Detective Pikachu Returns shows a side of Pokemon we rarely see in the games. While the mainline entries are designed around collecting, battling, and training, Detective Pikachu Returns taps into Pokemon’s infectious charm in order to tell a lighthearted mystery story.
Detective Pikachu Returns is the sequel to the 2018 Nintendo 3DS game that launched a year before the film. While they do share a title, Detective Pikachu the movie offered a different take on that universe. In Detective Pikachu the game, Tim Goodman, the goodie-two-shoes protagonist, never found his missing father. With Harry Goodman still MIA, Detective Pikachu Returns is once again centered around Harry’s mysterious disappearance.
Similar to the original, this sequel plays like an adventure game. You’ll spend most of your time exploring sectioned areas, chatting with persons of interest, and interacting with the environment to dig up clues. It’s still fairly straightforward, but the improved presentation and higher production values go a long way. Senior creative director at Creatures Inc. Yasunori Yanagisawa emphasized that Nintendo Switch hardware has allowed the team to build a livelier Ryme City. The explorable areas are noticeably bigger and the number of Pokemon that fill the environment has increased. While these improvements may seem superficial, they could expand cases and add some complexity by giving players more ground to cover and more witnesses to question.
My demo began with Tim and Pikachu hot on the trail of a jewelry thief. The mysterious caper led the duo to a nearby park in an upscale neighborhood. The victim wants to pin the crime on Barnes the butler, but Tim and Pikachu think there’s more to the story. As Tim, I wandered around the park chatting with humans and Pokemon in search of a red Pokemon who frequented the burgled house. As you uncover relevant clues and testimony, they automatically get added to Tim’s notebook. Once you’ve collected enough evidence, you’ll need to patch together your clues to push the story forward. If you get something wrong, Detective Pikachu will tell you and you can try again.
However, unlike in the original, you aren’t just gathering clues as Tim. In some sections you can switch to Pikachu and explore Ryme City from the perspective of the coffee-guzzling detective. During the preview, Pikachu teamed up with a Growlithe to help sniff out clues. While playing as Pikachu, you can understand exactly what other Pokemon are saying. This can lead to some dramatic and comedic moments where Pikachu might be withholding information from Tim. Either way, playing as Pikachu gave me a different perspective on the Pokemon that inhabit Ryme City.
While I wouldn’t expect Detective Pikachu Returns to be a difficult game, Yanagisawa expects longtime fans to find satisfaction in how a Pokemon’s characteristics and abilities are referenced and implemented in Detective Pikachu Returns. An example of this, and a personal highlight from the demo, was the dark- and steel-type Pokemon Pawniard. At one point, Tim and Detective Pikachu need to track down a Pawniard, and a character mentions that the Pawniard in question keeps his favorite sharpening rock in the park. A handful of Pokedex entries throughout the mainline series mention that Pawniard has a favorite sharpening rock, but this is nothing more than flavor text.
I always pictured Pawniard’s sharpening rock to be a tiny little pebble that it holds on to (like how sea otters carry a favorite rock to crack open clams), but in Detective Pikachu Returns, it’s a giant rock that Pawniard hacks at after a battle. It’s a bit more intimidating, but still cute. Once we found the sliced-up boulder, Tim and Pikachu had to draw out Pawniard. We could wait, stand on the rock, or sing. Although there is only one “correct” answer, I decided to sing, which ended with Detective Pikachu belting it for an audience of one.
Pawniard did not disappoint. The ironclad Pokemon was a chivalrous little guy training to become the best swords-mon in Ryme City. Through some light interrogation we learned that while Pawniard does frequently travel to the burgled house, we couldn’t place him at the scene of the crime. When we asked him how he traveled to the house, he told us that the cotton ball grass- and fairy-type Pokemon, Whimsicott, would carry him through a window. We were then greeted by an adorable scene of two Whimsicotts carrying the hefty little warrior through the sky.
Although this scenario was fairly straightforward and didn’t require any hard-boiled detective work, it was an endearing little vignette that leveraged the charm of Pokemon to build a unique interaction. If Detective Pikachu Returns is filled with moments like this, I think Pokemon fans could be in for a fun adventure that builds off the groundwork of the original 3DS game. We'll be able to uncover this ourselves when Detective Pikachu Returns launches on Nintendo Switch on October 6, 2023.