November 25, 2018

Is It Good? - Pokemon Let's Go

I have played every main series Pokemon game since the series' inception, along with a pretty significant chunk of the spin off games. I've also played a not insignificant amount of Pokemon Go for my sins, and have compared every single update to the "proper" games and how it brings it a little bit closer or pushes it a little bit further away from the ideal.

Pokemon Go is super casual. The catching mechanics are ideal for a mobile game, but they are distinctly not how Pokemon is "meant" to be played. You can imagine, with that mindset, I didn't go into Pokemon Let's Go with the highest of expectations, especially considering that Pokemon Yellow (the game Let's Go is based on) comes in at number two in terms of my favourite Pokemon games of all time.

I've now spent 45 hours in Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu, having hit a surprising roadblock on some of the so-called "Master Trainers", and I have to say it's... not bad.

The catching mechanic is a gimmick that I found got old pretty fast, but started to make more and more sense as I saw it as an important part of the game as an experience. Having an effective Exp Share active and impossible to turn off right from the start of the game is something that I should have seen coming-- the Exp Share as an item has been coming into the game earlier and earlier in recent generations of mainline games and basically banishes any semblance of difficulty soon afterwards. Part of the struggle to level a Magikarp until it evolves to Gyarados is having to bait and switch it out to gain a piddly amount of XP with each battle, and the EXP Share has always cheapened that somewhat. But in a game where you gain XP for each Pokemon you catch, and catch in the way that you do, how else could experience be given out except to the entire team at once? And make no mistake, captures are the main way in which you gain XP this time around; the trainer battles simply aren't enough to get by with, not least because eschewing the candies you get would significantly lower your Pokemon's stats (come to think of it, that might be a good way to raise the difficulty for those like myself who find the games a bit on the easy side, equivalent to a Nuzlocke challenge). In short, I would hate the idea of this in a main series game, but it suits this one perfectly.

The changes to catching mechanics and XP distribution also make changing your team around in the early to mid game much easier than in the normal series, allowing you to actually ensure that Pokemon you want are present on your team rather than just those that you find in the first few routes. Which is ANOTHER thing; one of the biggest changes to the game is in the distribution of Pokemon. I was genuinely surprised when I walked out onto Route 1 for the first time and encountered an Oddish where I was expecting only Pidgey and Rattata. The lack of a dedicated Safari Zone also means that the Pokemon you would expect to see there are instead dotted around the nearby routes. Not to mention that the usual starters, in addition to being available from the same people as in the original Yellow version, are available in the wild alongside Eevee and Pikachu, even in the versions that do not have them in the title. Of course, they're not able to be used in place of your starter, but they are in fact available to capture.

Battling legendaries in a more traditional manner is a good touch. It would have been a little disappointing to jump straight into the Pokemon Go style catching system for something as epic as Mewtwo (that said, it's simply strange to do the same thing with the trap Electrode in the Power Plant). Battling and THEN capturing is again a significant change where you would normally have to get the legendary down to low health and then catch them without allowing them to faint, but it suits the game just fine.

Importing Pokemon from Pokemon Go is a good touch, and very handy for filling up the Pokedex, something much harder to finish solo in the main games. It's also the single best way, despite all of the other changes, to encourage the casual Pokemon Go player to come over to Let's Go. Bring your favourites! Come have fun! And so on and so forth.

The removal of HMs in favour of "secret skills" is almost identical to the ride Pokemon concept from Sun and Moon, and is a good thing to keep pushing ahead with. It means that move slots aren't wasted on attacks that will never be used in battle (except for Surf, which is always a winner). Meanwhile the following Pokemon concept from Yellow and Crystal has been taken further and made far prettier. The impact on the game is tiny, and mechanically almost non existent, but it's a nice touch. There's no denying indeed, that the game is pretty.

In terms of changes I'm not a fan of, but do understand, we have three: EVs, Abilities, and held items. EVs (Effort Values) are a significant factor for the more series Pokemon game player. Each Pokemon you defeat with yours raises your stats by a very small amount, and around 500 battles later you have a 'Mon that's nothing like anybody else's. While IVs (Individual Values) remain, EVs are replaced by AVs (Awakened Values) which improve based on the amount of candies that you feed your Pokemon. Candies in turn are gained by throwing Pokemon into the blender and-- sorry, I mean "given to the Professor" like in Pokemon Go. This encourages a kind of over-catching that's not seen outside of shiny hunting in the main games, which Pokemon Go players will recognise, but I still find completely alien. Abilities are something that I keep expecting to be patched in to Pokemon Go. Each Pokemon has an ability taken from a pool of between one and three for that species which adds a lot of strategy to the game (Koffing or Magnemite are generally immune to Ground moves because they float off the ground, Pikachu has a chance of paralysing opponents that make physical contact, etc), and Pokemon like the recently introduced Shedinja absolutely rely on them to not be completely useless. Let's Go does not have Abilities, which while remaining true to the generation 1 versions of the games, is not a fair representation of what gamers have come to expect from their Pokemon games today. The removal of held items does a similar thing, removing a layer of strategy, but its impact is less significant since during the story the most important held items these days are Mega Stones; and these are constantly "held" after their introduction in Let's Go. I can live with this, and almost hope that it carries over into the main series going forward.

The story is almost the same as in Yellow, with the addition of a new rival and a slight retcon to have the change the events of Red/Blue/Green to have not included the Team Rocket plot, as the three characters have already completed their respective Pokemon journeys. Otherwise, it's back to the paint by numbers of eight gym badges, a villainous team, and the elite four to beat into submission over the course of around 20 hours. Yes it will take far less for veterans, and somewhat more for newbies, but there's no denying that it's a fun old time regardless of length. And if you're anything like me you'll find that the post game content will take you quite some time to complete (I'm not even slightly close to completion).

This is not a true Pokemon game, but it's a genuinely good imitation, and if it brings people over from the purely casual Pokemon Go in time for next year's "proper" game release, then it's done its job and tided my Pokemon addiction over for another year in the meantime.

Pokemon Let's Go, Pikachu! on Amazon
Pokemon Let's Go, Eevee! on Amazon

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