Game Freak's bold new take on what a Pokémon game can be is finally in our hands.
Announced a few weeks prior, Nintendo brought Pokémon: Let's Go! to E3 2018. This game takes liberal inspiration from 2016's mobile mega-hit Pokémon Go! while re-imagining the series' first "Third" game, Pokémon Special Pikachu Edition (Yellow). In these new versions, Pikachu has been joined by series-favorite Eevee as a featured starter. Like Yellow, your Pokémon friend follows behind you on your adventure.
The E3 demo lets you run around Kanto's Viridian Forest, capturing bug and flying type Pokémon and battling a few trainers. Unfortunately, Nintendo did not allow capturing video, but while the battles against trainers were largely the same as always, the battles against wild Pokémon consist of a version of Pokémon Go's Poké Ball-throwing mini-game. You can't "weaken" wild Pokémon by fighting them first, instead you use items to bait their attention, before tossing Poké Balls in sync with a visual indicator on screen. A throw that's off center, too hard, or too soft will miss the mark entirely, and even a properly thrown ball can be escaped.
This is where the Poké Ball Plus, Nintendo's odd Poké Ball-shaped accessory comes into play. The game is entirely playable with a Joy-Con, but we were able to try the demo with the Poké Ball Plus. Check out the video below to see how it looks.
Basically, the Poké Ball Plus has two buttons and a motion sensor. On the front of the Poké Ball is a short analog stick that can be clicked, and the entire backside of the Poké Ball acts as the second button. The stick is used to move the character around the world and to navigate menus, while clicking the stick is the primary interaction. For the purposes of our demo, this was the only button we used. Nintendo cautioned we not press the back button, noting that it only launched some menus that were not currently part of the demo. The motion sensor in the Joy-Con or the Poké Ball Plus are used to detect the throw of a Poké Ball in the capturing mini-game.
While both the Joy-Con and Poké Ball Plus vibrate during a capture attempt, the thing that differentiates the experience is how the Poké Ball Plus flashes and emits the captured Pokémon's Game Boy-era cry when caught. It adds a nostalgic flavor to what is already a very nostalgia-heavy game. While it doesn't impact the gameplay, "throwing" a flashing, growling, vibrating PokéBall greatly increases the drama of waiting to see if the capture was successful. It's an expensive accessory, priced at $50 US, but it was clearly the star of the demo. It also allows taking a Pokémon "with you" by transferring it to the Poké Ball, where it acts as a pedometer, awarding the Pokémon experience with each step.
Trainer battles largely work as they always have in the Pokémon games: turn-based affairs where you pick the skill of your Pokémon, use an item, or swap them out. The fights strongly resemble the old Pokémon Colosseum games. There's a large increase in the quality and cinematic animation of how a trainer battle looks, but attacks continue to use symbols (like the outline of a foot for a Double Kick) rather than showing one Pokémon directly attacking the other. Models of the Pokémon look quite good, but the trainers seem a little flat - although admittedly much better than any previous iteration.
Given the limited scope of the demo, it's hard to draw too many conclusions, but Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon Let's Go, Eevee! seem like a very nostalgia-fueled take on the Pokémon franchise. If Pokémon Go! felt a little too thin, this game transplants much of its gameplay mechanics out of an AR game and into the more normal Pokémon template. Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let's Go, Eevee! release November 16.