Where were you back in the late ‘90s? Were you, like many of us, still in school, eagerly watching the Pokémon anime every morning and waiting with bated breath for the video game to hit the shelves of non-Japanese gaming stores? Were you a little older, snarkily pretending to despise Pokémon while secretly saving up money to grab yourself a copy? Were you older still, studying at university and unashamedly devoting whole days to Pokémon and Pokémon alone?
Whatever your early-life experiences with Pokémon might be, unless you’re not a ‘90s kid you’ve probably got some very fond memories of the original Pokémon Red and Blue Game Boy games. Nintendo knows this: as a company, they’ve always been fond of trading on nostalgia, offering up remakes and nostalgic sequels of early Mario, Metroid and Zelda games with aplomb. The Pokémon series is no exception; remakes are available for several of the franchise’s mainline entries, including the original Red and Blue.
When Nintendo’s Switch hit the scene, a hybrid handheld and home console offering portability and a couch console experience seemed like the perfect place for a Pokémon RPG. We’ll be getting the next mainline entry in the franchise sometime in 2019 if reports are to be believed, but for now we have Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee!, nominal remakes of Red and Blue inspired by the mechanics and general aesthetic of Niantic’s runaway mobile success Pokémon Go. Will these games be enough to tide avid fans over until the next new adventure?
The first thing to say here is that if you’re looking for a fully-featured remake of Pokémon Red and Blue, you’re better off hunting down the Game Boy Advance’s Pokémon LeafGreen and FireRed. Since the Let’s Go titles are inspired by Pokémon Go (indeed, it’s possible to transfer critters between the two games), you’re getting the simplified, timing-based combat mechanics of that mobile game rather than the turn-based RPG battling of the main Pokémon series. Whether or not that’s a deal-breaker for you will likely determine your overall opinion of Pokémon: Let’s Go.
Narratively, these are pretty straightforward revisits of Pokémon Red and Blue, with a healthy dollop of sister title Pokémon Yellow thrown in for good measure. Players take control of a trainer whom they can name, battling through a series of trainers and gym leaders in order to become “the very best”. In keeping with series tradition, which of the two games you buy will determine which wild Pokémon are available for capture, but it will also decide which of the two titular adorable furry creatures will be your best buddy for the experience. We opted for Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! in defiance of Pikachu’s cultural dominance, but if you love the little yellow mouse (which we do, but not as much as Eevee) then feel free to opt for that one instead.
Those of you with memories of the original Pokémon titles will be surprised at just how much the experience seems to have been streamlined. Wild Pokémon are now visible on the overworld, so you can choose whether you want to battle or avoid them; trainers seem to be situated in a more strategic way to help you avoid combat entirely if you wish; the battle system itself is massively simplified (although trainer battles still kill the old way, allowing you to choose moves that counteract your opponent’s type). The whole experience is rendered in breathtakingly beautiful 3D, with a remastered soundtrack to match; if you do have nostalgia for Pokémon, you’re going to be consistently bowled over by this game’s adherence to its source material. Pokémon: Let’s Go pulls off the rare feat of looking like you originally imagined the 8-bit Game Boy titles to look in your childish imagination.
For the uninitiated, Pokémon: Let’s Go probably won’t serve as a particularly successful introduction to the franchise thanks to its watered-down combat mechanics (if you haven’t played Pokémon Go, battles simply involve flicking one of the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers to throw your ball at a circle that appears over the wild Pokémon) and de-emphasised difficulty. If you want a solid, fully-fledged Pokémon RPG, you’re better off opting for Pokémon Sun and Moon or their sequels, all available on Nintendo 3DS. Let’s Go is aiming solely for the nostalgia crowd, with its references to anime villains Jesse and James, its strict refusal to include any creatures beyond Generation I (no Dhelmise, really?) and its bare-bones narrative. That’s a point in its favour as well as a drawback, though; there are many (us included) who believe Pokémon has lost its way as its complexity and emphasis on narrative has increased, so Pokémon: Let’s Go represents a promising step back into simplicity. Don’t expect a stressful or challenging experience, but do come with your rose-tinted glasses fully ready.