‘Pokémon: Let’s Go’ Breathes New Life Into Kanto but Feels Worryingly Shallow

Tom Regan
Games Pokémon
Games Pokémon Nintendo

When Pokémon: Let’s Go was announced last week, it brought up some pretty conflicting emotions here at FANDOM. On paper, this surprise reveal of a Pokémon game for Nintendo Switch was everything fans had been asking for. Beautiful HD Pokémon battles? Check. A 151-focused remake of Gameboy colour classic, Pokémon Yellow?! (C)HECK YEAH.

But before we could get too excited, it became apparent that GameFreak had made some major changes to the Poké-formula. In a bid to lure back fans of 2016’s park-bothering mobile hit, Pokémon GO, the time-honoured tradition of weakening wild monsters before catching them has been scrapped entirely.

This time around, an encounter with wild Pokémon sends players straight into a motion-controlled Pokéball-throwing mini-game a-la-GO. That’s not the only GO-inspired concession here. The all-important online trades and battles that have kept fans pouring hours into the series are present, but will be taking a back seat in Pokémon: Let’s Go, too.

In other words, this isn’t the faithful Pokémon Yellow remake some fans have been expecting.

Something Old, Something New, Something Easy

Obviously, these moves are aimed at courting a different type of player and there’s nothing wrong with that. Yet, for those fans eagerly awaiting an immersive and satisfying HD Poké-venture, there was a nagging feeling that the series’ Switch debut might be a bit of a watered-down experience.

Now that we have played an early build of‘ Let’s Go at E3, those fears have not gone away.

For many fans, the fun in Pokémon comes from the franchise’s slow but satisfying RPG grind. As a Pokémon trainer, your aim is to become the very best. Over the course of a lengthy, world-spanning adventure, you work hard to hone your once bumbling little ‘Mon into a fearsome party of (somehow still adorable looking) warriors.

From what we played of Pokémon: Let’s Go, though, it looks like most of that enjoyable graft is now a thing of the past.

Pokémon Lets Go of XP Grafting

Pokémon do not need to be weakened before you lob a Pokéball at them, and simply catching new critters rewards all the Pokémon in your party with XP too. During a half an hour demo, we found our party CONSTANTLY leveling up. As fans of the series would expect, it’s not just catching ‘Mon that nets XP — battles also rewarded all of our party Pokémon with equal XP – just like the XP share item did in previous games.

In other words, it kind of felt like the hard work was being done for us.

Thankfully though, it is in the battles themselves where Let’s Go comes into its own. Despite lacking some important RPG depth, this shiny HD sheen breathes new life into Kanto’s bright and nostalgic surroundings. Sending Pikachu onto the battlefield, a grin-inducing little animation sees the world’s most iconic rodent leaping off of the trainer’s arm with a determined look and galloping towards his opponent.

Thanks to some brilliantly detailed new character models and highly expressive and unique animations, for the first time in the franchise, each Pokémon you encounter really feels like it has its own personality.  This is something that is especially evident in their individual attacks.

Selecting Thundershock from that classic turn-based ‘fight’ menu rewards the player with a beautiful explosion of yellow lightning pouring out of Pikachu, before zapping his unsuspecting opponent.

Anime antics

These new animations just feel wonderfully Pokémon, making battles more immersive than they’ve ever been before.  Even the poor Pokémon on the receiving end of attacks respond realistically, with the Rattata we’re battering visibly wincing as each attack slams into him. It was great to see so much personality from each individual mon during battle, making challenging various trainers feel the closest to watching the anime that the games have ever got.

As the first from the ground up HD Pokémon game, the rest of the environments really benefit from the increased fidelity too. Running through the classic newbie area, Viridian Forest, our little Pikachu happily bounces along behind us — the new anime-esque style adding a playful sense of adventure to proceedings.

Now, that all-important tall grass sways in the wind.  Enemy trainers greet you with wonderfully expressive facial expressions and believably widened anime eyes. For fans who’ve grown up with the series, seeing the world of Kanto look this believable really is a dream come true.

We also came away impressed with Pokémon Let’s Go’s most gimmicky new feature: the pricey Poké-repherial, Pokéball Plus. With a white centre function button that acts as an analogue stick, Pokéball Plus offers a surprisingly easy and intuitive way to play a Pokémon game.

How’s Pokémon: Let’s Go shaping up?

Overall, we came away from our demo feeling just as disappointed as we were excited. On the one hand, the new HD sheen and refreshing focus on giving the Pokéman personality made Let’s Go feel like a new and exciting experience. Yet, without the RPG depth to keep the gameplay feeling rewarding, we’re feeling a bit wary about Let’s Go’s longevity.

Still, there are months to go before the game’s November launch, and if Nintendo is smart, they’ll address all these problems simply by adding casual and hardcore modes to the game.

Tom Regan
Having written for everyone from Trusted Reviews to The Guardian, Tom is a London based writer who can't stop talking about games. Now he's joined the team at FANDOM as gaming editor, we have to constantly remind ourselves that he's not actually Ed Sheeran.
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