A fantastic modernization of an iconic region, yet still faithful where it counts.
The most important piece of knowledge I’ve ever learned came courtesy of my high school gym teacher: “Perception makes the world go round.” It doesn’t matter whether Pokémon Let’s Go is an improvement over its source material if that’s not the way you perceive it. If you were hoping for a completely faithful recreation with graphical improvements, or you were expecting an overhaul to the Pokémon formula in the region of Kanto you may come away disappointed. As someone who has consistently argued against messing with tradition, my perception is that Let’s Go is a wholly successful modernization of Pokémon Yellow meant to entertain both a new audience coming from the mobile space as well as the existing faithful.
For those who may be too young to remember, the creation of Pokémon Yellow was a reaction to the worldwide popularity of the Pokémon anime. Yellow was a means of providing fans with an updated version of Red and Blue that would include popular elements from the anime such as Pikachu and signature Team Rocket villains Jesse and James. It’s fitting that in 2018, Pokémon Yellow now gets a similar update to include that latest craze in the franchise, Pokémon Go.
Before I get into some elements of contention, the new look of Kanto is absolutely gorgeous. An argument could be made that the design is not that far removed from Sun and Moon on 3DS but Pokémon has never looked so sharp than on the Switch. Colors explode from the screen and watching a battle including moves with visual effects is a joyful experience. All of the iconic locations are wonderfully designed with many including a cinematic scene that provides further immersion and signifies a degree of importance to those unaware of the history.
My biggest fear going into Let’s Go was whether the underlying vital statistics of the Pokémon would see the same simplification implemented in Pokémon Go. Thankfully we ended up with a hybrid of the two. The simplified combat power ranking (CP) from the mobile game is implemented here, but it’s calculated from the same six core attributes. In past titles, those core attributes could only be increased by leveling up or by using relatively scarce items that offered a slight boost. Let’s Go offers a much more generous way of creating overpowered heavyweights. Pokémon caught in the wild can transferred to Professor Oak and the reward for doing so are different kinds of candy that will permanently boost stats when consumed.
That brings us to the single greatest change to the Pokémon franchise on a Nintendo console, the replacement of random battles with Go style Pokeball catching. When a Pokémon is encountered in the wild, instead of weakening it through battle, the experience is almost identical to the Pokeball-throwing mechanics made popular on mobile. The obvious reason for this change is to entice Pokémon Go players into purchasing a Switch, but even if that wasn’t the case the modern feel it brings is a welcome addition. Random battles have grown redundant, they would typically always end with either the Pokémon getting caught or defeated with a single hit.
In Yellow, by the midway point I was actively trying to avoid random battles altogether. They provided little to no experience points and I would always leave the task of filling my Pokédex for post-game. Not only is searching for random Pokémon a more enjoyable experience, it’s actually encouraged. The experience reward for catching Pokémon is higher than that of defeating regular trainers. Compound the candies that Professor Oak provides as you send back your excess and random encounters go from a chore in a Yellow to the preferred way to strengthen your team in Let’s Go.
It’s a very strange feeling singing the praises of a modernization of a classic game over its source material. I’m the guy who complained that Final Fantasy Origins went too far by showing the equipment strength values. Even an old guy like me who was the target age demographic when Pokémon made its debut can admit that Let’s Go does an exemplary job of implementing modern improvements while still maintaining its strong sense of nostalgia. Up until this point, Pokémon Yellow has perhaps been my favorite of the franchise, but now I’m not sure I’ll need to search my house for batteries anymore.