Pikachu aside, the Poké Ball is the image we most associate with Pokémon. It’s surprising that the Pokémon Company took more than two decades to make a controller out of one, but here we are: The Poké Ball Plus peripheral will come out alongside the franchise’s first pair of Nintendo Switch games this November.
I got to play with the Poké Ball Plus twice in as many weeks, playing Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! with it as my controller. After both demos, I feel confident in concluding that the Ball is ... not as fun as I wanted it to be. The dream of having an actual Poké Ball in your hands, one that moves and shakes and reacts like a real one, has been realized, but only in part.
Maybe it’s an issue of having adult-sized hands, not little kid-sized ones. Let’s Go, Pikachu! and its partner, Let’s Go, Eevee!, are pitched as introductions to the series, after all. But I had no problem holding the device in my hand, which was bound to both a wrist strap and a separate finger strap to ensure I didn’t literally throw the Ball at the screen when trying to capture a Pokémon.
That’s a reasonable fear, because tossing the Poké Ball Plus at wild monsters during a battle sure does feel nice. You can curve it, throw it to one side, throw it to the other — this is a surprisingly intuitive device, translating the simple swiping mechanic of Pokémon Go into a piece of hardware.
What I couldn’t get into was using the Poké Ball outside of battles. The button in its center doubles as a very small joystick; it becomes the A button when clicked in. A button hidden on the top of the Ball serves as the B button. None of these inputs feel comfortable to use, especially that joystick; it’s an awkward way to move your character around, especially when you’re trying to press the A button immediately afterward. I accidentally selected menus I didn’t need to be in because I kept scrolling to them by mistake; I took efforts to position myself properly to talk to my little baby Charmander that was following me around. And that should be an effortless task, thanks.
With a limited selection of inputs, the Poké Ball Plus also seems like it could leave players unable to delve into all of the games’ features. I noticed that two separate menus offered additional moveset info and settings by pressing the Y button or + button — neither of which is included on the Poké Ball Plus. A Nintendo rep told me that the user interface in the build I played isn’t final, but I find it hard to believe that this Pokémon game will be so streamlined as to be completely playable with just a joystick, A button and B button.
I won’t pretend like carrying around a fancy Poké Ball isn’t a rad experience, though. You can transfer a Pokémon of choice over to it so that when you’re walking around, you’ll occasionally see the Ball light up or hear it cry at you. It’s a nice touch, albeit one that will probably get embarrassing to use in the office quickly. You can silence it, though, which is nice if you want to carry your Pokémon for experience-gaining purposes.
But this is a very, very pretty piece of hardware, and it’s something I like just looking at. That the very charming Let’s Go! even offers such a thing adds to the games’ sweetness, too. Playing Let’s Go! with the Poké Ball Plus when they’re both out Nov. 16, however? I think I’ll have to pass.