Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu and Let's Go Eevee are gorgeous--albeit lean--reimaginings of one of the series' most beloved adventures. While some features fans have come to expect are missing--like abilities, breeding, and held items--Let's Go has an admirable amount of depth for a game aimed at a younger audience that has never played a Pokemon RPG. Both games may not have the same lasting appeal as previous entries, but revisiting Kanto and catching some of the series' most iconic creatures makes the journey worthwhile.
Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu and Let's Go Eevee take you back to Kanto, the home of Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow. Not much has changed structurally, but the previously 8-bit region has been realized in vibrant detail. Revisiting some of the series' most memorable locations like Viridian Forest and Saffron City on a big screen is an absolute joy. Areas that were once composed of lines and simple shapes are now colorful forests and detailed cities. Pokemon both big and small roam the wilds, giving personality to the region--you can watch a tiny Horsea speed through the waves or a massive Onix slink through a dark cave. The catchy original soundtrack has also been remastered, and it sounds better than ever.
Those familiar with the originals or their remakes, FireRed and LeafGreen, should have no trouble navigating the world. After you're introduced to your partner Pokemon (Pikachu or Eevee depending on the version you choose) you set out on an adventure to collect Gym badges, defeat the Elite Four, and put an end to Team Rocket. While there are a few surprises, the layout of the region and your progression through it is nearly identical to the originals. Fortunately, Let’s Go sheds some of Red, Blue, and Yellow's more archaic designs. For example, HMs--"hidden moves" that allowed you to get past certain obstacles--are replaced with "Secret Techniques" that fulfill the same purpose without taking up one of a Pokemon's move slots. As a result, you can focus on team composition and complementary move sets instead of figuring out how to divvy up HMs between your party Pokemon.
Let's Go also does a much better job at guiding you through the world and story. After you made your way through Rock Tunnel in the originals, you had little direction through Lavender, Celadon, Fuschia, and Saffron and could do certain Gym battles and events out of order. It was easy to miss key items and wind up fighting Pokemon much stronger than your own, which led to frustrating backtracking with little idea of what to do next. While you still can complete certain beats out of order, Let's Go ensures you don't miss anything crucial. For example, after you beat Erika in Celadon City, a character gives you a key item that will let you enter Saffron City. Previously, you had to buy a drink from an inconspicuous vending machine on the roof of the department store and give it to a city guard, and if you failed to do so, you wouldn't be able to fight the sixth Gym Leader.
One of Let's Go's most fundamental changes is how you catch Pokemon. Instead of the random encounters and wild Pokemon battles of previous mainline games, Let's Go adopts Pokemon Go's catching mechanics. Pokemon roam the wilds in real time, and you have to walk into one to initiate catching it. Then, rather than battling it to whittle down its health, you just have to throw a Poke Ball at it, and the timing and accuracy of your throw increases your chances of a successful catch.
The new catching mechanics are a welcome change to the formula that breaks up the pace of traditional trainer and Gym battles. Although catching wild Pokemon doesn’t require as much strategy as it did before, the act of catching is far more engaging. You don't need to worry about accidentally defeating and therefore failing to catch a rare or one-time Pokemon, and if there's a Pokemon you don't want to catch, you simply avoid it. The absence of random encounters also makes traversing caves a lot less tedious. Yes, that means you can even avoid Zubats.
Let's Go encourages you to catch Pokemon more so than any other mainline Pokemon game, and it's better for it. Sure, catching every single species has always been the overarching goal, but I've never felt more inclined to complete my Pokedex. Catching Pokemon is the most efficient way to level up; with each successful catch your entire team is awarded a generous dose of experience. This alleviates the need to spend significant amounts of time grinding and makes it easier to experiment with different party compositions.
Let's Go also introduces Catch Combos, which occur when you catch the same species of Pokemon multiple times in a row. As you build your combo, your chances of running into rare and powerful Pokemon increase. You can even find Pokemon you typically wouldn't find in the wild. Catching repeat Pokemon is both useful and satisfying--it's great knowing that luck is not the only factor involved when trying to catch a rare Pokemon, and it's very hard to stop when you're deep into a combo, knowing something good could spawn.
However, the new catching mechanics don't come without issues. The Joy-Con motion controls are inaccurate at best and unpredictable at worst. Over the course of my journey, I never found a reliable way to throw a Poke Ball to the right or left. In most cases, I would just wait for the wild Pokemon to return to the center of the screen before throwing a Poke Ball, and even then, the ball wouldn't always go where I wanted it to.
The Poke Ball Plus controller, an optional Poke Ball-shaped accessory, is a bit more precise, but because there are only two physical buttons on the controller, navigating menus and interacting with the world can be a pain. As novel as it is to see Kanto on a big screen, handheld mode is the best way to catch wild Pokemon. You can either use the Switch's gyroscope sensor or the left control stick to line up a throw. It's far more precise than the other methods, but you do have to consider the Pokemon's size and distance.
Despite changes that make the Pokemon experience more accessible than ever, Let's Go is surprisingly deep. It does an excellent job at easing new players into some of the more complex mechanics without being bogged down by tutorials. Each Pokemon still has six base stats and one of 25 natures, and the game seamlessly presents all that information to you. For example, whenever you switch Pokemon during a battle, you are shown its stats. You can get through the entire game without paying attention to a Pokemon's stats, but it's helpful to see that information presented clearly and often. Early on, you even get the ability to "judge" a Pokemon, which lets you see its base stats (also called IVs). While this may not be super useful for beginners, it's presented in a way that's easy to understand and it gives veterans the opportunity to check for Pokemon with good stats early on.
Unfortunately, those invested in the competitive side won't have as much to sink their teeth into. The absence of abilities, held items, and breeding limits the potential for highly competitive play. You can farm for Pokemon with higher stats through the aforementioned catch combos, but even if you do manage to catch a Pokemon with the stats you want, you won't have much to do with it. The online features are limited, and there's no matchmaking or ranked battles where you can test your skill.
The trading features are also limited. The Global Trade System is nonexistent, and there is no Wonder Trading; you can trade and battle online and locally with friends, and that's about it. The barebones trading features may be disappointing at first, but given the smaller roster of Pokemon, I never felt that I needed the GTS or Wonder Trade to complete the Pokedex. This is also true for the Pokemon Go-compatible Go Park, which allows you to transfer any first-generation Pokemon you have in Go to Let's Go.It's a useful feature--especially if you are having trouble getting version-exclusive Pokemon--but you can easily complete the Pokedex without it.
Without the competitive mechanics fans are accustomed to and the limited Pokedex, it can be difficult to come back to Let's Go after the credits roll. While there certainly are reasons to revisit Kanto once you have finished the game, like completing the Pokedex and grinding for Pokemon with perfect stats, the pull isn't quite as strong. There aren't many surprises and what's there isn't all that enticing. The last thing I need to try is the Pokemon Go connectivity, which isn't available as of this writing.
Despite changes that make the Pokemon experience more accessible than ever, Let's Go is surprisingly deep.
Despite these concessions, Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu and Let's Go Eevee are delightful reimaginings of the series' origins and a deep RPG in their own right. It makes a lot of smart improvements on the original Red, Blue and Yellow while holding on to what made them so special in the first place. Fans of the series might be let down by the lack of features they've come to expect, but Let's Go Pikachu and Let's Go Eevee take the Pokemon formula in some exciting new directions.