can face the even more powerful Elite Four. All this is going to seem familiar to anyone who has picked up a Pokemon game in the last twenty years, but it is a progression system that has withstood the test time of time. Pokemon battles provide a lot of fun and the bulk of the experience, but certain modern aspects of battling have been stripped away. Abilities, passive traits of Pokemon, are not present in this iteration of games, and neither is the ability to have your Pokemon hold special items, like healing berries or power-boosting trinkets, in battle. These simplifications keep battles straightforward, but series regulars might miss some of the modern nuances.
However, returning Pokemon battling back to the days have caused a serious issue: lack of variety. 151 Pokemon seems like a lot on paper, but a constant influx of new Pocket Monsters over the last two decades has allowed for a lot of variety in encounters. Let’s Go’s roster is strictly Gen 1, and you fight the same Pokemon over and over again. A really good Pokemon experience comes from working out the type advantages and disadvantages of every encounter, but by the time you face down your 40th Geodude the mind games become pretty stale. Some of the Elite Four specialize in Pokemon types that are underrepresented in the original 151. This leads to scenarios like Lance, the master of dragon-type Pokemon, having only one actual dragon-type Pokemon in his party. This lack of variety makes certain chunks of the adventure feel archaic, which is a real shame when the rest of this re-envisioned Kanto region is so refreshing. Becoming the Pokemon Champion does open some interesting end game content like hidden, high-level boss battles. The world also becomes populated by a cadre of Master Trainers, each one specializing in a single Pokemon species. You can earn each Master Trainer’s title by challenging them with the same Pokemon they battle with. These battles require more strategy then most and gathering a pile of titles feels like a real accomplishment.
The Kanto region itself has never looked better, and frankly, Pokemon in general has never looked better. Gone is the 8-bit, monochrome world of 1996 and in its place stands a fully 3D world brimming with color. All of the characters from the original games return with brand new looks that retain the charm of their old sprite looks but bring them more in line with the modern Pokemon style, The story of Let’s Go remains largely unchanged from Pokemon Red and Blue: you play as a young trainer embarking on a journey to become the very best. Your journey sees you crossing paths with the criminal organization Team Rocket as well as a rival trainer from your hometown. Rival is a strong word for the relationship you have with your childhood friend in this game; he is probably the most supportive and positive “rival” character the series has ever had. Kanto remains relatively unchanged from past iterations, except there are a few classic pieces of side content that are missing from Let’s Go. There is no unlockable bicycle in this game, but where the old bike shop used to be there is now a house where a guy will tell you all about the bikes you cannot have. Similarly, the Celadon City Games Corner has been converted from a casino parlor to an arcade, but none of the arcade games are playable. Game Freak clearly wanted to retain as much from the original Kanto adventure as possible, but it feels strange to not be able to interact with some of the more memorable systems of old.
The Safari Zone, a nature preserve of sorts where you could hunt down rare Pokemon, returns in limited capacity. You no longer catch wild Pokemon here, the majority of it being more like a zoo, but you can catch Pokemon at the new Go Park located in the back of the old Safari Zone. This is where some cross-functionality with the Pokemon Go comes into play, as you can import Pokemon you have caught on your phone into Pokemon Let’s Go. There are two brand new Pokemon, Meltan and Melmetal, who can only be found in Let’s Go by catching them first in Pokemon Go. Although you can only import Gen 1 Pokemon, the Go Park is a great resource to help complete your Pokedex.
Pokemon Let’s Go is a classic Pokemon experience with a good influx of modern mechanics. The stark difference between catching Pokemon and battling alongside them highlights two core ideals of being a Pokemon trainer: building a strong bond with Pokemon within the world around you; and creating a legacy as a powerful trainer. As an old fan of the series this new adventure in a familiar land brought me back to my roots as a Pokemon trainer. The new additions to Kanto provide plenty of reasons to revisit for veteran players. At the same time, gen 1 has never looked better and is a perfect jumping on point for future fans. I feel that Pokemon Go’s catching mechanics are not going to be added to a main series Pokemon game any time soon, but it would not be surprising to see the Let’s Go series to grow and reinvent other older Pokemon games. Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu is as perfect of a merging between the long-running franchise and its modern phone game counterpart as we could ask for.
Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! are available now for Nintendo Switch. This review is based on a copy of the game purchased by the writer. Purchases are available here.
Pokemon: Lets Go, Pikachu!
- The Kanto region has never been more fun and exciting to explore
- Wild Pokemon in the overworld creates a Pokemon experience that feels more alive than ever
- New mechanics help make the game feel fresh
- Battle mechanics have taken a few steps back, reducing the overall depth of the battling experience
- A limited pool of available Pokemon means you’ll fight the same creatures over and over again
- The rival character is weak, both narratively and physically, making certain story beats feel off