Even some 20 years after it debuted, the Pokemon series remains one of Nintendo's most beloved and lucrative franchises, but developer Game Freak is making a concerted effort to broaden its appeal even further with Pokemon: Let's Go Pikachu and Let's Go Eevee. Rather than continuing to build upon the mechanics that have been steadily accumulating with each successive generation, the upcoming Switch games deliberately simplify many of the series' elements in order to draw in new and lapsed fans. From what we've seen of the games thus far, this results in some genuinely welcome quality-of-life changes, but for hardcore players, it also makes the titles feel a little rudimentary compared to other installments.
We recently had an opportunity to go hands-on with a new demo of Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee. Whereas the E3 build was set entirely within the Viridian Forest, this demo dropped us off at the foot of Mt. Moon. In past games, caves had always been some of the most frustrating areas to explore (particularly so in the original Red, Blue, and Yellow versions) due to how frequently you would be beset by random encounters. In the Let's Go titles, however, wild Pokemon appear in the overworld, so you're now free to choose whether you want to engage a Pokemon or continue exploring. There is still some randomness to where and when Pokemon will appear; occasionally a monster will spawn unavoidably, forcing you into an encounter anyway. But by and large, having Pokemon roaming the overworld makes traversing the Kanto region more enjoyable.
Since their unveiling, Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee have been billed as reimaginings of Pokemon Yellow rather than straight remakes, and that distinction was evident as we explored Mt. Moon. While the titles seem to follow the same general story beats as the classic Game Boy game, they also diverge in some unexpected ways, most notably in our encounter with Team Rocket. In the original Yellow version, Jessie and James first appear toward the end of the cave, after you've obtained one of the fossils. Here, you cross paths with them immediately upon entering Mt. Moon. Rather than battle you on the spot, however, the villains flee, leading you into the heart of the cave. Pokemon: Let's Go director Junichi Masuda teased that there are many other new instances like this peppered throughout the game, and Team Rocket in particular will play a more prominent role, showing up more frequently throughout the course of the adventure than they did in the original.
Another notable new feature in Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee is local co-op play. While previous Pokemon games allowed you to team up with a friend for Multi Battles, the Let's Go titles are the first to give another player the ability to drop in and join the adventure at any time simply by waving a second Joy-Con. The second player is fairly limited in terms of what they can actually do; they're not able to initiate battles nor pick up items, and the camera will not follow them if they happen to venture off-screen. Rather, their purpose is primarily to assist the main player. During battles, for instance, they'll also send one of your Pokemon out onto the field, turning the contest into a two-on-one affair. They can help capture wild Pokemon as well by throwing their own Poke Ball during the catching phase, greatly increasing your chance of success. Older players likely won't have much reason to use this feature, as it makes what is already a more leisurely take on the series even easier, but it's particularly well-suited for parents who want to adventure alongside and guide their children through the game.
The biggest difference between Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee and past games is how you capture Pokemon. As previously revealed, the Let's Go titles employ Pokemon Go's catching mechanics, meaning you won't need to battle a wild Pokemon and whittle its health down in order to capture it. Despite this, your party will still earn experience points each time you catch a new Pokemon, just as they would if you had battled it, giving you an incentive to collect as many monsters as you can. This greater emphasis on catching Pokemon also means you now carry your Pokemon Box around in your item bag. This is a particularly handy change, as you can now swap Pokemon in and out of your party from the menu screen rather than having to visit a Pokemon Center each time you want to change them out. You're also able to rename any Pokemon you capture directly from the party screen instead of through the Name Rater, another convenience brought over from Pokemon Go.
Still, while you don't fundamentally lose any of the benefits you'd typically receive from wild Pokemon battles, their absence will likely be the most divisive aspect of Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee. Wild battles have always been the perfect opportunity to raise and test out new Pokemon; without them, the only battles you'll engage in are against other trainers, who traditionally could only be challenged once. The games also eschew held items and Pokemon abilities, two other staple elements of the series. While this brings them closer in line with the original Yellow version, since both of those mechanics were introduced in later games, it removes a layer of strategy from battles.
It remains to be seen if Pokemon: Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee will have enough depth to sustain hardcore fans' interest, but they're shaping up to be a good entry point for new and younger players. The games launch for Nintendo Switch on November 16. Alongside them, Nintendo is releasing a Poke Ball-shaped controller called the Poke Ball Plus, which retails for $50 and comes with the Mythical Pokemon Mew. You can read more about the titles in our roundup of everything we know about Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee.