20 years. It’s been 20 years since the very first Pokémon games – Pokémon Red and Blue – were released in the United States and sparked a revolution that still resonates to this day. 20 years later, Pikachu remains one of the most immediately recognizable and iconic mascots in all of gaming, right up there with his stablemate, Mario. I can still remember my first days playing Pokémon Blue on my original grey, green, monochrome-screened Game Boy, being completely enthralled as I made my way through Viridian Forest for the first time with my trusty Squirtle by my side. I was a huge fan of the Pokémon anime so being able to play my own version of that experience, was mind-blowing.
So, when I heard that Nintendo was once again remaking these two Game Boy classics with updated visuals and a few modern tweaks, my interest was piqued. I’ll admit I wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of paying $60 for what are essentially old games with a fresh coat of paint, but the kid in me won out and I soon found myself playing Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu on my Nintendo Switch. I started an adventure that I’d find would be expectedly familiar, with a few tweaks, updates, and changes to modernize the games, even if these changes aren’t always for the better.
After naming and customizing your trainer and giving a name to your longtime friend and future rival, this return to the Kanto region starts out hitting the same beats as the original two games. Soon, you’ll attempt to walk out into the Pokémon infested tall grass and stopped by Professor Oak, taken to his lab and introduced to your partner Pokémon, Pikachu or Eevee. Your partner Pokémon is always with you, even if it’s not in your party, camped out on your shoulder. You can play with it and feed it berries to increase its affection towards you, and occasionally, it’ll even give you small gifts.
Battles follow the same turn-based formula as always, and double battles make an appearance to modernize things a bit. During battles, the level of affection the other Pokémon in your party have for you can manifest itself in a number of beneficial ways, such as dodging incoming attacks, hanging on with 1 HP after a hit that surely should’ve KO’ed them, inflicting critical hits to make you happy, and even shaking off poison, burns, and paralysis “so you wouldn’t worry”.
Remember the days of carrying an “HM slave” in your party to fly you around the region, cut down small trees blocking your path, push boulders around, ferry you across the seas and light up the Rock Tunnel that one time? Well, following in the footsteps of Pokémon Sun and Moon, those days are over in Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee. As you progress, your partner Pokémon will learn so-called “Secret Techniques”, which replace the HM moves of yore, and don’t take up valuable move slots, a welcome and ingenious change to a tired mechanic that always seemed more of an unnecessary burden than anything else.
HM moves aren’t the only things kicked to the curb in this remake, either, as the bicycle has also been removed. Instead of hopping astride your bicycle, you can now take certain Pokémon out of their ball – like Arcanine or Persian – as they speedily run on the ground or take to the skies on (for example) a Charizard’s back.
One of the most significant changes is the replacement of the Safari Zone in Fuchsia City with the Pokémon Go Park. Here, you’ll be able to transfer Kanto Pokémon from Pokémon Go, and once they’ve been transferred to one of the 20 Go Parks, you’ll have the chance to interact with and recapture your Pokémon. There are also minigames that you can play to earn additional stat-boosting candies that you typically get as a reward for catching wild Pokémon.
Perhaps the most radical change to the series formula is the removal of random encounters. Now, Pokémon roam about the tall grass, amble around caves, and swim about in waterways, which means you’ll scarcely need to carry Repels anymore in order to avoid random Pokémon. But that’s not all. The entire system for encountering Pokémon has been completely overhauled. Traditionally, when you encounter a wild Pokémon, you’ll be sucked into a battle and send out one of your Pokémon to fight your opponent. Battles with wild Pokémon have been removed, almost entirely, and you go straight into the catching interface for your chance to catch the Pokémon before you. This, unfortunately, leads me to my biggest issue with Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee.
Bear with me, this is going to take a while.