Let's Go, Pikachu & Eevee Review

As the Pokémon games continue to branch out and defy all attempts to file them into predictable patterns, 2018's Let's Go, Pikachu and Let's Go, Eevee took a new approach to remakes. Rather than remaking the region and story of the original game with the latest main series mechanics, Pokémon and graphical style, these remakes of Yellow opt instead for more faithful nostalgia rendered with Switch graphics and a number of interesting mechanical changes and simplifications, some inspired by Pokémon Go.

These games likely had three primary goals: to be a good, relatively simple first game for new fans to get into; to be nostalgic for adult fans who played the first-generation games back in the day; and to hopefully entice Pokémon Go players to get into the main series. (Whether you count Let's Go itself as main series will depend on what you consider the defining traits of the main series, but it is undeniably meant as a gateway into the main series.) However, they're also closer to the traditional main series games than any previous spin-off title, and they bring a number of interesting innovations to the series, good and bad, that have the potential to be used in later titles.

The Nostalgia Value

Traditionally, main series Pokémon remakes have been up-to-date with the series' ever-expanding Pokémon selection and mechanical complexity. FireRed and LeafGreen added all the new battling innovations that had been introduced to the series since the originals first came out, for instance, and while the Kanto region still had the same old selection of Pokémon, the postgame added later-generation monsters and the games were fully trading-compatible with Ruby and Sapphire (and later Emerald). They were full third-generation games that merely happened to reuse the setting and plot of the originals.

Let's Go takes a very different approach. The Pokémon selection is limited to the original 151 plus new additions Meltan and Melmetal (obtained only through connecting with Pokémon Go), and rather than bringing the battle system in line with the seventh-generation games, it tries to recreate the feel of battling in Red, Blue and Yellow while still streamlining and improving it. Those were simpler times, with not quite so many variables to keep track of; most notably, these remakes omit hold items and abilities, two of the biggest battling innovations introduced in the second and third generations. Meanwhile, subtler, less prominent improvements have been kept. There were always physical and special moves, for instance, but it used to be completely opaque to the player and depend on the type of the move; in Let's Go, the visible physical/special classification for individual moves is retained from the later games, but since someone who was a kid playing the originals in the nineties likely never properly understood the split to begin with, it's unlikely to feel new or like a deviation from the original system.

On a similar basis, the list of moves in Let's Go does not include many interesting moves from the later generations, keeping the complexity manageable while still giving all the old Pokémon updated movepools that generally make them nicer to use and train.

Let me be crystal clear: the removal of hold items and abilities works here because these games and the Pokémon in them weren't designed with hold items and abilities in mind. This is a one-time simplification for the purposes of this one remake of a game that didn't have them; I don't think that there's any earthly way future main series games will keep this "change", and thus I won't even bother to argue why they shouldn't. For the purposes of this particular game, it's fine.

The game overall will absolutely bring back some memories from the days of the first-generation games, and it's clearly a labor of love - one of my favorite things in the game is all the posters adorning the walls of most every building in the game, not simply shapeless rectangles but actual posters advertising different things, just to give the world more flavor and make it more immersive. But still, there's something inescapably flattened and sterilized about this revisit, and that tinged my experience a little. Back in R/B/Y, Professor Oak stopped us going out into the tall grass because it was dangerous; here, we meet him having a friendly chat with some wild Pidgey. It's fair enough to want to show the world of Pokémon as a friendly place - that's always how the world has been overall, and especially in this game where wild Pokémon don't attack you, it makes sense. But it just takes a bit of the edge of adventure away, and that's a shame. Similarly, while Blue is in the game, and is his cocky self, your actual rival here is a different character who just isn't nearly the kind of deliciously hateable douchebag that Blue was, and it just isn't as satisfying to crush this rival in your final battle.

As you progress through the game, other elements turn out to be missing. There are no minigames in the Game Corner at all; no ghosts in Pokémon Tower that you try to fight only for your Pokémon to freeze; no Safari Zone where the battle format is shaken up and you have to find the Secret House and the Gold Teeth within 500 steps; no having to figure out how to get a drink for the Saffron City guards; not even the bit with the exorbitantly expensive bike that you can get a free voucher for if you listen to the president of the Pokémon Fan Club blather about his Fearow and Rapidash. So many little memorable elements of playing through the original games are just lost here, and although there are understandable reasons behind their removal, it all adds up to make it just not the same in a number of ways. I wish they had tried harder to keep these elements of the original experience, especially given the other parts of the game that do expressly try for nostalgia value.

The Partner Pokémon

Much like in Yellow, you get a special partner here that you can interact with throughout the game and doesn't stay in a Pokéball. Your starter Pikachu or Eevee (depending on your game) can't evolve, but has significantly boosted stats, can learn several special moves for type coverage from NPCs, can be dressed up and played with, and will sometimes bring you gifts. Pikachu or Eevee will always travel with you on your shoulder or head, even if it's not in your battling party - which is delightful and saves you from guilt about leaving your partner behind when you want to train other Pokémon. They can also be called upon in battle to help by boosting the stats of your other Pokémon, if you so choose.

The special moves may be a little ridiculous, but the improved stats do wonders to keep your unevolved starter relevant and viable throughout the game without simply being broken. I loved my Pikachu to death on Yellow, but it was distinctly the weakest Pokémon on my team. Here, it really can hold its own, though it's not hugely powerful and you're not forced to use it.

Another thing relegated to the partner here is HMs - which are no longer moves you teach to different Pokémon, but "secret techniques" taught to your Pikachu or Eevee. It feels a little ridiculous, but I think it's an improvement upon Sun and Moon's ride Pokémon system in one crucial way: you get to use your own Pokémon to help you get around in the world. It always bothered me a little that Alola's Ride Pokémon were simply somebody else's Pokémon on loan: the fun thing about HMs was always that the Pokémon you caught would help you get around in the world. Here, it's your partner helping you get around in the world - and though I'd still enjoy it more if you had to get the help of a variety of different Pokémon you'd caught for that sort of thing, it does help.

The Overworld

Let's Go also brings back a fan-favorite feature from HeartGold and SoulSilver, being able to have any Pokémon follow you around in the overworld. The feature has been enhanced in several neat ways here: you can pick any Pokémon on your team to take out of its ball rather than only the one in the first slot of the party, every Pokémon has its own walking animation (many of them quite fun), and some Pokémon will let you ride them, providing greater speed or even flight for a select few. Others will find items while you walk or react to things in the environment. This is a wonderful feature and adds a lot to the game, though the riding feature could use more polish: as it is, if you walk too close to walls you may find your Pokémon automatically popping into and out of its ball, as the game is a bit overzealous in its efforts to seamlessly transition to walking when there's not enough room for the riding Pokémon.

In addition to your own Pokémon walking around in the overworld, though, wild Pokémon do too! Instead of the random encounters we're used to, Let's Go shows Pokémon wandering around the routes and caves, and you have to walk into them to start an encounter with them; tall grass is now simply an aesthetic feature as Pokémon may appear inside or outside of it and move freely around.

I was skeptical of this at first; some players feel random encounters are a dated mechanic, but I've always enjoyed them, and the idea that finding rare Pokémon would be done by just running around and waiting to actually spot one rather than getting into dozens of wild encounters seemed one more thing that just wouldn't be the same. But after playing the game, I think I'm sold on this. Routes feel delightfully alive with the Pokémon actually there roaming around like they live there - and exploring areas like caves becomes a whole different less frustrating experience when you can simply actually avoid the wild Pokémon, without battles interrupting your train of thought. Hunting down a rare Pokémon is different, but still exhilarating, and less tedious. All in all the new system is a win, and I'm thrilled to see it return in Sword and Shield.

The Capturing

That being said, once you actually encounter a wild Pokémon, it's all downhill.

In Let's Go, there are no wild Pokémon battles; instead, wild encounters are Go-like, allowing you to attempt to aim and throw balls (using different kinds of motion controls, depending on your controller setup) at the Pokémon while it moves and dodges. Capturing many Pokémon of the same species in a row results in a "catch combo", giving bonuses such as guaranteed perfect IVs for subsequent encounters of the same species. If you don't want to capture a given Pokémon, all you can do is run away. Catching a Pokémon gives experience to your whole party - usually more experience than you'd get out of battling - so level-grinding is still possible, but actual battling is limited to trainers, most of whom can only be battled once.

This didn't seem so bad to me in principle - but it really changes what the game plays and feels like overall. You spend a lot less time in these games actually using your Pokémon than in previous games: you don't send them out at all for wild encounters, and you've only got so many trainers to fight. It's not so noticeable during the usual progression of the game, where you're just making your way forward through the storyline with your team and a steady stream of trainers stand in your way - but if you ever want to do something like stop and try training up a new team member before you continue, or to do so after finishing the main storyline, suddenly you'll find the game strangely void of chances to actually try out the new recruit, as your only options for training them are keeping them passively in your party while you catch unrelated Pokémon or battling storyline trainers, who are probably far too strong for the new Pokémon to actually fight.

For better or worse, Pokémon is a game where you bond with your monsters through battling. Your Pidgeot means something to you because of the battles you've been through together, and that's one of the big things about Pokémon. The Let's Go wild encounter system means that battles are a limited resource that only some of your Pokémon are going to get to take part in, and the rest are going to have to be passively raised without you ever getting to order them to use a move - without you ever really getting to know that Pokémon. It sounds weird and cheesy but this bothers me to my core.

My other issue with the lack of wild battles is, well, the capturing itself. Stationary encounters from the original games have here been translated into the game's only actual wild battles, where you must defeat the Pokémon on a five-minute timer in order to get the opportunity to capture them. In principle these are fun as boss fights; the legendaries get a stat boost that makes them genuinely tough to take down, and they're accompanied by cinematic cutscenes. But they fundamentally lack the thing that was actually exciting and strategic about capturing legendary Pokémon: you had to weaken them, but not too much. You had to attack and inflict status while making carefully sure not to go too far; you had to try to throw balls and hope the capture succeeded while the legendary continued attacking. When it's broken down into a battle where you just have to go all out and a capture where all you have to do is throw balls, it destroys a huge amount of the tension that catching legendaries used to involve; by the time you're on the capture screen, the sense of urgency and danger is gone, and all that you feel when you throw a ball that misses or breaks is dull, routine frustration as you have to try again.

Even for regular Pokémon, capturing always had that little element of strategy to it by calling for weakening the Pokémon without making it faint. It was a slightly different way to battle, and it created novelty and tension. In Let's Go, you don't get any of that; you just maybe use a berry and then throw balls. Improving your chances becomes about a physical timing/aiming skill instead of any of the many different elements that affect capture in the traditional games. I have a bias here; I've spent a lot of my time writing up long mathematical articles about Pokémon capture mechanics because I'm fond of the usual capture system. But overall I think Let's Go's capturing fundamentally loses something, not only on the scale of each individual capture but for the overall air of the game. I don't want future Pokémon games to have Let's Go-style wild encounters, at all; even if they spin it off into its own series, I want at least optional wild battles. I don't especially mind if there might be a motion control element to the actual ball-throwing (though I'd prefer for that to be optional), but please, let us battle the wild Pokémon.

The Box

Along with the heavy focus on capturing comes a streamlining of the PC box system. Instead of having to go to a Pokémon Center to switch out your party, you can do so at any time in the field. There's just a single Pokémon box to store all your captures, accessible from the party menu, and you can sort it either manually or automatically.

This works better than one might have thought; rather than the box healing your Pokémon, the Pokémon in your box all get healed when you go to a Pokémon Center, and that's all that's needed to make this not fundamentally broken. It saves a lot of running back and forth for people like me who like to rotate their teams - and is pretty necessary for the Pokémon ride feature, since it'd be far too tedious otherwise to have to get the correct Pokémon out of the Pokémon Center every time. It does slightly cheapen the Elite Four when you can switch out your team for a fresh one between Elites - but it's no more cheating than using healing items, and players who prefer the challenge can simply choose not to.

However, the UI in this first iteration of this feature really wasn't ideal, and it would definitely need improvements if this is what the series proceeds with. It takes unbearably long in Let's Go to check the stats of a Pokémon that you just captured: first you have to press A past all the capture data screens, then you have to open the menu, then the party from there, then the box from there, then manually select the last slot in the box (which there's no shortcut for, though blessingly you can press Up to go from the first row of the box to the last), then press A on that Pokémon, then select its summary from there. If you want to immediately transfer a captured Pokémon - which you will want to, since features like catch combos encourage you to catch a bunch of Pokémon of the same species that you won't actually want to use - you have to go through all that for that, too. For a game that's designed to make you catch hundreds of Pokémon, these design choices are maddening, and all in all it discouraged me from actually doing as much capturing as the game wanted me to. It's an easy fix for future games, but it does detract from this one, and it's unfortunate that they didn't find a better solution here.

The Stat System

Oh boy.

The main series Pokémon games have an established stat system with known constants and variables. It's been the same since the third-generation games, with some later tweaks to how you can affect the values in the formula. Prior to the game coming out, I expected mechanics such as the Pokémon Go-like candy shown in trailers would simply be new ways of giving effort points in the familiar formula.

Instead, Let's Go actually changes the formula, adding both a scaling factor for the Pokémon's happiness (increasing all stats by up to 10% depending on the Pokémon's current happiness level) and excising EVs in favor of a new, entirely different variable, 'AVs'. There's an AV for each stat, they can each range from 0 to 200, they're simply added directly onto the stat - a Pokémon with an AV of 200 in Speed is going to have 200 extra points in Speed, even if it's a level five Pidgey - and there is no total overall limit, allowing you to max out every stat's AV if you so choose. AVs are gained at random by leveling up, but can also be raised by feeding Pokémon candy - either the rare candy specific to each family (which will always add one to each stat's AV) or generic candy for each stat (which may need you to feed it many candies just to raise the AV by one).

The Let's Go stat system is nonsense; pumping your Pokémon full of candy is not fun or interesting, especially since the strategic element of choosing which stats to focus on isn't there, and it's fundamentally broken that doing so will let you raise a level three Pokémon's stats into the hundreds. Everything about this is bizarre. I went through the game pretending candies did not exist; that was fine, but the actual system is just strange and poorly designed, and I can only imagine it's designed mainly to give Go players something familiar and/or allow kids who are having a difficult time in the game to crank up their Pokémon's strength to absurd levels. I strongly expect this system will not be making a return in later games, and I'll be happy to forget it ever happened.

The Overall Impression

I overall really enjoyed playing this game, for all the complaining up there. The overworld Pokémon in particular lend Kanto a new sense of life, and it's clearly made with love - please check out all the posters, and talk to your Pokémon in the overworld a lot. But although in many ways it plays like a main series game, the wild encounter system skews the overall dynamic of the game strangely, the stat system changes are really off, and this round through Kanto unfortunately lacks a lot of the things that were memorable about playing R/B/Y back in the day.

It's probably a successful game as far as its goals go, though, and I hope its good ideas do make it into later games.

Page last modified June 24 2019 at 02:04 UTC