Pokémon: Let’s Go! is like one of those Trolli gummi pizzas. It’s a cute idea, aesthetically pleasing and definitely inoffensive, but it’s twee, simple and ultimately unsatisfying.
The hybridisation of main series Pokémon gameplay with the mechanics of the Pokémon Go app isn’t seamless and results in significant loss to the RPG side of the equation, which becomes an awful lot less fun as a result. It can’t decide if it’s going to be a remake or an innovation and ends up neither.
The big twist in Let’s Go! is the use of catching mechanics from Pokémon Go in place of traditional battles. You don’t battle wild Pokémon directly, with most combat being limited to trainer battles, and so you can’t get experience by defeating things in the wild.
It’s quite jarring to go back to the strictly regimented tiles and lifeless cities of 22 years ago
Instead, your active Pokémon gain experience points by capturing, just like in Go. Battles are much less prominent, and consequently the battle system is majorly simplified. Abilities are gone, alongside a lot of moves, and there’s little challenge or nuance. You can blaze through the entire game without putting any thought into it.
Capturing Pokémon also requires the use of mandatory motion controls, and they’re… awkward. In handheld mode, you have the usual problem of being required to tilt the entire Switch to aim your Pokéballs precisely using the gyros, which stops you seeing what you’re doing.
In TV mode, however, it’s awful: you have to huck your Joy-Cons skyward with incredible force to get your balls thrown, and good luck actually landing your mark. Why you’re unable to use a touch screen – a la Go itself – is beyond me. One wonders if these controls were shoehorned into the game to force you to buy the exorbitantly-priced £44.99 Poké Ball Plus controller.
Graphically, at least, it’s an absolute treat. Each Pokémon is gorgeously animated, with its own unique personality: bloodthirsty Beedrill will range ahead, Machamp will scoop you up in its muscular arms, Caterpie will often be left behind by your biped legs as it scrambles along on its caterpillar nubs. The environments are lush, as you’d come to expect from the Switch, but the maps are screaming for a new, hi-def redesign.
It can’t decide if it’s going to be a remake or an innovation and ends up neither.
After Sun and Moon demonstrated Game Freak could make detailed, lifelike towns and varied, vibrant routes, it’s quite jarring to go back to the strictly regimented tiles and lifeless cities of 22 years ago. Vermilion City still looks more like a pile of beach shacks than a bustling harbour. Wild Pokémon wandering around routes feel less like living creatures and more like game abstractions.
As someone long since bored to tears of Pokémon Go, I suppose I was never going to like Pokémon: Let’s Go!. I came into it with an open mind, hoping that Go’s systems would work better with some actual mechanical depth behind them, but the two have been poorly balanced and marred by terrible motion controls. If you like simply catching Pokémon, more power to you, but you won’t find much else here.