Pokemon fans are getting close and closer to a real RPG hitting a genuine Nintendo console. A completely new Pokemon experience is apparently coming in 2019, but the release of Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee later this month are the first Pokemon titles on the Switch console. That’s huge news for fans of everything Pikachu, who were certainly excited about the games in Boston on Saturday.
Nintendo is hosting events across the country with mobile Let’s Go trucks, offering demos of both Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee ahead of their official Nov. 16 release. For Pokemon Go players, those events serve as a chance to play a demo of the two titles before they launch.
For everyone else, well, there’s a chance to get a picture with a small but excitable person in a Pikachu costume.
The easiest way to describe the Let’s Go games at first blush is that they take the three styles of Pokemon games Nintendo has released recently and smushed them into one title. Walking around and battling trainers follows the traditional Pokemon RPG model. You have a limited number of attacks and moves for each Pokemon, and walking by trainers triggers those battles. Unlike the RPG, though, your encounters with wild Pokemon aren’t a mystery, because you can see them roaming around the map and running into them to triggers an encounter.
You can even see “big” Pokemon easily — they have little lines emanating from them. But once you start your encounter with a creature, the game is like Pokemon Go, because you can use berries to catch the Pokemon and throw balls with your controller’s motion controls. The game uses the same ring system as the Pokemon Go mobile game, with Nice, Great and Excellent throws giving bonuses and a better chance at actually catching the Pokemon. The ring also has a green, yellow or red ring, so you know how difficult it will be to capture the Pokemon.
You can run away from encounters just like in the classic RPG, but one interesting quirk is that when you catch a Pokemon or defeat a trainer, all of your Pokemon seem to gain experience points. That’s very much like how you would level up your pocket monsters in Pokemon Quest, the arcade-style game Nintendo released for free on the Switch earlier in the year. That was very much a freemium game, with timer countdowns for completing certain tasks like cooking meals, but at least one part of that game’s mechanics seems to have made its way to Let’s Go titles.
Bonding with your Pikachu and Eevee were shown off in the demo as well. You can feed your Pikachu berries and pet it to gain its affection. None of the full game’s trading options with your Pokemon Go profile were available in the demo, though Nintendo has revealed generally how that will work and the benefits of it with its Meltan videos.
The biggest benefit of the demo was a chance to see how the Poké Ball Plus, the special controller you can buy to catch Pokemon and play the game, works. The Poké Ball Plus is essentially one half of a Switch controller made into a round ball. There’s a wrist strap and a ring that goes around a finger so you don’t fling it at your television, a la your Nintendo Wii remotes. The front circle of the Poké Ball is your A button and also serves as your joystick. The A button on the top red part of the ball is your B button, and that’s about all you need. The motion controls work fine, but I didn’t get a real feel for the mechanics of it all in the limited demo. It feels solid, though, and certainly is a fun wrinkle to the Pokemon-catching experience once you get it all down.
For a lot of people, how well the game interacts with Pokemon Go and a game they’ve played for two-plus years will be a big factor in how much they enjoy the Let’s Go games. But what Nintendo is doing with them in the first place seems to be working, and it will be interesting to see how this version of a trainer’s journey through Kanto is viewed by gamers.