We keep on trying and then we try some more! But now we’re starting over! C’mon let’s go!
Pokemon Go was a phenomenon that is unlikely to ever be replicated and went wildly beyond the expectations of all parties involved, earning a millions of players and over a billion in revenue. This presented GameFreak with an opportunity to ride on this hype and adoration by creating a game extensively for the new/renewed audience they had earned, which in turn inspired the developer to begin production on a fully 3D remake of Pokemon Yellow.
So, after what I speculate to be a short development period fueled by recycled technology, Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee have arrived, streamlined and more casual friendly versions of the series that I have been criticizing from its very announcement to the discouraging lead-up to release. Still, I try to be fair in my subjective opinionated assessments towards games, and made sure to set my expectations very low in order to maximize my enjoyment of this title… and I liked it.
Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee Review
Developer: Game Freak
Pokemon Let’s Go is a remake/sequel/alternate universe take on the original games that made the Pokemon series what it is today, specifically Pokemon Yellow, the special Pikachu edition made in response to the immensely popular anime series. While this would represent a great opportunity to expand on what the original offered and spice things up with new details, the game is instead a very nostalgia heavy retread of the original GameBoy titles, recreated in 3D with an unmovable camera, a very cherry picked assortment of mechanics from more recent games, and a throwback to the original 15. Though Mew is only available by buying a special controller, while another two new ones are thrown in, and are only available by connecting with Pokemon Go… because cross promotion.
By now I think everybody already knows the formula for most Pokemon games, or at least the first one. A bright-eyed young child is tasked to explore their providence by a local professor, in order to familiarize themselves with the world and go on an enriching childhood journey wherein they learn to fend for themselves and to care for a small family of highly creatures known as Pocket Monsters. All while battling other trainers and public officials who test the child’s merit, stopping a criminal organization, and encountering highly powerful creatures of legend. All of that is reprised here, and with very little major narrative changes or surprises, except for odd tidbits of continuity that I at first began theorizing to be part of a multiverse narrative based on nods to the first season of the anime series and Pokemon Adventures manga, but are really just fanservice for the sake of fanservice.
Moving right over to the gameplay, I feel the need to jump ahead into the nitty gritty and start talking about the changes made here, as they really are quite intriguing. In typical mainline Pokemon games, battles are engaged in for the sake of generating EXP that allows Pokemon to gain levels, evolve, and learn new moves in exchange for HP and PP, both of which can be freely replenished at any given Pokemon Center, free of charge. With the EXP awarded for catching a Pokemon circa X and Y simply being a nifty little bonus.
In Let’s Go however, EXP is awarded by capturing wild Pokemon, and battling trainers. A move that I personally thought would be functional when initially revealed via demos that allowed trainers to be rebattled indefinitely, but that was actually a demo-exclusive feature. In the main game, only certain trainers may be battled multiple times, and at a daily post-game only basis at that, meaning the primary means of garnering additional EXP comes exclusively from capturing wild Pokemon. A process that sounds okay in theory, but it also means that EXP requires money or items to accumulate, as the player needs Pokeballs to capture Pokemon.
From a mechanical standpoint, I find this to be a very interesting decision, as it adds a cost to the act of grinding, something that is normally counterbalanced in RPGs via item and monetary drops from defeated enemies, which allow for the player to afford healing amongst other things. Here however, I became routinely paranoid about running out of money or Pokeballs, and getting stuck in a section where my mostly stable team of overleveled Pokemon would be overwhelmed. Now, one could very, very easily dismiss my paranoia by highlighting how the game showers the player with an excess of value.
For instance, Pokeballs are handed out like candy on Halloween after almost every trainer battle. Certain characters offer the player with an unlimited supply of Pokeballs whenever they have 9 or less. Pokeballs themselves are incredibly cheap. Sellable items like pearls and nuggets are exceedingly common and many respawn on a daily basis. Certain trainers can be battled daily in the post game, including one who gives away IV maxing bottle caps, and so forth.
However, Pokeballs are still a resource to manage, it is exceedingly easy to bleed through a several of them in a single encounter, and with my accountant brain, it is hard for me to not look at this gameplay situation and distill it into a formula of average EXP per cost, which was regularly too low for me to be comfortable with. This is not made better by how the game encourages players to catch Pokemon constantly, and how the catching Pokemon is now a far more probability, precision, and timing intensive affair. I mean, this is not like the base games, where Pokeball and item use can be minimized via considerate gameplay, or is deemed so marginal that it doesn’t even matter.
As was well conveyed prior to release, the method of catching Pokemon has shifted from battles that mostly involve paralyzing and false swiping Pokemon into submission before throwing the most economical Pokeball to a manner similar to Pokemon Go. Wherein the player must aim a Pokeball at a Pokemon while they prance about or gesture. This is primarily done via Joy-Con-based motion controls that I honestly found unreliable, awkward, and most definitely not designed around people who play games at their desk using a monitor. Furthermore, playing this game in docked mode necessitates the use of a single Joy-Con as a controller, which I personally found to be disorientating, as it is such a small and lightweight controller and I felt compelled to hold it with both hands.
So after catching 3 Pokemon and already failing to catch them no more than 5 times, I gave up on my aspirations to play a Pokemon RPG on an HD screen and shifted to handheld mode, as it is the only control method that supports Pokemon capture using traditional stick and button inputs. Though, moving the Switch still aims where a Pokeball is thrown, because motion controls always make games more accessible, especially for people with hand-based disabilities, or generally poor fine motor skills.
Wanting to actually have fun with this mechanic, I decided to revisit the setup I developed for optimally playing The World Ends With You: Final Remix. What I came up with involved playing the game with the Switch securely placed in the 3DS stand that came with Kid Icarus: Uprising. This helped, but the general controls for the handheld mode are not super well devised. With the left analog stick being very sensitive considering the precision needed to aim at Pokemon, and the aiming itself being marred by how Pokeballs are always thrown towards the center of the screen, which can be difficult to determine due to the lack of a reticle.
That might seem like a very minor qualm, but with how much certain Pokemon love to bounce, jig, and flutter— especially those goldarn flying types— the lack of a reticle really got to me after a while. It actually got so frustrating that I put a bit of tape on my Switch screen protector and kept it like that for the rest of the game. Also, despite Pokemon Go using touch screen inputs for capture, Let’s Go reserves touch controls for petting Pikachu and Eevee. Not even the menus support touch controls.
Yet even after I dealt with all of that rubbish and was able to play the game in a comfortable manner, it still emphasizes that the player perform the act of capture at a high level. It wants the player to catch the Pokemon their first try, develop a combo that involves catching the same Pokemon dozens of times, focus on capturing Pokemon that glow with a red or blue energy, and aim for the sweet center of their circle all in an attempt to garner higher EXP yields per encounter and better item drops. While all of these are technically modifiers, and optional, there is an opportunity cost that is foregone by not embarking on these specific steps, because Pokeballs cost money and money feel limited, even though they really are not.
That all being said, with over a page dedicated to, among related matters, the capture mechanic, I must say that… I do like it in spite of the problems that exist with its implementation. It is fast, simple, and makes the gains from each encounter feel more substantial. Plus, this mechanic did lead to numerous other design decisions that I do like. Such as the ability to freely swap out Pokemon between the player’s box or party from any location, and capture combos that encourage a very specific form of grinding in order to find perfect, rare, or even shiny Pokemon by getting a large enough combo of a certain Pokemon. While the excess Pokemon can be transformed into stat boosting candy that allows even otherwise less useful Pokemon to accumulate up to an additional 200 points in each stat and become forces to be reckoned with… if one is willing to grind enough.
This change is also paired with the mostly new concept of Pokemon roaming around the overworld, a feature I greatly appreciate and believe enhances the feeling that this world is indeed filled with Pokemon. Even if it does look very out of place given the Gameboy-level world geometry at play here, goes to make tall grass kind of pointless beyond serving as an indication that wild Pokemon are about, and is not designed to provide a no-spawn radius around the player, meaning that it is probable that a Pokemon will spawn in front of the player at some point. Still, it is vastly better than random encounters that can cause players to spend hours searching for a rare or uncommon Pokemon, and waiting 15 seconds before even getting the opportunity to fight or run away.
Speaking of which, for a while now I have criticized the slow pace of most Pokemon battles, which seem by in large designed so that people unfamiliar with games can follow the flow of combat. However, the combat here remains unchanged from the 3DS games beyond some new visual effects, and I still found myself pining for some dedicated skip button for animation and text boxes, as due to the simple nature of combat, everything becomes visual filler after long enough. Also, for some reason they removed any indication if a move is super effective against an opposing Pokemon, because… It would have cluttered up the UI?
Things are not made better by how the EXP yield per fight feels alarmingly low, possibly due to the amount of weak Pokemon possessed by trainers in the early game, and their often limited parties, which, combined with the lack of wild battles, limits how often a player’s Pokemon are actually seen. Seemingly recognizing this, or possibly wanting to recycle a feature originally planned for another title, following Pokemon have returned, with the player’s designated partner Pikachu or Eevee being permanently affixed to their model, and a partner Pokemon of their choice walking, flopping, or flying behind them. All of which does a surprisingly effective job at strengthening the bond the player has with their Pokemon, as they maintain a regular screen presence that continues outside of combat.
I also should mention that the partner Eevee and Pikachu in these games are buffed, given an incredibly diverse movepool that spans most types, and generally are capable of handling just about any threat thrown their way because of this. To the point where most other Pokemon found early on feel comparatively useless due to their inferior stats and lack of 90 base power moves spanning a variety of types circa Cerulean City— though I think those might be exclusive to Eevee. Speaking of classic locations, now is as good a time as any to dig into how this game is a remake, and a genuinely bizarre one at that.
The pitch for this game was a genuinely rough one to read when word about it first came through, announcing that the game would feature no held items, abilities, EVs, breeding, general moveset variety, and a restricted pool of available Pokemon. With Pokemon numbers 152 to 807 being omitted, the original 150 being available in-game, Mew being a available exclusively with a $50 gimmick controller, and two new Mythical Pokemon, Meltan and Melmeltan, being available by connecting the game with Pokemon Go. Also, the Alolan variants of Kanto Pokemon can be traded for, though they cannot be freely caught in-game, because they had to give players at least two dark, ghost, and dragon Pokemon lines to choose from.
Furthermore, the game world is a very direct recreation of Kanto from the Gameboy titles, blocky tilesets and all, forgoing the innovations seen in Sun and Moon presumably because this was cheaper, faster, and has more nostalgic value. This also includes certain oddities such as how the player is locked out of Mt. Moon after reaching Cerulean City, the nonlinear order of gyms seen in the middle of the game (whose true order I can never remember), and a lack of islands placed between Cinnabar Island and Viridian City. Something I find especially upsetting as the developers explicitly wanted to include content between those two sections, but ran out of time, before eventually making the Sevii Islands in FireRed and LeafGreen.
It’s weird decisions like these that make this game feel as if it is blindly catering to nostalgia at points, adhering to the original indiscriminately, while still doing enough good, some things greatly even, to make it still feel like a worthwhile experience. Which actually makes me wish this game were a more ambitious and daring endeavour with more time, money, and manpower put into it, instead of being an experience that feels compromised in its attempts to ‘appeal to a more casual and younger audience’ which I personally do not agree with.
Even then, I highly doubt that adding more variety throughout the game, retaining mechanics that have existed for 15 years, or reimagining a landscape instead of directly recreating it in 3D would have diminished the sales of success this game could have. I mean, sure, modern children stereotypically play simple mobile games, but they also play competitive shooters wherein failure is common and open world sandbox games that arguably feature more complex mechanics than those seen in any Pokemon game.
In aiming to appeal to this audience, I feel that the game was simply limited in what it could do, where it could go, and what it could be. Still offering a quality adventure that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish, but littered with these bizarre omissions or questionable design decisions. On one hand, it is the most limited entry of this series in years, blocking off the player from progress for not meeting certain criteria, and offering a limited and bizarrely distributed collection of Pokemon that hides certain staples and favorites behind low encounter rates. On the other, it contains a plethora of innovations and manages to feel distinctly new in spite of how much it derives from Pokemon Yellow, and it is a game where the player character can ride on a giant Haunter— who is probably still my favorite Pokemon design-wise.
Stepping back to focus more on the presentation, it is very nice to see a mainline Pokemon game build for an HD system, but Let’s Go is about as flaccid of a leap as one could manage. With the game featuring a variety of bright and appealing colors, but settling for a basic yet sufficient presentation that does little to impress or satisfy, being little more than a fully 3D recreation of an 8-bit title with a static camera, static lighting, and what basically amounts to a tile based environment.
While the game is very colorful and bright, featuring appealing wandering or idling animations for each Pokemon, it boasts a very unambitious presentation that does not take full advantage of the Switch’s hardware, and justifies its shortcomings under the veil of authenticity and nostalgia. With the best example of this being the cries of most Pokemon, which still sound awful, even though now would have been an excellent opportunity to begin updating them. But Game Freak is a small developer, Pokemon is Pokemon, complacency is the best way to stave off disappointment, and those who are upset by these shortcomings are widely considered to be nitpickers who are unable to see the forest for the copy-pasted trees.
In playing through Let’s Go Eevee and devising the script for this review, I kept going back to the structure of a joke that I believe originated from the 60s sitcom Hee Haw, but was imitated in more contemporary media like The Simpsons. A back and forward that involves a reversal of fortune, with each good thing being compounded by a bad thing, before leading to either a positive or negative outcome. Because for as many good and beneficial things are featured within Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee, there are about as many things that I found to be bad, detrimental, or just underwhelming.
This combination of circumstances ultimately leads me to feeling more than a little conflicted and mixed about Pokemon Let’s Go. As stated in the preamble, I went in with low expectations, with my original subheader of “Apokelypse Go: Hope, Dreams, and Justice are Lies we Tell Ourselves to Weather the Storm That is Existence” exemplifying that. Because of my low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by Let’s Go Eevee, but I can also see so much untapped potential is here that it almost seems intentional.
To summarize, Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee is good, not great, and after going through this series on a near annual basis, I really just want to play a Pokemon game that is not hued by disappointment or clear compromises and feels like a meaningful evolution or refinement that aims to appease a litany of criticisms. With Let’s Go being, what, the fifth game that sentiment applies to? It is a vicious cycle that I doubt will ever end in a beneficial manner, but as is with life itself, the best approach is to fixate on the good things, and ignore the negatives. Try it, and I’m sure you’ll end up much happier that way.