A new Pokémon game is out, and many gamers know exactly what to expect. Players will be given a small, brightly-colored creature, the first of many they'll encounter on a journey through a whimsical world. They'll pit their pet against the pets of others, usually in friendly competition but sometimes to save the world from bad guys. It's a trip Pokémon fans have taken many times, and Pokémon Let's Go, Eevee! doesn't stray from that familiar path. What it does do is pretty up the path with a few modern flourishes.
Let's Go, Eevee! is not just similar to past games, it's a remake of Pokémon Yellow, itself a remake of the original Pokémon Red and Blue games.
That means it's back to the very basics.
Gym leaders are recognizable faces like Brock and Misty, there are only 151 Pokémon running around, and there's no attempt at an elaborate plot. Just Professor Oak sending a child out to catch 'em all. Yet as you trek through the same Kanto roads that first showed up on Game Boy screens, you'll notice some huge differences that borrow from modern game mechanics. The biggest, and the reason for the new game's name, is that you have an Eevee. There's another version of this game called Let's Go, Pikachu! that stars the famous part-time detective, full-time mascot.
The version you buy dictates which Pokémon you start with. Gone is the traditional choice of Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle. Your first Pokémon is the one on the game's cover. While this might seem limiting, it actually does something that will thrill anyone who's ever wished Pokémon were real. It puts the full focus on your starter Pokémon, allowing for such detail in their animations and a heightened story presence that they feel like a real companion.
Helping this is the fact that the Let's Go games are the first main series Pokémon titles to be on a home console. Freed from the constraints of handheld devices, Pokémon can finally come to life on a big high-definition screen. One activity lets you pet and feed your Pikachu or Eevee. My Eevee purrs like a kitten when I stroke her mane. That was probably as weird a sentence to read as it was to type, but darn it if this mechanic didn't endear me to the little fur ball. The fact that the Switch can go handheld, prompting me to take my Eevee buddy on the go and pet her using the touch screen, only deepened the feeling that she was a beloved companion. Pokémon may be a collection of ones and zeroes, but this game makes a strong case for forgetting that fact.
At some point, though, I had to stop feeding Eevee berries and actually catch other Pokémon. Which is where the second of the game's big changes comes in.
Capturing a Pokémon traditionally consists of battling it into a weakened state, straddling the line between fully depleting its HP and leaving too much. Let's Go replaces that with a simpler mini-game based on Pokémon Go: literally throwing the Poké Ball. This was a change that really enraged longtime Pokémon fans, and with good reason. It was the removal of a seemingly core mechanic in favor of something from a casual-friendly mobile game.
The thing is...it actually works. It works because exchanging battles for a throwing game also gets rid of random encounters. No longer do you run back and forth in tall grass hoping that a rare Pokémon appears. And, praise Arceus, you don't get swarmed by Zubat spawns in every cave. Thanks to the power of the Switch, the game can sustain Pokémon actually appearing in the overworld. Rattata scurry across the road while a lone Chansey waddles around in plain sight. Not only does this add life to the game's world, it also allows you to pick and choose the Pokémon you want to encounter. Avoid the Rattatas and Zubats at your leisure and hunt the Pokémon you actually want to catch.
For all of the character these new features add, there are some downsides. The emphasis on cute partners and mobile-game mechanics make one thing clear: this is a game for newcomers and casual fans. The partner Eevee and Pikachu are given special new attacks that are incredibly overpowered. Combine that with the fact that NPC enemies are weaklings, and you could legit solo the majority of battles with your partner. The post-game includes some new challenges aimed at veteran players, but the main campaign is literal child's play.
The new capturing system also oddly contradicts the love of Pokémon that's supposed to be central to the game. While random encounters were tedious, enduring them created a sense of camaraderie with my Pokémon. Pushing through the Zubat hordes with a half-poisoned team made me invested in their well-being, and earned them experience points. But in Let's Go, experience is mostly gained by capturing Pokémon. So now the goal becomes to catch Pokémon by the bundle. Not only am I battling with my Pokémon less, I'm also encouraged to catch potential replacements frequently. For a game that wants me to love my Eevee like a pet, it sure pushes me to treat my other Pokémon like fodder.
These slip-ups aside, Pokémon Let's Go, Eevee! is an experiment that pays off. If future games in the series use the new capturing mechanic, it will need to be reevaluated. But it's still far more pleasant than the old random encounters. "Pleasant" is actually the perfect word to describe this game. It won't tax your skills or reinvent the medium. It's just a pleasant romp through a nostalgic world with an adorable ally at your side. For my inner ten-year-old, or an actual ten-year-old, that's enough.
A copy of Let's Go, Eevee! was purchased by The Gamer for this review. It's available now for Nintendo Switch
4 out of 5 stars