The new catching mechanics are lifted wholesale from Pokémon Go. Gone is the traditional way of catching Pokémon, whittling down its health and afflicting it with status ailments to increase your chances of a successful catch. Instead, you’re presented with a system that incorporates manual aiming and a continuously shrinking green, yellow, orange or red ring, indicating how difficult the catch should be. The shrinking circle also comes into play by granting you apparent improvements to your chances of catching a Pokémon by tossing your Poké ball into the middle of the circle when it’s at its smallest, indicating the quality of the throw as “Nice”, “Great”, and “Excellent”. In addition, you can give the Pokémon various berries, which grant varying effects.
I have many issues with this new system, principal among these being the lack of consistency in that scoring better throws doesn’t seem to make a difference in your chances. I’ll nail excellent throw after excellent throw, use Razz berries, which are supposed to make Pokémon easier to catch, only for them to escape, every time. Then, I’ll whiff my throw and wing the Pokémon in the foot, only for that to result in a catch.
To complicate matters further, Pokémon don’t stay still throughout this process. Aiming is handled by the Switch’s built-in motion controls, and the Pokémon move and jump around while you aim. This means that they can leap out of the way of your Poké ball or attack toward the camera, which will cause the ball to bounce off of them. These movements are highly erratic and difficult – if not downright impossible – to predict at times, resulting in many wasted throws.
But, even when you do aim correctly, get used to seeing the phrase “So close! You almost got it!”, which appears after a Pokémon breaks free after the third wobble, because the game seems designed to mess with you by making you think you’ve caught your target Pokémon, only to have it burst out at the last second again and again.
There’s something to be said for the added skill required, seeing as you actually have to aim and anticipate the Pokémon’s movements, but it would be much more satisfying if it felt like the games properly rewarded your efforts, rather than feeling completely random. Few things are more frustrating than to waste several Ultra balls, multiple berries, and repeatedly land great or excellent throws, only for the Pokémon to escape every time and then – to really pour salt on the wound – run away, taking all of your effort with them and leaving you with nothing to show for it but a considerably lighter inventory. And when the Pokémon you’ve just wasted all that effort on was a rare spawn that you built your catch combo – which goes up by capturing the same Pokémon over and over and increases the chances of rare spawns – and used multiple lures to coax into showing up? It’s even more maddening when you consider all of the wasted effort leading up to the missed opportunity.
It may seem like I’m dedicating too much of this review to harping on one aspect of the game but this isn’t some ancillary mechanic. Catching Pokémon is and always has been a central element of the series from the start and one you’ll need to get accustomed to in order to make real progress in the game and fill your PokéDex. This new system may be more involved and interactive than it’s ever been, but that doesn’t mean it’s any fun. Too often, I would dread – rather than look forward to – trying to catch any new critters.
Multiplayer options are significantly pared down from previous games in the series. There are standard local wireless and online single and double battles in addition to link trade options with friends and random players and…that’s it. Matching with players over the internet uses a strange picture matching code system which pairs you with players who entered the same combination you did rather than offering some sort of lobby system or traditional matchmaking modern players have gotten accustomed to.
Nonetheless, in spite of my dislike of the new capture system, Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu kept me hooked, as I was eager to see the adventure through to the end. Looking back over the 30 hours or so spent with the game, I definitely enjoyed most of my time with this game, and reliving my first adventure in the series with updated visuals, and some of the modern tweaks sent me to my happy, nostalgic place.
Compared to recent 3DS titles, or even the older DS games, these Nintendo Switch titles can’t help but feel rather dated, even with the new partner Pokémon mechanics, the overhauled encounter and capture systems (for better and worse), and added online play. Series veterans such as myself won’t be able to help noticing that a fresh coat of paint is covering up a 20-year-old game with many of its decidedly ancient ideas brought along for the ride. But what’s most important to consider is that, even though the core of these games definitely show their age, that same core was excellent back then and still quite good today.
At the end of this review, I feel I must note that my complaints – aside from the big one – are mostly minor quibbles, not massive flaws, and many will be able to ignore them because the game still does quite a bit right and is quite the entertaining ride. So, if you’re a longtime fan and you’re feeling nostalgic or a newcomer looking to see where this worldwide sensation all began, Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee are solid entries in this long-running franchise and good games in their own right.