I was four years old when I got my first video game. Like probably many individuals my age, that game was Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Prior to that, I do not know where my exposure to video games came from. Most likely it was via television commercials and older cousins, though i have no specific memories. I certainly was a consumer of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, but that arrived a year later. No matter, I was more or less hooked when I got my first game, and while games had a lot to compete with in my early years, eventually it became my number one hobby by the time I was 9 or 10.
This past April, my own son turned 4. It felt like a good time to properly introduce the boy to video games. Unlike me, he’s grown up with video games in his house since day one. Despite my rarely playing them when he’s awake, he’s still seen them and has always wanted to play them as well. And he has. Mostly he just plays Disney Infinity where he can run around in the Toy Box mode and is free to swap characters in and out. On occasion he also plays classic games as I’ve steered him towards old Sesame Street titles on the NES since they’re easy for him to understand and he learns something too. Sometimes he’ll want something else and he’ll struggle to make it more than a few screens in something like Rescue Rangers or The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse, but he still insists he’s having fun and rarely wants to put the controller down.
Seeing his enthusiasm for video games made me want to find something he could play and succeed at. I also wanted it to be a shared experience as I’m not ready for him to go close himself off to the world and get lost in a video game. That’s how Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! ended up on my radar. My son had already been exposed to Pokémon at a young age. He knew who Pikachu was and had messed around on my Pokémon Go! app. I had no reservations about the material, but just needed to make sure it was a game we could enjoy together. After doing some research, I was convinced the title would work and for his fourth birthday my son got his very first video game.
My experience with Pokémon goes all the way back to 1998 when the original Red and Blue titles made their way to US shores. They were the games that finally convinced me to pick up a GameBoy and I ended up with both versions of the title, beating both more than once. It was a fun, addicting, light role-playing-game and I stuck with the franchise into the Gold and Silver era, but after that I was mostly done. I checked out Pokémon Pearl for the DS, but never finished it. After a few years on the market, I eventually grabbed Pokémon Y to see how the franchise had changed over the years and mostly enjoyed it. And I was a day one downloader of the Go! app and I still play it today. I was pretty confident I could navigate my son though Let’s Go, Pikachu! which is basically a remake of the original games with some of the elements from Pokémon Go! integrated.
I opted to get the version of Let’s Go, Pikachu! that comes bundled with a Pokéball Plus controller, figuring my son would get a kick out of it. Getting it up and running was a tad tricky. Like most games now, Let’s Go, Pikachu! does not come with formal instructions and you basically have to wing it. This caused confusion when I initially booted it up with Pro controller in hand. The game won’t even recognize a Pro controller though because it wants you to play with just a single Joycon. After messing around, I figured that out and was taken to the controller select screen. It displays both Joycons, a docked Switch, and the Pokéball controller and you have to press a button on the controller you wish to use. I always go with the Right Joycon because it has a Home button on it. Had Game Freak just included a little message that said “Pro controller not supported” when I tried to use it that would have saved me some time.
From there, I was further confused at how I could bring my son into the fold. I could not find options for 2 player, and when I would activate the Pokéball accessory it would de-activate my Joycon. Frustrated, I started the game and we went through all of the usual junk until you get to actually play. I don’t know how we ended up figuring it out, but in order to play with a second player they need to activate a controller while playing just by pressing a button, or in the case of the Pokéball, by shaking it. Then a second player, a gender-swapped version of the character you created, appears. When you encounter a wild Pokémon, two Pokéballs will appear and you can both throw to your heart’s content. In battle, the second player will deploy the Pokémon in the second position on your party screen effectively giving you two actions to your enemy’s one.
After finally figuring all of that out, things were mostly smooth. Let’s Go, Pikachu! is a 3D game that seems to share assets with Pokémon Go! It’s very much presented like modern Pokémon titles with the only differences being in how you interact with wild Pokémon. They now appear on the screen and you’re free to engage them or try to avoid them as you please removing random encounters. This has apparently been a controversial move in the Pokémon community as some prioritize the excitement of what wild Pokémon has been encountered. Personally, I never want to play another Pokémon title with random encounters again. Good riddance!
When you do come into contact with a wild Pokémon, you no longer battle them. This is where the Go! influence comes in as you now just throw Pokéballs until the creature is caught. And since this is Nintendo Switch, you literally make a throwing motion with the controller in hand to throw balls. It works fine, though I find the Pokéball Plus to be a tad more accurate. The rings from Go! are present as are the various items that can make catching a Pokémon easier. What’s gone is the curveball, but replacing it is the dual ball. My son and I didn’t even catch onto this until way late into our adventure, but if both players simultaneously hit a Pokémon with a ball then a special animation plays where the balls essentially combine into one. This makes the throw more likely to be successful and also adds extra experience to the encounter. That’s right. Catching Pokémon is now your primary method of accumulating experience so your Pokémon level-up and become stronger. Thankfully, since you’ll be catching a lot of Pokémon there is no longer a computer storage system. You simply possess a box that can store your extra Pokémon and you can access it at anytime.
Battles are still largely the same as before, though they do take on greater importance now that you literally have to keep catching ’em all if you want your Pokémon to get stronger. Battles allow you to earn experience, but also money. And you’ll need a lot of money so you can continue to buy more Pokéballs. The only wrinkle with battling is the inclusion of the second player that I mentioned earlier. This allows you to attack enemies 2 on 1. It does forfeit the free substitution between matches that you would normally get, but that’s a small price to pay. Strangely, on the rare occasion you find yourself in a 2 on 2 battle the second controller will be disabled and Player 1 will control both battlers. That was frustrating for my son. Ultimately though, because of the 2 on 1 nature 99% of the encounters in the game are much easier to breeze through, but that isn’t the only thing making Let’s Go, Pikachu! an easy experience.
Game Freak has finally done away with those annoying Hidden Machines. Instead, Pikachu (or Eevee if you got the other version of the game) learns Secret Techniques that function the same way. Yes, even Fly which causes Pikachu to pull out a bunch of balloons to fly around with. These moves only work on the field of play and not in battle so they don’t affect Pikachu’s move set at all. No longer do you need to drag around a Pokémon just for HM access.
In addition to those techniques, your Pikachu will also have the option to learn new moves from a move tutor throughout the game. These moves really help to make Pikachu a well-rounded attacker, and frankly, he’s way over-powered. One of these moves is Zippy Zap, which is basically an electrified Quick Attack that always scores a critical hit. He’ll also be able to learn Splishy Splash, an electrified water attack so ground enemies are no longer an issue. He also now learns Double Kick just thru his basic leveling-up which is quite useful at parts. He can even learn an electric flying move too, though I opted to not add that. Basically, there was rarely a reason to pull Pikachu from battle and only the compulsion to mix things up provoked me and my son to do so.
The game is largely a remake of the originals, but there are some twists. The bicycle and fishing rod are gone and instead replaced with Pokémon actions. Pikachu can learn a Surf maneuver and when surfing you’ll encounter the many water Pokémon out in the wild. You can also ride on certain Pokémon to increase your movement speed on the field of play. And once you beat the Elite Four, you can even fly freely on the back of a Charizard or Dragonite. The Safari Zone is also no more and has been replaced by the Go Park, a place where you can import Pokémon from Pokémon Go! This is very useful for filling out the Pokédex as there are still Pokémon unique to each version of the game and some evolutions that still require trading (which you can bypass in Go!). There’s also a new Pokémon that can only be found in Pokémon Go! and it and its evolution can be transferred to Let’s Go, Pikachu!
This is a solid Pokémon experience for me, but what about the boy I bought it for? Turns out, it’s pretty fantastic to him. He loves catching Pokémon, so much so that battles get boring fast for him. It’s a bit of a problem at times because there are points where you need to battle, especially since the kid flies through Pokéballs since he wants to catch everything he sees. He knows it’s a necessary evil though and trudges through the battles like a good soldier. It also stunk for him when we had to traverse water as that’s only one-player, but at least that didn’t take up vast sections of the game. I could even hand him the controller to catch anything I encountered too. He’s not great at moving the player in the field, but at least he mostly never had to since his job was to catch Pokémon. The other difficult part with a young kid playing is he has no interest in talking to non-player characters. This is a bit of a problem because you need to talk to everyone in this game because some give you important special moves and some might even give you a free Pokémon. His unwillingness to talk to people caused me to miss a few things that we eventually had to backtrack for. And any “dungeon” that didn’t contain wild Pokémon for him to catch was a real drag.
Shortcomings aside, the game largely did what I wanted it to do. It gave me something I could play with my son and we were both able to enjoy it. I’m not sure what we’re going to do now as we have already defeated the Elite Four and even captured Mewtwo. There’s still some slots on the Pokédex to fill out, but I wonder when my son will become bored with catching the same old Pokémon. There is some additional post game content, but it’s mostly battling related which isn’t very interesting for him, but we’ll see. We also have yet to utilize the external functions of the Pokéball controller. Like a Tamagotchi, you can load a Pokémon onto it and carry it around with you. It will earn experience and I think you can press a button on the ball to hear the critter chirp or something. The noises the Pokémon make are still the same as they were over 20 years ago, save for Pikachu and Eevee who have vocalizations from the anime. Nostalgia is nice, but it would have been neat if they went through and did the same for all of the Pokémon. And for that matter, how about some spoken dialog instead of text? I got sick of reading it aloud to my son and he seemed to as well.
Nonetheless, the game has been a big enough hit in my house to make my son a full-fledged Pokémaniac. He’s now watched all of season one of the anime on Netflix and loves watching YouTube videos on the subject. He’ll often tell anyone within earshot random Pokémon facts (“Hey mama! Did you know Haunter evolves into Gengar?!”) and I rarely see him without his Charmander plush. My daughter, who is only 2, has some-what embraced it as well. She loves Pikachu, and after we took the both of them to see Detective Pikachu in theaters (her first movie in a theater) she’s become a Psyduck fan as well. Eventually, I envision the two of them playing this game or a similar one together. In my dreams they’re enjoying themselves, though in reality there will probably be lots of fighting and arguing. That’s an issue for another day, for now, I’ve got a son who’s crazy about Pokémon and just beat his first video game (with some help from dad) which puts him way ahead of where I was at his age. Hopefully, a sequel is on the way that we can enjoy together in a similar manner. If it rights some of the few wrongs present here, then all the better.