A new twist on an old favorite.
The demo for Pokémon Let's Go! Pikachu plopped me right down in the middle of the classic Viridian Forest. Those familiar with the series will remember this zone as it's one of the first areas players encounter in the original Pokémon games. The familiar setting was perfect for showcasing what's new with this twist on the main series of games.
One thing I like about Pokémon Let's Go! Pikachu is that there are no more wild Pokémon battles. Players will now be able to see each Pokémon in the grass and can approach them if they want to capture them. I've never been a fan of wild battles in any game, and will often play Pokémon with stack of Repels which prevent wild encounters from happening for when I just want to move the main quest along. So this change is very welcome.
If you manage to bump into one of these Pokémon you then get the option to catch it similar to how it works in Pokémon Go. A large circle shrinks on screen and if you hit inside of it with a Poké Ball, while hitting the Pokémon, your odds of capturing the creature increase. Pokémon Go Berries can be used too. Like in the mobile game, these Pokémon can jump around and attack. Once caught your entire party gains some experience, so the RPG elements from the more traditional Pokémon games are mixed in. Throwing a Poké Ball is done with motion controls but I'm not sure if it's possible to execute Curve Ball throws like in Pokémon Go. I was able to throw way to the side, but I missed.
I'm not sure how I feel about the new, clearly dumbed down, capture mechanics. On the one hand I think it's neat that you can just cut the time out of catching trash Pokémon like Pidgey and Caterpie by having this interactive experience. On the other hand it would probably be fun to weaken more desirable Pokémon and then follow up with this more interactive catching mechanic. A shame we can't have a middle ground, but this method will clearly make the game more inviting to those who have only been exposed to the franchise through Pokémon Go.
Battling NPC trainers works as you would expect. You can walk up to them and initiate a battle. Doing so gives the player the option to pick from four attacks or the ability to swap Pokémon from your active party of six. The only downside to this is that your lead Pokémon will always be Pikachu or Eeevee depending on the version you purchase. It's a shame since this could potentially hurt your overall strategy. I understand why these Pokémon need to stay in the party, but why force them to be the lead the entire time? Seems dumb to me.
The only other thing left to discuss is the Poké Ball Plus controller / accessory that I got to play the game with. The little ball was a cool thing to have while playing the game as it added to the immersion. There is a button on top of the ball and the stick can also be clicked in to be used as a button too. The rumble in the controller felt great and it's surprising how much some feedback can add to the sense of devastation coming from Pokémon attacks. Feeling Pikachu's thunderbolt slam my opponent really was a welcome surprise.
When catching a Pokémon the Poké Ball Plus also lights up too. The only downside to the Poké Ball Plus is the main button you need to press to get through menus or to interact with others is the button assigned to the stick click. I found this to be a bit troubling as I'd often accidentally move the tiny stick as I was pressing it causing myself to move the cursor to a different menu option. If I don't find myself adjusting to how to use this properly I could definitely see myself sticking to the Joy-Con controller to prevent frustration. Hopefully the final version of the device has this issue ironed out.
In the end Pokémon Let's Go! Pikachu is going to be a different game than the traditional series and that's OK. The main line of Pokémon games isn't perfect and I'm excited to see if this new series can do things to make Pokémon more enjoyable. The truth is I'll probably enjoy this game to a degree, but kind of want some sort of middle ground bridging this with the main series of Pokémon games. Regardless, Pokémon fans shouldn't write this off as a cheap game as it still has some of the core things that make a Pokémon title enjoyable. At the end of the day it appears to still be Pokémon, just with a new twist.