PAX Aus Hands On: Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee
Note: While our hands-on impressions don’t have them, some might consider the trailers included in this story to have spoilers.
Anyone who follows me knows I’m vehemently opposed to Pokémon Let’s Go, so to save you a rant about how the core of the game doesn’t appeal to me at all I’ll focus on a few things I was unsure about going into the demo that were cleared up for me afterwards. The demo available at Nintendo’s PAX Booth gave us a time limit to do whatever we wanted in a never-before-seen location – Viridian Forest. That was a joke, please delete that half-written angry comment.
The first thing I was wondering about was whether the Pokéball Plus controller you can buy for the game is any good. I actually quite liked it! It looks tiny, but it feels just the right size in your hand. It performs all the critical functions the game requires but there are a few functions in menus that you seem to need the Y button on the JoyCon for. Where it really shines is when you’re capturing Pokémon. Pokémon appear walking around the overworld now, and bumping into one triggers a Pokémon GO-like capture sequence. Instead of battling wild Pokémon you skip straight to the capturing, and boost your chances of a capture by having accurate aim and timing. The motion controls work well enough but it seemed impossible to fail to hit a Pokémon with your thrown ball unless you’re trying to – you can’t perform trick throws like in GO, so it’s just a matter of gesturing in the right direction. I had to really try to miss, like throwing my Pokéball to the far left or almost pegging it at the screen to make my throw hard enough to go over the wild Pokémon.
When you’ve hit a Pokémon with a Pokéball it will struggle to get out just like in the regular games. You can actually feel it wobbling around through the HD Rumble of the controller and when the ball lights up to indicate whether a Pokémon is struggling or has been caught, the controller will light up in the same way. Apparently, when you successfully capture a Pokémon it plays its original cry from the Gameboy Pokémon games through the controller’s HD Rumble, but the show floor was too noisy for me to hear it when I played. It was fun trying this controller out and it will definitely be the way to play Let’s Go you don’t mind paying extra for it.
One of the other concerns I had was how experience would be handled to level up your Pokémon given that wild Pokémon battles are gone and it’s a bit up in the air at the moment whether you can re-battle other trainers. It turns out the experience system is heavily geared towards catching Pokémon. By pulling off a regular throw, capturing a Pokémon earned about the same experience as beating a Trainer’s Pokémon (sometimes a bit less). By pulling off an expert throw, however, a capture gave about four times the amount of experience as defeating one Pokémon from an opposing trainer. So rather than grinding battles, you’ll be grinding captures, it’s debatable which is preferable.
This also addressed my concerns about the difficulty – after capturing two Pokémon I was already three levels higher than anything within Viridian Forest and so no further battles were a challenge. It didn’t help that my Eevee had a new strong Fire-type move that no Bug Catcher could oppose (although I suspect you won’t get this move as early in the real game). The levels and parties of the Trainers in the demo were all comparable to those in Viridian Forest from Yellow version, so assuming the rest of the game is the same then I don’t expect it to pose many challenges.
The thing that did definitely impress me about Let’s Go was its presentation. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t great to have Pokémon following you again after the feature went missing after the fourth generation of games. It makes you build a more personal connection with your Pokémon, especially now that they have adorable animations when you interact with them. The partner Pikachu and Eevee get special treatment in that you can check in with them while you play to special animations and pet them with the gyro controls of your JoyCon or Pokéball. It’s pretty cool seeing Viridian Forest brought to life with vibrant 3D graphics, however, the ancient grid-based level design definitely shows its age. This is exacerbated by the fact you have Pokémon roaming the overworld now; everything feels really cramped. And like I said before, the Pokéball Plus controller had some cool features that will definitely enhance the experience.
The demo of Let’s Go honestly hasn’t done anything to convince me that my grievances are unfounded. The charming aesthetics aren’t enough to make up for the absent features and Pokémon from past games and the motion-controlled capture system feels like the kind of thing that will get old really quickly.
Surrounded by what was undoubtedly one of the coolest looking booths on the show floor, multiple demo pods for Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee awaited a line of fans that wrapped around the Nintendo booth. After the demo randomly selected the Eevee version for my session, I was set up with the Pokeball Plus controller in hand and was set loose in the Viridian Forest.
My first takeaway was the Pokeball controller itself – it’s tiny! With that said, it sits nicely in the hand with the analogue stick on top doubling as the A button, and a B button sitting flush on top of the ball. Everything can be controlled with these two buttons, the stick and the throwing motion. The other thing you notice immediately is that the game is extremely pretty. The art style is admittedly simple, but the colours and lighting really made the forest and its inhabitants pop.
There was no shortage of small Pokemon wandering through the tall grass. Running into one brings up the Pokemon Go-style catching minigame – simply press a button when you’re ready and line up your throw. The Nintendo rep indicated she believed it was possible to do a curve throw but I didn’t seem to be able to pull it off in my limited time with the game. One small change from Pokemon Go is that the capture circle continues to shrink after the ball has been thrown rather than locking in place, which will take some adjusting to for long time Go players.
Scattered amongst the trees were multiple trainers itching for a battle. My Eevee and his robust set of exclusive moves made quick work of any competition, but Pikachu and all the Kanto starters were in my team for back up. In terms of the battle system, it’s hard to talk about Let’s Go without discussing what isn’t here. As has been well documented, this is a simplified Pokemon game with a lot of the more technical mechanics such as Abilities removed.
From everything we’ve seen, you won’t encounter much of a challenge in this game. Even in this small demo, having a versatile team early on combined with the ability to avoid wild encounters all together means that you won’t be nervously counting your steps out of the forest trying to avoid poison claiming one of your last Pokemon’s life.
The extent to which this bothers you will vary greatly from person to person. Those wanting a core traditional Pokemon experience will obviously need to wait until next year. But for a lazy afternoon on the couch in a familiar setting looking prettier than it ever has, there should be plenty here for many Pokemon fans to enjoy.
Although extremely limited in scope, the Pokémon Let’s Go demo at PAX did confirm one thing: Let’s Go is the best-looking Pokémon game I’ve seen. Filled with lush colours and environments, and beautifully rendered Pokémon character models, Let’s Go is gorgeous. The battle animations are great, adding to the strong visual presentation on display.
However, I was deeply disappointed by the catching mechanic, which does not bode well for a game so heavily geared towards capturing the Pocket Monsters. To take a step back, I will preface this by considering the Poké Ball controller may not have been properly calibrated between play sessions – if that is indeed a thing that needs doing. My actions in producing a throwing motion with Poké Ball in hand did not feel satisfyingly replicated in-game. I was underthrowing and overthrowing the target until one of the Nintendo staffers cheerily suggested I try more of an underhand flicking motion. It worked, with perfect timing notifications racking up in the following Pokémon encounters, but it didn’t feel good, it felt like I was limply twitching my wrist at the target. Instead of feeling like Ash Ketchum turning his cap backwards and unwinding an almighty throw at the powerless Pokémon, I felt like a lame wannabe gangster holding his gun sideways in some embarrassingly misguided attempt at bravado to compensate for a complete lack of any remotely helpful skills. On the flipside, the Poké Ball Plus feels pretty good as a controller. Moving around in-game and navigating menus feels intuitive, albeit a little weird during the period of adjusting from a conventional controller to the ball.
Mentioning the experience gained by both catching and battling Pokémon, Josh has already covered the essentials. In contrast to his thoughts, I think the abundance of experience gained through every action is an intelligent move from Game Freak in ushering in an era of Pokémon Go players. Understandably, this will be rather obtuse for experienced players seeking more challenge from their Pokémon journey, but easing in new players will arguably lead to a larger base of players leading into the bigger Pokémon RPG game next year and beyond.
Pokémon Let’s Go will become an online meme sensation on release, mark my words. Following on from the importance of Pokémon size in Pokémon Go to statistics and whatnot, Let’s Go continues the trend in a bold, visual way. Several Pokémon encounters were greeted by the vibrant, large text of “It’s huge!”, which took every fibre of my being to not burst out laughing inappropriately in the very family-friendly Pokémon Centre and Poké Mart setting Nintendo had set up. Additionally, small Pokémon were introduced with the equally unintentionally hilarious “It’s tiny!”. Needless to say, I can’t wait to see what Twitter does to innuendo-fy this very sweet and innocent game.
I enjoy the exploration and collecting aspects of the Pokémon series above all else, so the PAX demo of Let’s Go felt a tepid experience. Stuck in the confines of Viridian Forest and catching the same Pokémon repeatedly wasn’t an enticing experience, but I understand it was more to show off the core mechanics and the feeling of throwing balls at a TV screen. I’m mainly excited about the two-player cooperative action, which was absent from the demo, so I’m still harbouring hope for its release in a couple of weeks’ time.