Pokémon: Let’s Go! was never going to be one of the more challenging role-playing games in the franchise — that’s been clear from the get-go. The Nintendo Switch game is geared toward newcomers to the franchise, ones who may have inherited an interest in Pokémon from their nostalgic parents or siblings, or people who are only familiar with Pokémon Go.
It wasn’t apparent just how simplified Let’s Go! feels compared to a traditional Pokémon adventure, like its inspiration, Pokémon Yellow, until I played it at a recent preview event. Thanks to a number of conveniences both new and borrowed from previous games, the big-screen Pokémon RPG is more accommodating than most of its predecessors. You can swap Pokémon to and from your Pokémon box without heading to a Pokémon Center; you can rename them from the party menu whenever you want. There’s also so-called “super trainers” scattered across the region who offer additional, extra-hard battles if you need an experience boost.
The newest and perhaps most impactful of those features is cooperative play, an option that lets a second trainer drop into a game at will. Considering this person essentially functions as a support character, it should be understood that co-op will alleviate some of the difficulty. But when I tried out both catching a Pokémon and fighting a trainer with a Pokémon Company rep, I found that Let’s Go!’s difficulty dropped way, way down.
Two players working together in one game doesn’t cause anything to scale, meaning that all those single battles still only consist of one enemy trainer. Maybe my partner Pokémon, Pikachu (they made me play the Pikachu edition), couldn’t hold its own against an opponent Geodude. But when I had another person play with me and borrow one of the other Pokémon in my party, we tag-teamed it in way fewer turns. More is more, in this case.
But it’s just how much more co-op adds that may not sit well for some. Two on one is inherently better than one on one; without any barriers, the game grants you instant access to double the power whenever you want. Not every part of Let’s Go! allows for co-op, but enough of it does that calling in someone is basically the equivalent to an easy mode.
“There’s no getting around it,” admitted Junichi Masuda, director of Pokémon: Let’s Go! and most other modern Pokémon RPGs, when we spoke to him after our demo. “It is going to be an easier experience if you are playing with another person cooperatively.”
Why does this have to be a bad thing? he argued. Just as Let’s Go! derives its wild battles from Pokémon Go as an appeal to a more unfamiliar fanbase, its cooperative mode is mostly designed for those players too.
“There are some difficult trainer battles in the game, so [kids] may have trouble in the game,” said Masuda. “So they wanna ask for help. There are a lot of benefits that [co-operative play adds] to the difficulty factor.
“We used support play to get around players encountering barriers.”
It’s important to remember that playing cooperatively, while fun and also a compelling crutch, is totally optional. It’s also absolutely worth trying out for things like catching wild Pokémon, an experience that is unique enough that you can’t compare the challenge to a traditional game. Having another Poké Ball at the ready when trying to capture a Pokémon won’t do much to mitigate how frustrating and anxiety-inducing it can be — in a fun way, mostly. Just like how Pokémon Go’s battles are more entertaining than they look, so too are Let’s Go!’s battles.
And like every other Pokémon RPG, expect difficulty to ramp up once you’ve proven that you’re a Pokémon Master worthy of the toughest challenges, said Masuda.
“A good portion of the more difficult stuff is in the post-game. There’s ways to strengthen your Pokémon, and the reason you wanna do that is, you take on these master trainers, these really powerful trainers that you encounter after the main story.”
Pokémon: Let’s Go! is out on Switch on Nov. 16.