NS Review – Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! (Switch)

A majestic fanfare erupts and within seconds you’re thrown into a magnificent new world, so similar to your own yet spectacularly unfamiliar. Bold palettes of lush earth tones decorate deep blues, striking yellows, and vibrant reds. The melody of creatures you can only dream of chirp and bellow with cries as unique as themselves. A gentleman in a lab coat greets you, his cartoon form just detailed enough to indicate he’s on the older side. There’s a PC in the top left corner, nothing in the trash can, the latest games console by the TV, technology is amazing. Rich vegetation shrouds a lone path alluring you towards the rest of the world, and so begins a journey like no other.
Many of us playing Pokémon: Let’s Go are familiar with this journey. Kanto reimagined is completely different yet just how it’s always been, more life exists in every detail now; animations are fluid, sound is clearer, objects and NPCs radiate life and personality to create an experience that feels fresh but comfortingly familiar. Let’s Go is indeed a relived version of Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow but with a significant number of changes. Brand-new starter options helm the adventure but that’s only the beginning- roadblock and travel options are switched up, co-op has been added, more options to care for your Pokémon are in place, much of the random chance which would hinder progression has been chopped, overall difficulty has been softened in multiple other ways- and that’s just some of the major differences Let’s Go features.

Pokémon games would often force you into a narrower experience, but Let’s Go provides some wonderful variation that personalizes the player journey while maintaining the linear goal. Previously, diversity was a necessity in your team, and grinding each Pokémon tirelessly to compensate for weaknesses would only get you so far as many Pokémon can’t learn certain abilities. In addition, bringing on a new member of your team meant sinking time into locating that Pokémon to obtain it at a high level- or forcing it into battle after battle to grind experience (assuming you won). Fast travel was limited and various areas were locked off from the start, requiring certain abilities (HMs) to reach that area. Said abilities took up valuable space in your already limited party and movelist, couldn’t be removed under normal circumstances, and were often a weakness in battle. Wild Pokémon would only reveal themselves once you’d encountered them, at best the repetition of entering and exiting encounters was a timesink, at worst a player would be locked into the encounter and blackout. Catching Pokémon with a full party sent them to your PC box which could only be accessed in specific areas, usually by trudging back through terrain littered with encounters.
Let’s Go has loosened the difficulty considerably (to the dismay of many) by making some hidden intricacies of the game more black and white, removing some more difficult or frustrating mechanics, and presenting a bright cartoony look. Naturally how you feel about this shift will be quite personal, but this entry does feel strongly tailored towards younger audiences, especially in comparison to previous entries. Finding a Pokémon is now as simple as seeing it wander around the same space the player moves in, and avoiding a potentially fatal Pokémon encounter now simply means not touching them. Special Techniques replace HMs and can be used when you don’t have the Pokémon in your party. The perilous trudge back and forth to access a Pokémon Storage Box has been removed- in favor of Pokémon storage being on your person, allowing you to shuffle between monsters on the go. EXP Share is on by default but can be “turned off” by moving Pokémon out of your party, and players can call in a Support Trainer to assist them, skewing fights in your favor.

Support Trainers are just one of the ways Let’s Go assists the player along their journey

Arguably the biggest deviation from the standard Pokémon formula is battling and catching; encountering a wild Pokémon no longer triggers a fight, but rather begins a sequence of trying to catch it, with captured Pokémon awarding your party EXP needed for levelling rather than gaining it from winning battles. A huge change indeed, wild encounters were a valuable part of understanding how to fight and the further intricacies involved. Steady streams of battle helped the player learn about type weaknesses and strengths, what moves were worth keeping and which combos worked in your favor. They provided a sense of bonding between Trainer and Pokémon, and a measure of player progression as they become more comfortable in how to play as time passed. Encounters in the previous entries also provided suspense when it came to catching Pokémon; risking draining your items on failed attempts, wiping your party members from spending your turn on throwing a ball instead of healing or attacking, or the choice between massive EXP gains of defeating, rather than catching a legendary Pokémon.
Let’s Go follows in the footsteps of Pokémon GO, which replaced actual battling with simply catching a Pokémon; using likelihood, timing, and random chance. The color of the ring closing in on the Pokémon indicates catch difficulty, the closing ring itself is a visual indicator as to when to throw to increase your chances, and the chance itself is that- skilless pot luck whether you succeed. You can do absolutely everything right to catch a Pokémon and still have it escape. Berries can serve as a distraction while you try to catch it, and at random intervals a Pokémon will briefly cancel the opportunity to catch by performing a form of aggressive animation, or by strafing rapidly, often suddenly avoiding your ball should you have thrown one. While the animations are wonderful in themselves and liven up each monster, giving them more personality and creating an overall richer feeling, it becomes obnoxious, very quickly, having your attempts randomly cancelled by mini-tantrums or unpredictable dodges. All these mechanics are alive and well in Let’s Go and they feel as unfair and frustrating as ever, attributing too much of your time and progression to uncontrollable chance. Before anyone brings attention to how randomness has always played a part in catching Pokémon– it felt the same back then too. Regardless of the personal nostalgia I have attached to it- to the thrill of timing my Up+B and watching each shake pass, or obsessively spamming the menu to check Raikou’s location- I cannot realistically argue this was overall fair gameplay that rewarded actual skill, and it unfortunately feels the same in this entry.

Vibrant illustrations welcome the players in the menus

Visuals in Let’s go are certainly impressive, from animations to models, text boxes to menus- tremendous vibrance erupts from the screen, decorating this new adventure in ways unfamiliar to many previous Pokémon games. It’s captivating to watch the dynamic movements of my childhood favorites. The weight behind a Pidgeot flapping its wings, or Eevee being tossed into battle from my avatars arm is believable. Each Pokémon feels delicately crafted to move and act like they exist and it’s utterly enchanting to simply stand and observe them go about their business in various habitats, as if they were something more than images on a screen. The style of Let’s Go is a fantastic blend of old and new, everything is more detailed yet remains playful and cartoony. Humans are less compact than they were but still feel like they belong in a pocket-sized adventure, bodies of water look rich with varying depths and a final layer of waves dancing across the surface. Lamps, signs, fences, and each individual tile, rafter, and beam look like their own unique material creating diverse structures. Vegetation bounces and oscillates in a spectrum of greens and browns, painting the areas which can be explored. Columns of light cascade down and mottle the ground, where small plants gently sway atop splatters of grass and leaves. Certain paths give off a feel of warm tarmac with a slight give under your footsteps, dirt and rocks contrast the softer green with bolder shapes, and items and trinkets feel more than just an unseen object in a menu. Menus themselves have a similar feel to Sun and Moon, a variation of crisp icons and intricate symbols perch atop splodges of energetic and muted tones. Elsewhere, you’ll find gorgeous sprites illustrating the contents of the menus, once again blending that retro familiarity with a modern twist. Furthermore, battle animations remain abstract but with smoother, energetic visuals, maintaining that well-established style instead of opting for complete realism.
Not every piece of imagery in Let’s Go paints a fluid presentation for the viewer however. While many humans move with smooth character others will sometimes stutter or feel choppy. When you begin moving your avatar it feels like a chunk of animation is missing, lurching between stillness and motion. Similar feelings of lag occur within menus sometimes too, where inputs seem notably delayed. There are also some collision issues in various areas where my avatar gets stuck on objects that the graphics tell me I’m simply not touching, disrupting fluidity of gameplay now and then. Lastly, text speed is strangely fast- as someone who reads very quickly myself I was taken aback, and feel it’d be nice to have something a little slower at least as an option.
Overall Let’s Go is powerful in the visuals department, not by being photorealistic or the max resolution available to current hardware, but by establishing a robust style; saturated with striking, vivid tones, dynamic animations, and blended with well-placed pixel art.

Audio achieves similar triumphs when it comes to balancing old and new. Original songs are retold in clearer and classical arrangements of their former compressed selves, a rich symphony of chimes, plucks, and thumps swell and twirl into captivating compositions that ooze life, matching the energy of the visuals. In contrast to the modern fanfare of the music, other sounds in Let’s Go dance to a different type of classical; while the quality is clearer, they stick to older ways. Pokémon cries are layered synthetic symphonies rather than vocalizations of their names (bar Pikachu of course), and many menu interactions sing older jingles which will be familiar to some. Sound effects in battle are varied depending on what’s needed- ranging from thicker and misty, to aggressive and punchy, to ethereal and out of this world. Some moves won’t stand out too much audibly, while some pack a punch, delivering extra oomph into the impact and granting an extra sense of satisfaction. Typically, I’ve had little issue with the audio in this game, the contrast between the music and the sound effects compliment each other wonderfully and make for an exceptional listening experience. My biggest gripe thus far is the battle cry of Eevee at the start of each fight- something which is jarringly loud in comparison to the rest of the audio, and generally quite unpleasant for seemingly no reason. The battle cry could have been quieter and still delivered the intended impact as far as I’m concerned, and lastly I’d like to mention the demanding bleeping of low health has finally been dimmed; a welcome change.

Back to gameplay and how Let’s Go controls, it’s fairly solid but with some shortcomings. Difficulty, as previously mentioned, has subsided in many ways with most of those not being optional. In that regard it does feel like this instalment was created near exclusively with lower skill in mind, rather than a focus on low skill and options for a more challenging experience. Many actions that could previously feel dragging rather than challenging have been switched up- but not necessarily in the best way. Alongside no longer having to blindly trudge through areas where wild Pokémon spawn, or wait out a battle intro to see if what you encountered was what you were looking for, Pokémon now display additional visuals to indicate abnormal stats, as well as shinies being true to color in the wild instead of having to wait until you see them in battle. Personally I’m not too bothered by extra visual information regarding stats, however shinies appearing as they should before encountering them in battle deepens the wonder of Pokémon existing in real time as I explore. The new catching and levelling system is on the sour side for me, I feel like mindlessly catching Pokémon over and over teaches me far less than having to battle, neither does it make me feel more connected to the Pokémon I catch, since I’m just throwing Pokéballs at whatever comes my way for some EXP. In contrast to this however is the multiple ways in which you can interact with your Pokémon, hairstyles and accessories build a greater bond between you and your partner by creating a more unique identity. Furthermore, having multiple Pokémon tag along, dancing around your feet, sniffing out items nearby, or even being transport builds an atmosphere many fans have been begging for since Gen 1.

Let’s Go follows in the footsteps of Pokémon games before it, broadening the horizons of what they can be, and injecting more color, more personality, more life into that simple but beloved algorithm that has been successful for over 20 years. It adds things to the game many, including myself, have wanted since we were children. It truly does bring a unique twist to the Pokémon games like no other.
So you can probably imagine my tremendous disappointment when I quickly realized I am unable to play this game due to, as far as I’m concerned, a ludicrous design choice.

Pokémon: Let’s Go requires a significant amount of catching in order to have the best experience; catching levels up your team, gets you new monsters, completes your PokéDex, and even is the key to entering Gyms. Catching is also locked behind motion controls- something as someone who struggles with mobility issues cannot reliably do. Before anyone informs me I don’t need to put much force or movement behind the motions involved to capture Pokémon rest assured, I wasted near 100 PokéBalls collectively going from ground up- using as little movement as possible, over and over, until I was able to pull off a successful catch. Unfortunately, it was long into discomfort (and then pain) territory before I got anywhere near what the game decides is valid enough movement input to even throw the ball- let alone catch something. I looked around for a long time within the game and online for any indication I might be able to switch motion controls off but after months of searching it seems the closest one can get to this is placing the Switch on a flat surface in handheld mode; something that provides another cluster of accessibility issues entirely at worst, and at best absolutely kicks the gimmick of the Switch in the teeth. The Switch by no means needs gimmicks to prove its worth as a good console, but they are welcome when they enhance the experience. The option to relocate to a different screen, use the touch pad, or physically move the hardware in favor of button inputs and vice versa can elevate the enjoyment of a game tremendously as well as provide diverse playing options at no cost to the experience.
In the Wii era Nintendo had to do some quick damage control upon release- stories of WiiMotes flying around and damaging household items (or other people) meant a quick shipment of wrist straps and legal disclaimers to cover their behinds. That was long ago, but the continued inclusion of wrist straps demonstrates Nintendo understands there will be some significantly violent motions performed with their hardware, regardless of how they warn against it. However, it wasn’t just motion controls being new territory that caused misuse- many learnt how to comfortably wield this new power and things were smooth sailing from there. Forced motion sheared away more than just children as a playerbase, it also isolated those less able to perform these movements, namely elderly and disabled people. Tales of someone’s 60 year old nan enjoying Wii Sports, a well behaved child experiencing no spatial issues with gyro, or your disabled friend enjoying Pokémon: Let’s Go just fine doesn’t diminish my point in any way- my concern lies not with every disabled person, elderly person, or child experiencing issues for definite, but with those this inclusion does alienate. There will be those less advantaged who have never bat an eyelid at less accessible options and I’m truly happy for those people, but the existence of these design choices does, and will continue to pointlessly ruin or exclude so many who use video games to experience life in ways they otherwise cannot- for an unrewarding payout. And that’s where this review became extremely tricky for me to actually do- because I physically cannot play this game.

Unfortunately it’s not just those mentioned unable to enjoy the full potential of Let’s Go– many others, who would otherwise not suffer the same issues as mentioned before, are struggling to experience the fluid gameplay the designers likely had in mind. Many friends also experienced frustrations with inconsistency and lag marring their attempts to get along with such an integral part of the game. Similarly, looking online shows there’re many complaints from various users about unnecessary difficulty with catching, much of it emphasizing control issues not working as they should. The Joy-Cons have had issues since launch and things like drifting, faulty inputs, random disconnects, battery life, and more have resulted in disrupted gameplay for many users- and long waits for repairs only sours the experience further. In addition, the only compatible controllers with Pokémon: Let’s Go lack certain buttons, meaning features like the Home menu or screenshotting and video capture require extra hassle to keep another controller lying around just in case. It’s bizarre to force users into the experience of flinging themselves around in a game advertised as normal, and it’s even stranger Nintendo don’t support alternative input methods- especially when their Pro controller is an excellent piece of kit with more polished input (not to mention the Pro controller even has gyro itself). Overall this control scheme sets a concerning precedent for games prioritizing faulty gimmicks that hinder the experience, rather than giving the option to enhance gameplay for those that get along with it, tailoring the experience to multiple demographics.

I’ve thought about Pokémon: Let’s Go nearly every day since it launched. Between its name on my to-do list prodding me whenever I glanced at it, and thinking about how I want to play it yet wondering if it was physically possible (after my elbow taking over a month to recover from the first play session). It’s left a very strange impression that makes me concerned about where games might be heading in the future. The last few years have seen many big titles shift towards balancing games around forcing players to spend more money to skip intentionally grinding and frustrating gameplay. Nintendo aren’t one to shy away from being the quirky weird kid in the group- for better or worse, and covert additions like throwing a Pokéball, fast charging a Fizzy Bomb, swinging Cappy, all make me uneasy for what’s to come- instead of excited for innovative new possibilities that could make games better than ever. Even if I was magically cured- or never played video games again, these issues are still big and won’t magically solve themselves, they will still exist and affect a massive portion of potential players- many of which are diehard fans who make up some of the most important aspects of the industry. Pokémon: Let’s Go promised a lot, especially for an “in between” instalment in the series, but it collects dust on my console and makes me consider touchy things I shouldn’t have to consider when deciding whether to relax and enjoy a video game, so I may never know just how great it could have been.

Thank you to Nintendo for providing this copy of Pokémon: Let’s Go for me to review, and thank you very much for reading. Thoughts can be left below in the comments, or tweeted to me @MattiasMay on Twitter.

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