It’s the end of our Pokémon Hype Week, with what I hope was a variety of different perspectives on what makes this franchise special for different people. It’s safe to say the majority of Pokémon fans were drawn in during the Kanto generation, but it’s easy to forget how far the franchise has evolved itself over each release.
And while this is not the first time we’ve been to Kanto – in fact, by my count, it’s the 5th in the core series – this is the first time the region has brought with it relatively pure reimagining of the nostalgia packed region. Even the first remakes of Red and Blue/Green, LeafGreen and FireRed, had plenty of non-Kanto Pokémon and mechanics that were added on top of the original experience.
So Let’s Go stripped a lot of that away, while taking some parts out and replacing them to create a new jumping in point for new fans- whether they’re kids who jumped in in more recent generations, or people who were drawn in via the Pokémon Go craze. That said, if you’re a hardcore fan, the Pokémon maniac that has played every core game and can name every Pokémon, this game won’t have much to offer beyond nostalgia.
The root of the Pokémon series has always been some variation of collecting. For me, that meant trying to complete a Pokédex, but for others, it could mean a living Dex (where you keep one of each Pokémon in your storage), or just collecting your favourites. This returns, of course, but with the added twist of removing the battling part for most encounters, and replacing it with a Pokémon Go inspired catch screen.
The other interesting part of this is that the Pokémon actually show up in the world, instead of being blind random battles in previous games. In fact, you can use this to your advantage to catch a chain of the same Pokémon to increase your chances of encountering a shiny Pokémon.
This new catch method does work well, mostly, especially with the new Poké Ball Plus controller (which I will get into in another post!). But I found I liked the gyro aiming used in handheld mode, which felt much like aiming a bow in the more recent Legend of Zelda games. I am concerned that in a game that is meant to promote accessibility, there isn’t really a solid option to go without some variation of gyro controls though.
Even though battles aren’t a core part of the collection of Pokémon anymore, they still play a huge part of your Pokémon journey with trainer and gym battles returning. There isn’t a huge amount to talk about here, as the mechanics are much the same as they’ve always been – matching up type advantages, and working on your Pokémon stats to get the edge in battle.
Thankfully, the grind is reduced for getting the best out of your team, with candies being used to increase the stats of your Pokémon without having to rely on getting a good natured and high IV Pokémon to work with. And if those terms confused you, I can assure you they’ve always eluded me as well as I’ve always focused on collecting over battling because of how complicated these background stats have become.
Your partner Pokémon is also a beast, with incredible stats and a wide variety of moves and abilities that any other Pokémon of the same kind wouldn’t be able to achieve. My Eevee, which is normally a sub-par Pokémon in any other game, became my most used Pokémon in battle, getting out of so many pinches through brute force.
The closer I got to Eevee, which I named after my cat Dizzy, the more effective they became in battle. Dodging moves, landing more critical hits, and even boosting the stats of any other Pokémon I had in battle. It’s an incredible and weird feeling to form a bond with what is effectively a digital pet.
The story of Let’s Go is not too different from the original Yellow version, with the main difference being your character and rival are new characters. The original Red and Blue characters actually do show up, with Blue playing a bigger part of the story.
Starting in Pallet Town, you quickly encounter your partner Pokémon (Eevee for me), and get sent on your way. While working your way through the region, collecting badges from each gym leader in different towns, you’ll encounter Team Rocket a few times – including Jessie, James, and Meowth from the anime. It’s really hard to sum up the overall story of Kanto, with each little arc being based around the concept of science and genetics than a coherent story.
I actually never connected the dots until this playthrough – while most generations in Pokémon have some sort of motif, I always felt like Kanto was the outlier. But there’s little hints of science and the role it plays in society. Reviving fossils, Silph Co. creating the artificial Pokémon Porygon, and of course the clone of Mew, Mewtwo.
And then the story of Cubone and its mother Marowak in Lavender Town is fleshed out so much more, with your rival even adopting the Cubone and raising it after everything that happens. While the common thread tying most of this together is Team Rocket, with you eventually tracking down the leader Giovanni and driving him off, it’s never been some nefarious plan to thwart outside of greed and profit.
Hands down, Let’s Go is the prettiest instalment in the series thus far. It’s not just the over-world that looks fantastic, it’s the approach to minor cutscenes, the environments being consistent during battles, and each Pokémon having so much personality in their animations in and out of battle.
Yup, out of battle, you can pick a Pokémon on top of your partner Pokémon to walk alongside you, or even ride it around. You can fly and surf with certain Pokémon too, with a lifelong dream of flying on the back of Dragonite finally being realised for me.
The original instalments of Pokémon have some of the most memorable and revisited music in the series, and hearing a lot of it redone in what appears to be actual recorded music, is just amazing. Lavender Town is as creepy as ever, and another standout being Silph Co. while raided by Team Rocket.
After you collect all the badges, and beat the elite four, you’re treated with… a fairly shallow end game. It feels odd to complain about something like this in a game that’s not really meant to appeal to Pokémon fans such as myself, but it was still surprising to have very little to come back to.
Catching Mewtwo is probably the most exciting part of the end game, with a bit of a grind required if you’re not used to battling as it’s a pretty tough battle. You may also have missed the three legendary birds on your first playthrough, in various locations around Kanto. But once these are done, there’s no real white whale to chase after beyond any personal favourites you may have.
While completing the Pokédex is usually a mammoth task in any other generation, the heavily toted connectivity with Pokémon Go means you may already have all the Pokémon you need to fill your dex – including the different Alolan forms. You can challenge the gym leaders once a day, but this also feels like a static task that serves more as a mechanic to help grind than to extend enjoyment out of the game.
Shiny hunting is also considerably easier, especially after obtaining the shiny charm and getting the hang of chaining Pokémon to increase your chances. But I feel like shinies were always meant to be a very special treat, rather than something to work towards. This is more my opinion, though, and I haven’t really wanted to go out of my way to go and hunt down any shinies – I actually found a shiny Rhyhorn without even trying.
But the biggest task you have to face in the end game, are master trainers. These are trainers that focus on just one Pokémon, and to challenge them, you need to battle them with the same Pokémon. They’re tough, and there’s one for every single Pokémon in the game, and it really does promote the idea of not just grinding but also the strategy involved in a mirror match. It’s a cool idea, but there is a lot of effort involved that it would take any non-hardcore player forever to beat every single one, if you wanted to.
Overall, I had a blast revisiting the genesis of the franchise in a new light, but this being a game that’s made more to bring in new players than catering to longtime fans, the end game was the brick wall I hit up against. While I finished the game in 26 hours, including a technically complete (no Melmetal yet) Pokédex, I’d expect the audience this is made for to get a much longer experience out of this.
This is probably the 6-7th time I’ve gone through Kanto, so there weren’t many surprises waiting for me. I knew where everything was, where every Pokémon could be found, how to solve all the puzzles. So this was really a trip down memory corridor, than anything else. I think there’s enough here for new visitors to Kanto to discover, though, and I’m excited to see a lot of these features roll over to the next instalment in 2019.