If ever there was a franchise ripe for reinvention, it is Pokémon, which for over two decades has managed to appeal to the hardest of hardcore gamers (even if as a secret, guilty pleasure) and the most casual of fans. Pokémon Go introduced a relatively revolutionary, real-world mechanic and had rabid players literally scouring their cities in search of elusive, rare creatures. For years, players have been clamoring for a big-screen, console version of their beloved franchise. Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee checks a lot of boxes: it borrows mechanics from Pokémon Go, it changes up the art style of the series in a major and welcome way, and it is more-or-less the console reinvention fans have been asking for. As a remake of Pokémon Yellow, it harkens back to the series’ roots as well and is a great launchpad for something truly new down the line.
The new art style and presentation is the first and most striking element of Pokémon Let’s Go. Retaining the colorful, appealing and often adorable look of the traditional games but shifting to a much more detailed, painted cartoon style of animation, it endows the Pokémon and human characters alike with even more charm and personality. Whether on the big screen or in handheld mode on the Switch, environments and creatures are a blend of the familiar — especially to players of Pokémon Yellow — and the new, with everything from grass and water to the Gyms looking impressive and much more like you imaged them to “really” be. While some diehard fans will of course object to any change in Pokémon, it’s really hard to fault this change in art direction.
Although not an entirely new idea, the title Pokémon in both Pikachu and Eevee are much more adorable, pet-like creatures and may be interacted with as real companions. Thanks to the Switch’s touchscreen you can rub and tickle your buddy and they will tell you how they’re feeling though sound and expression. One selected Pokémon can follow you around the world as well.
Moving to mechanics and changes to gameplay, things get a little more complicated though generally Pokémon Let’s Go moves the franchise towards quality of life and ease of use. Perhaps the biggest feature is that low-level random encounters are no longer mandatory so rather than battle a Rattara for the millionth time, they may be avoided because they are no longer hidden. In general, wild Pokémon are not weakened through battle but simply captured, in the first mechanic borrowed from Pokémon Go. Using motion control with a single Joy-Con, the Poké-Ball controller or traditional buttons on the Switch you simply target the Pokémon and toss a ball to catch. Although a few more powerful creatures must be weakened before being caught, the new throw-and-catch mechanic does a lot to keep the game moving forward and takes away some of the tedium of moving through the world. Speaking of Pokémon Go, Pokémon caught in the mobile game can be imported to an area in the Pokémon Go Park (replacing the familiar Safari Park), where they can be recaptured for inclusion in the Pokémon Let’s Go Pokédex.
Battling other trainers and their Pokémon remains very much the same and just as fun, enhanced by the new graphics and animations and the game’s story — becoming a legendary trainer by defeating a quartet of Elite Trainers while exploring the world and completing quests and solving some simple puzzles — remains true to both Pokémon Yellow and the franchise’s family-friendly style. And as always, there is simply a magical something about spending time in the world and hunting down rare Pokémon that is both relaxing and compelling, and there’s plenty to do after the completing the story.
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee is not a total reboot of Pokémon, nor is it entirely the console experience that many fans have asked for, but it goes a long way to making a very familiar game feel at least momentarily fresh. Most of the mechanical changes are for the better and help make Pokémon a great casual RPG for just about anyone. Most critically, it allows longtime fans a not-too-jarring glimpse into what might be the future of their beloved franchise.