Pokémon: Let’s Go!, the franchise’s first role-playing games for Nintendo Switch, look familiar. Based on Pokémon Yellow, the games will return players to the Kanto region and include Pokémon partners that refuse to stay inside their Poké Balls. The more noteworthy inspiration behind Pokémon: Let’s Go! is the free-to-play mobile game Pokémon Go, which millions of casual and hardcore fans have invested in over the past two years.
It’s a smart move for The Pokémon Company to capitalize on the mobile game’s popularity by bringing it to console. With a stated purpose of attracting the younger Pokémon Go base over to a more core Pokémon experience, The Pokémon Company may have to make a concerted effort to convince parents that they should spend buy both a new console and game, so that their kids can play a glossier version of the thing they’re already obsessed with for free.
But Pokémon: Let’s Go! director and longtime franchise staffer Junichi Masuda told Polygon he’s not too concerned about converting the Pokémon Go-exclusive fanbase over to Nintendo Switch.
“I think one thing that’s going to make [Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee!] appealing to the Pokémon Go audience is that you have the intuitive swiping mechanic,” Masuda said, referring to the games’ method of wild Pokémon capture that’s borrowed straight from Pokémon Go. “With the Switch version, you can throw the [Joy-Con] remote to make you feel like you’re throwing the Poké Ball.”
So it’s big-screen Pokémon Go, at least when it comes to battling. There are a few other differentiating factors; Masuda pointed out Let’s Go!’s unique addition of cooperative play, which will allow families to play together. Otherwise, there are key parts of Pokémon Go missing that may be more of a turn-off than a selling point.
One of the distinct features of Pokémon Go is that it makes players actually want to — need to — leave their homes. Yes, other Pokémon games have generally been portable, and so is the Switch; but Pokémon Go doesn’t work if you don’t walk around. There’s an exercise component that’s both fitting and attractive in a way that the console role-playing games can’t match.
On a more granular level, there’s also an impetus for not just moving around, but traveling — there are regional exclusives that can only be found and captured in different parts of the world. Perhaps that’s not the biggest selling factor for cash-strapped young’ns reliant on their parents’ checkbooks, but it’s still one of those goals that feels bigger than the “collect all 151” focus of Pokémon: Let’s Go!.
But these may be overinflated in terms of importance. Consider how Nintendo 3DS sales boomed following the release of Pokémon Go. And the reaction to Pokémon: Let’s Go! thus far has been largely good from fans: The trailer has amassed millions of views and positive ratings thus far, and Pokémon: Let’s Go! seems to offer an experience basic enough to be inviting to newcomers.
After the Japanese press conference where The Pokémon Company revealed the Let’s Go! Switch games, Masuda expanded upon the young newcomer angle in a deep-dive Q&A.
“Maybe [younger players] don’t have their own smartphone — they can play with their parents or older sibling, but they’re not able to play on their own. So perhaps players who are playing Pokémon GO can catch Pokémon and send them over to Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! The kids can then raise those Pokémon on their own and get a variety of Pokémon that way.”
With direct connections to Pokémon Go, Let’s Go! seems almost like a companion piece for the mobile game or vice versa.
“Obviously connecting with Pokémon Go, we’re still encouraging people to go out and play and catch Pokémon, and encouraging them to bring those Pokémon back,” said Masuda. “They really reinforce each other.”
There’s obviously no obligation for Pokémon Go players to dive into the Nintendo Switch games when they launch Nov. 16. But after taking a step back, it makes sense why they’d want to.