It’s not wrong to feel skeptical of Pokémon: Let’s Go. On the surface, the game is an upscaled version of Pokémon Go mashed up with the first-generation Pokémon games. The pitch is that this is Pokémon for budding Pokémon fans. So where does that leave us who play video games because of Pokémon, and have been doing so since the series launched more than 20 years ago?
After trying out Let’s Go, Pikachu! during E3 2018, I have good news: It’s as fun as any other mainline Pokémon game. In fact, it may even be more so — if you’re open to the fact that this beautiful, charming little game is about the journey, not the destination.
I spent my Let’s Go, Pikachu! demo walking through Viridian Forest, one of the most iconic areas in Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue. The differences from that game are immediately clear, however: A Pikachu clung to my trainer avatar’s shoulder as I traveled around. So did a Charmander, which I had released from my Poké Ball to accompany Pikachu and me. I even got to interact with Charmander, whom you can bend down to chat with at any point.
If there’s anything you need to know about me, it’s that I am in love with Charmander and everything Charmander-related. Needless to say, I nearly cried when my Charmander looked up at me and the game translated its cheers: It was happy to be walking with me.
This is the kind of sweet touch that’s hardly found in the Pokémon games, although it’s a hallmark of the anime that’s based on them. That players can build close relationships with their Pokémon — something we haven’t seen in this capacity since Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver — seems to be ripped straight from the anime. It’s absolutely wonderful, and makes the Pokémon world seem that much livelier.
The anime influence is major, both in the interactions with Pokémon as well as other humans. But equally influential is Pokémon Go, which the development team drew from for the wild Pokémon battles. That sounds like a turnoff, or at least it was for me. And it’s definitely not the most exciting thing to just swing a controller at the screen as a circle gets smaller, just as in Pokémon Go. But the battles at least look beautiful, and the game flashes the stats you need to know about each Pokémon at the start of them. That eliminates any need to repeatedly catch a Pokémon in the hopes that it’s the level you want it to be.
It’s hard to say quite how challenging Let’s Go! will become outside of this obviously simplified battle system, though. I assume it won’t rise to the same kind of complex, strategic difficulty level as the handheld games, as even trainer battles seem to focus more on presentation than skill. (It’s fun to see a trainer command their Pokémon on a very detailed battlefield.) That really seems besides the point, though, and considering that we’ve played a game set in this region before, it’s nice to look at it from a different angle.
It’s really, really, really nice. The whole thing is just ... pleasant. And sometimes, with Pokémon? That’s actually enough. I’m amped to just enjoy quality time with my buds on Nov. 16, when Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! launch.