E3 2018: Hands-on with Pokemon Let’s Go
You know with my being the one at this year’s E3 that this would happen. A console Pokemon game that also connects to Pokemon Go? The possibility for a way to include trading in Niantic’s game in an indirect manner, a wider connection to the main series, its online storage system that helps give the games some semblance of persistence – altogether, it seemed for a moment as if Nintendo was indirectly building another pillar in its overall Pokemon world.
Sadly, from what everything we’ve learned, we’re no closer to a true (official) Pokemon MMO. However, my hands-on experience did hint at some really cool immersion for Go players who want to pick up Pokemon Let’s Go for a new mix of the core series’ gameplay.
Going to Let’s Go
While the big game media outlets have gotten some juicy information for ya’ll, part of that may be because the hands-on demo many of us have seen is an interesting kind of limited. The Pokemon Company was super strict with us. Even the Nintendo booth workers seemed in genuine awe of what they had. I don’t mean that in a PR sense but in a “we have a mystical item that’s super cool but maybe it’s something that could explode so we’re not messing around” kind of way. I’ve never seen that reaction from any rank of Nintendo employees before. The demo seemed potentially robust, but it was staff and company orders, not technical limitations, that prevented me from seeing a bigger picture.
As you probably have heard, the game can use a new controller, the Pokeball Plus. It has a small joystick/A button for the ball’s open button, and the B button is hidden in the red part of the top half of the ball. Like the other controllers, it has an internal battery that can be charged on the console, though it doesn’t slide in like the joycons.
It also acts as a Go+ for Pokemon Go trainers, but what’s interesting is that any Let’s Go Pokemon (limited to the original 151 and their Alolan forms) will fit in the ball and the device will still work as a Go+. The pokemon inside, much as in the Pokemon-themed pedometers in past iterations, allows the pokemon you’re walking from Let’s Go (and only from Let’s Go from my understanding) to level up.
From a mechanical standpoint, that’s not bad. It’s another controller, so that’s nice for some people. For POGO players, it’s also a Go+ if you don’t have one. It also might save people some money on the Go+’s batteries in exchange for a shorter battery life (at about 3-hour life span). The only big downside is it’s larger, making it difficult to hide and use in everyday life for active teens and adults unable to constantly wear their gamer hat.
However, immersion-wise, it does a lot. For example, Chansey is still a very major player in the POGO meta. If you’re walking one in POGO for candy, you could put a Chansey from Let’s Go in your ball to train it too. The ball reacts to gentle shaking, so it can kind of help build that, “Pokemon in real life” feeling. It’s fun, but for kids, that could be really cool.
My demo didn’t show any direct connections with POGO, though. We’ve heard that there’s a Go Park and various ways Let’s Go players will benefit from that, but most of it’s vague, as is the note that Go players get “some” candy for transferring their ‘mon to the Switch game.
Luckily, the game isn’t simply POGO with story. On the showroom floor, I talked to people both inside and out of Nintendo’s booth that said they’re core Pokemon series fans that are looking forward to the new game. It’s not just that they’re POGO players, which many were, but the idea of having a deeper but still accessible Pokemon story to immerse themselves in.
Gone to Kanto
Pokemon Go may have been the first entry point in the series for some people, but you don’t need to have played the game to “get” Let’s Go. The turn-based battles are easy enough to understand for most gamers. The story is light but deeper than Go. Perhaps most importantly for casuals, Go‘s hardest technique, the curve ball, doesn’t seem to have made the jump to Let’s Go. I tried to execute it several times, and several booth workers noted its absence as well. Trust me, I really tried. There was a “technique bonus” almost every time I caught something, but no one knew why that was.
The ball controller is kind of sensitive, though. You need to hold it just so or it could react oddly on screen. This probably was best illustrated when I was trying to figure out the curveball and possibly threw the ball behind me, something that never happens in POGO.
For those who have never experienced a core Pokemon game, the basic idea is that you’re a young child leaving home to capture small animals (supposedly partially for data collection purposes) and have them grow with you. Oh, and fight in battles so you can earn money and badges. It’s less violent in action, for the most part, and pretty fun. Each iteration feels like it down plays the blood-sport more and makes the Pokemon more pet like.
No, really. We’ve been able to pet and feed our ‘mon. We’ve gotten to know their tastes and personalities. They get daycare centers, non-combat performance competitions, and agility training. There’s a reason kids and adults continue to play the game and want more Pokemon. It’s a wonder we don’t get more pet simulators from the Pokemon Company!
That’s why Let’s Go seems to be hitting the mark with a lot of fans, despite the fact that I’ve seen rumblings on the internet saying otherwise. While some people may enjoy having Pikachu or Eevee with you constantly, some of us might want another companion, and as you may have seen, it’s possible with any of the original 151 or their Alolan versions. It’s a bit deal. We’ve had it in some other games, but the core series is mostly on handhelds incapable of representing the digital animals in a way that satisfies the way home consoles can. While being “stuck” with Pikachu or Eevee is disappointing, the idea of having Blastoise stand next to my character after defeating a grass trainer sounds satisfying. It’s just a shame that the on-site demo was limited to charmander.
However, the little fire lizard did show off how we can interact with our battle pets. You can “talk” to your buddy pokemon that aren’t Pikachu or Eevee to see their different reactions, some based on recent activities like catches or wins, some on the environment or their status. Again, it’s an immersion thing. I’ve been through Viridian Forest more times than I can remember, but my ‘mon rarely cared.
In fact, aside from maybe the first time, I rarely cared. I actually dislike random battles, but being able to not only see the Pokemon in the grass, but an effect around them when they may be unique (very large or small, both of which give a bonus for catching) was exciting.
Battling is very familiar for main series fans. The animations are a bit cleaner on the Switch than on past handhelds, but sometimes very Pokemony. For example, Pikachu doing double kick is just the yellow mouse jumping once for each kick, much like he’d do in the 2-D games. Clearly it’s not all cinematics.
What was interesting was that the trainer battles rewarded both money and Pokeballs. The target audience spectrum may be trying to bolster the younger end of the fan spectrum (I’ve been catching for over 20 years; I want my trainer to reflect that!), and as they’re refining motor skills, more balls would really help them. However, that also aids older players who may have fallen out of games during motion control push.
The game’s clearly less MMO than POGO (though online battles are still possible), but it does plug in with Augmented Reality well, and I think it would do really well with families. Two-way play between Go and Let’s Go really would have put it over the top, but the one way action does feel like it’s a good way for people to help younger kids get into the series without needing to give them a smartphone.
If there is anything I got out of my hands on, it was the potential for living the “real Pokemon” fantasy. Even when I was in middle school I wanted my ‘mon behind me while I was in town. I wanted the sizes to look more real. I wanted them to feel like they have a personality beyond killing machine. There were hints of this throughout the demo, but with Pokemon curated to me, not my own.
My overall experience was solid, but the restrictions on what I was allowed to see have made me hungry for release. The Pokemon Go connection not only helps the mobile game, but also helps to ensure that Let’s Go fans have local trading options beyond Switch owners, further opening up ways for fans of the series to interact with each other, and cross-platform to boot! Even as a fan of the core series, I may actually be more excited for the new accessible experience in Let’s Go than the idea of continuing the series with new monsters.