After about 20 years, Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow have been given new life on Nintendo Switch with Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Evee!, and it feels so good to be back.
Coming out for the Nintendo Switch on Friday, the two Pokémon: Let’s Go games take the original Pokémon games and update them for a modern console, not only giving them a vibrantly fresh coat of paint, but adding little story elements and tweaking some mechanics to make them a more enjoyable Pokémon experience.
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Evee! are everything that I wanted in the original Pokémon games. Except for the Poké Ball throwing mechanic.
Visuals go a long way
As a kid, I was obsessed with Pokémon. I collected the trading cards. I watched the anime. I wore a Pikachu T-shirt all the time in elementary school. I played the games.
The only problem with the first generation Pokémon games was that those little clusters of black and gray pixels on the screen of my Game Boy Pocket didn’t really look like the Pokémon I saw on TV and in my card collection. It was hard for me to look at that tiny screen and actually feel like I was embodying a Pokémon trainer.
Over the years, Pokémon games started looking better and better as Nintendo’s handheld systems improved with each iteration. I dipped my toes in a handful of Pokémon games, only really picking the series back up seriously with Pokémon X/Y and Pokémon Sun/Moon in the past few years. While I still liked the games at their core and appreciated their updated visuals, my heart longed for the original lineup of Pokémon that I grew up with.
I was jumping into the imagination of my 6-year-old self
Heading out of my house in Pallet Town in Pokémon: Let’s Go felt like I was rekindling an old fire inside me, and pressing on through the Kanto region with a friendly little Pikachu on my shoulder and a bag full of Pokéballs on my back felt like I was jumping into the imagination of my 6-year-old self.
Pokémon: Let’s Go looks really good with its 3D, animated Pokémon and bright colors. It adds a certain element of life that was missing with the original games, not just because people look human and Pokémon look like they’re supposed to, but because buildings are unique, different environments have different characteristics, and gyms actually reflect each gym leader’s specialty without going over the top like some recent Pokémon titles.
Seeing Brock, Misty, Professor Oak, and Jessie and James from Team Rocket is a delight, but even better is seeing all of the Pokémon I obsessed over when I was young out in the world of Kanto. A Pikachu on my shoulder, a giant Onix towering over me, a Psyduck waddling through a patch of grass. The world of Pokémon: Let’s Go feels alive.
Being able to see Pikachu (or Evee) emote, dressing the little Pokémon up, and being able to use them in unique ways also creates a sweet little bond, which is not something I expected form the game.
The visual upgrade is reason enough to jump back into this reimagining of the first generation, but developer Game Freak also made some tweaks to wild Pokémon encounters that not only streamlines some of the series’ most chore-like portions but makes them a bit more… believable.
Pokémon games have remained largely unchanged since Pokémon Red and Blue first came out for the Game Boy in the mid ’90s. In some ways that’s great because Game Freak pretty much nailed it. But some parts of Pokémon needed a little bit of a rework.
This streamlines the process of catching Pokémon
In Pokémon: Let’s Go, the approach to catching wild Pokémon is completely different than in every other game. First of all, wild Pokémon are actually visible in the world and you can try to avoid them or run into them, taking away the classic element of Pokémon where walking through tall grass, caves, or swimming in water could randomly trigger an encounter. Now it’s pretty easy to avoid running into any Pokémon at all if you’re not in the mood or don’t see anything worth catching.
It also just makes sense to have Pokémon be visible, because there’s no way a Pokémon trainer wouldn’t notice a giant Pokémon like a Kangaskhan or Onix right in front of them.
The second change to wild Pokémon encounters is that you no longer battle them (don’t worry, there are still battles with trainers and gym leaders). Instead, Pokémon: Let’s Go treats these moments like Pokémon Go does, tasking you with tossing a Poké Ball and using thing like your aim, berries, and different quality Poké Balls to determine whether you catch the Pokémon.
This streamlines the process of catching Pokémon that you actually want and cuts down on the fatigue some players may experience form being forced into battle after battle after battle. It’s just enough of a shake-up to make the game feel a little more fun.
When you catch a wild Pokémon, all of the Pokémon in your party gain experience, so you don’t need to worry about swapping out your lead Pokémon all the time to make sure all of them level up together. And if you want to switch any Pokémon out of your party, you can do that at any time instead of needing to run back to town to use a PC.
Battles and general progression feel the same, which is definitely for the better because messing with the formula too much would not be welcome to fans of the series.
The biggest problem with Pokémon: Let’s Go is the addition of motion controls, which are required when playing with the Nintendo Switch docked.
When docked, the games are playable with your choice of a single Joy Con or the Poké Ball Plus peripheral. While playing with a single Joy Con is fine, it can get a little tiring to just use one hand for every single thing you do in the game — I found myself switching between my left and right hands when playing for long periods of time.
Meanwhile, the Poké Ball Plus is even smaller so it causes discomfort quicker. It also only has two buttons, one of which is the joystick that you move with, and oftentimes I would try to click it in to choose an attack in battle and end up moving the stick accidentally choosing the wrong move. On top of that, the game requires the use of more than two buttons, so the third button (Y) seems to be triggered by shaking the device, which I could only get to work some of the time. The worst part about it is the noise it makes every time you switch Pokémon or catch a Pokémon, which I was unable to turn off despite scouring the menus.
I would really like to play the game docked
When playing with a single JoyCon or Poké Ball Plus, the game forces you to do a throwing motion to catch wild Pokémon. This isn’t bad when the Pokémon is standing still, but it becomes extremely difficult when more difficult Pokémon are moving back and forth across the screen.
I eventually got frustrated and have resigned to only playing the game in handheld mode, where you throw a Poké Ball by turn the screen and pressing the A button. I’m pretty used to playing Pokémon games with a handheld, so it wasn’t really a big disappointment, but I would really like to play the game docked with the option to not waste Poké Ball after Poké Ball by messing up the angles of my throws.
Despite the changes and the visual upgrades, Pokémon: Let’s Go feels like the Pokémon I fell in love with when I was young, except better. It’s prettier, it’s less monotonous, and it scratches that first generation itch I’ve been trying to get at for 20 years.
Just, please, take out the controller restrictions.
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