Pokémon is finally coming to the Switch, but it's a very basic version. We tried out the new Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee! at E3 2018 and found them even simpler than we expected.
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As Nintendo works through bringing just about every major franchise it has to the Nintendo Switch, the next in line is Pokémon. Rein in your expectations though: this isn’t the next full mainline RPG (look for that in 2019), but instead Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! are Pokémon Go-inspired entry points to the series.
The new games were playable for the first time at E3 2018, so we spent some time over at the Nintendo booth to get our hands on the Switch’s first proper Pokémon game, and the new Poké Ball Plus controller.
POKÉMON LET’S GO, PIKACHU! AND LET’S GO, EEVEE! RELEASE DATE
Both of the Let’s Go games will launch on the Switch on 16 November. Which version you buy will affect which of the two Pokémon hangs out with your character through the game, though in Pokémon tradition we expect they’ll each also have slightly different Pokémon available to catch throughout.
You can already pre-order the games, so if you’re in the UK check it out on Amazon, Game, or the Nintendo store, while in the US you probably want Amazon, Best Buy, or GameStop.
There’s also the Poké Ball Plus to consider. This £49.99/$49.99 accessory is essentially a mini, simplified Joy-Con which you can use to play the entirety of the Let’s Go games. If that’s not enough to catch your attention, you also get the legendary Pokémon Mew for use in-game, and you can use it to play Pokémon Go with your smartphone too.
POKÉMON LET’S GO, PIKACHU! AND LET’S GO, EEVEE! PREVIEW
The Let’s Go games are simple. Very simple. Simpler than you’re probably even expecting after watching the games’ trailer, though I’m holding out hope that there’s depth to be found once you get past Nintendo’s tightly controlled demo.
I got to explore the Viridian Forest, a starting area that will feel to familiar to anyone who played Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow, which these games are loose remakes of. I wandered around the tall grass, catching wild bug Pokémon and fighting some of the local trainers.
It’s catching where Pokémon Let’s Go comes into its own - in both good ways and bad. The entire mechanic is lifted almost untouched from mobile juggernaut Pokémon Go, though this time motion controls come into play. You flick a single Joy-Con - or the Poké Ball Plus - through the air to throw an in-game Poké Ball at your target. And that’s about it.
There’s the familiar shrinking ring from Pokémon Go to help you time your throws for bonuses, along with a selection of berries you can use to make the critters easier to catch, but all of the combat and strategy that used to be required to build up your collection is now gone.
Still, the motion controls are intuitive, and respect the direction and power of your throw, and the game also makes the most of the Joy-Cons' HD Rumble and speaker to give you the sensations (and sounds) of a Pokémon being caught. This works perfectly well with a single Joy-Con, or you can use the Poké Ball Plus, which does exactly the same stuff but looks a bit like a Poké Ball - and will apparently let you store a few Pokémon in to take around with you and transfer to friends' consoles.
To be clear, combat isn’t gone from the game entirely, and fights against other trainers have been lifted fairly directly from the original GameBoy classics, right down to the familiar pixelated UI, which gives hope that there is still a decent RPG to be found in here.
But that only makes it all the odder to simplify catching so much, as any player will still need to master the combat elements to make it through the game. It’s a simplification that feels driven less by accessibility than by visibility: a marketing ploy to lure in Go players who might otherwise not consider buying a full RPG - or even a Switch.
Still, the combat’s there, so we suspect the full game will have enough going on to keep long-term players happy - for now at least. And on the upside, that combat looks just about the best it ever has, with each Pokémon lovingly rendered in 3D, bobbing about the game world as cute as can be.
Attack animations are still fairly simple. While Pikachu’s Thunder Shock sparks an animated bolt of lightning across the screen, Scratch just sees your Pokémon shift forward an inch before three lines appear across its opponent’s face.
In any other game or series that might feel lazy at this point, but in Let’s Go in particular it feels like just another part of the whole loving homage. From the 8-bit user interface and level-up animations to the careful recreation of the Veridian Forest layout, this is a love letter to the very first generation of Pokémon games, and to fans eager to revisit.
That’s none more true than in the two versions’ title characters, as Pikachu or Eevee will sit in your backpack as you traverse the game world, much as Pikachu alone did way back when in Pokémon Yellow. Nintendo has gone one step further now, allowing you to have a second Pokémon (of your choice) follow you around too as your buddy, so you have two creatures in tow - clearly the result of major technological advancements at Nintendo HQ.