Pokémon Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee! full review

As Nintendo works through bringing just about every major franchise it has to the Nintendo Switch, the latest in line is Pokémon. Rein in your expectations a little though: this isn’t the next full mainline RPG (hope for that in 2019 or beyond). Instead Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! are Pokémon Go-inspired entry points to the series.

Both of the Let’s Go games launched on the Switch on 16 November. Which version you buy will mostly affect which of the two Pokémon hangs out with your character through the game, though in Pokémon tradition they each also have slightly different Pokémon available to catch throughout.

You can buy the games now, so if you’re in the UK check it out on Amazon, Game, or the Nintendo store, while in the US you probably want Amazon, Best Buy, or GameStop. Keep an eye on our regularly updated guide to the best Switch deals for the latest on potential discounts and savings on either the console or games.

There’s also the Poké Ball Plus to consider. This £49.99/$49.99 accessory is essentially a mini, simplified Joy-Con which you can use to play the entirety of the Let’s Go games. If that’s not enough to catch your attention, you also get the legendary Pokémon Mew for use in-game, and you can use it to play Pokémon Go with your smartphone too.

The Let’s Go games are simplified, streamlined remakes of the original Pokémon Red and Blue games, though actually it'd be more accurate to call them remakes of Pokémon Yellow, the later release that took inspiration from the cartoon series and had a Pikachu follow you around on-screen at all times.

Nintendo has gone a few steps further this time. Now only do the two versions’ title characters, Pikachu or Eevee, sit on your head or in your backpack as you traverse the game world, but your relationship with them is baked into the fabric of the game. You can customise their fur-style, dress them up in various outfits (and dress yourself to match!), and even play with them, giving your Poke-friend a tummy rub to cheer them up.

It's almost despicably cute at times, but in a way that's impossible to resist. For example, a well-loved Pokémon might occasionally resist status effects in battle. Just try to read the message that your Eevee has cured its own poison "so that you wouldn't worry" without audibly squeeing. I dare you.

That's not Eevee-exclusive either. The new games allow you to have a second Pokémon of your choice follow you around too, so you have two creatures in tow - clearly the result of major technological advancements at Nintendo HQ. You can't give them special outfits or play with them, but there are still the same in-game benefits to forming a strong bond, a sign that these latest games are keen to emphasise the softer side of the franchise.

It goes a lot further than novelty hats for your Pikachu too, as the whole game has de-emphasised battling in a surprisingly major way. For one, random Pokémon encounters are gone for good, with wild creatures appearing on the overworld for you to encounter or avoid as you wish.

Even when you do choose to interact, this triggers a Pokémon Go-style catching mini-game, with the traditional turn-based battles reserved for encounters with other trainers. And even those are less important than they used to be. Other trainers have been changed to be easier to avoid, with routes through most areas - even Gyms - designed to make the majority of fights optional, and the experience point rewards from fights generally a bit less than what you'll get just from catching Pokémon.

The catching mechanic is lifted almost untouched from mobile juggernaut Pokémon Go, though this time motion controls come into play. You flick a single Joy-Con - or the Poké Ball Plus - through the air to throw an in-game Poké Ball at your target. And that’s about it.

The motion controls are mostly intuitive, taking into account the direction and power of your throw, but occasionally I ran into problems trying to catch quicker critters, with my attempts to throw the ball to one side or the other getting lost in translation. It's better in handheld mode, where you simply move the whole console (or an analogue stick) to aim before pressing a button to throw, but the dogged insistence on motion controls while the Switch is in TV mode feels frustrating at times - and is downright rubbish for accessibility.

Beyond just flicking balls there’s the familiar shrinking ring from Pokémon Go to help you time your throws for bonuses, along with a selection of berries you can use to make the critters easier to catch, and that game's system of trading excess Pokémon for candies also returns. Still, much of the combat and strategy that used to be required to build up your collection is now gone, and while the move away from random encounters is undeniably for the best, the removal of capture battles is more of a double-edged sword.

To be clear, combat isn’t gone from the game entirely, and fights against other trainers have been lifted fairly directly from the original GameBoy classics. So have plenty of other things, from the familiar pixelated UI right down to the original sprites, and the world map and storyline also remain essentially unchanged (including Pokémon Yellow flourishes like appearances from Team Rocket's Jessie and James) - all nostalgic nods that hint at the game's intended demographic.

It's not all retro though, and in battles and the overworld the Pokémon themselves are now lovingly rendered in 3D. Attack animations have had a corresponding overhaul, with Pikachu’s Thunder Shock sparking an animated bolt of lightning across the screen, though some moves have had a bit less work put in:  Scratch just sees your Pokémon shift forward an inch before three lines appear across its opponent’s face.

That graphical overhaul extends to the whole game world, but with similar limitations. Playing handheld the world looks lush - and is an immediate step up from the recent 3DS titles - but up on a big TV the textures look flat and the character models rather plain. The art direction is also a touch unimaginative - in Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey Nintendo showed what it was capable of, both technically and creatively, and Let's Go feels unambitious by comparison.

Verdict

Fans have waited years for a fully-fledged Pokémon experience on a home console, but to some extent Let’s Go, Eevee! and Let’s Go, Pikachu! aren't really for them.

These nostalgia-laced remakes are aimed somewhere between new fans drawn in by Pokémon Go and ‘90s kids who grew with Red and Blue, but have strayed since, and Nintendo presumably hopes to tempt people into a wave of new Switch purchases off the back of it.

Pokémon veterans will find a slighter, shallower experience than they're used to, and for them Let's Go will mostly be a curio and a tease of the franchise's future. But for the rest of us this is a friendly way to return to Kanto, stripping away the layers of fuss and features that have calcified over years of sequels to get back to the core of the Pokémon experience: exploring, battling, and catching 'em all.