My opinion of Pokemon: Let’s Go

Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee.jpg

It’s been over a week since Nintendo announced the next main Pokemon games which will be for Nintendo Switch. I think that’s enough time to consider what we’ve been presented with, pondering the implications for the Pokemon series and allowing the information to gel in our minds.

Here’s the trailer for those who haven’t seen it yet:

While one might imagine that I’d be among the most critical of a Kanto retread or of the mechanical changes that the trailer showed us, I’m actually quite optimistic about the new games, and I’m looking forward to them.

I think it’s obvious that GameFreak is looking to make a game that is appealing to as many people as possible. It’s a safe move, but it comes at the risk of alienating a few who might miss some of the game mechanics that they were familiar with for a long time, or who might have wanted a new region to run around in with fresh pokemon.

First, of the fact that this is a Kanto retread, I would have been skeptical of the idea of another Pokemon game that tread through Kanto. After all, as I’ve pointed out already, about one-third of all Pokemon games have included the Kanto setting, so it’s easy to make the case that this setting is over-represented. In fact, I’ve only just last week continued playing my eShop copy of Pokemon Crystal, which I left off after having beat the champion, right before the journey would have continued with the Kanto region. I’ve been through the region so many times, so going through it again kind of seemed like a chore.

However, I would have been in favor of a Kanto retread if GameFreak had some ideas that would make the experience more interesting. By the looks of it, they certainly have! I would have liked seeing what Kanto would have looked like with 3D models, which is just what they did.

Another point of contention among the fans would be the art direction. I know that some might not be fond of the idea of returning to a deformed chibi art style for Pokemon Let’s Go, considering that we’ve had more proportioned characters in Pokemon Sun and Moon. However, the art style in Sun and Moon was very much the exception. Overworld characters were done in the chibi style in nearly all Pokemon games, so it’s very much appropriate that Let’s Go uses this style. It’s certainly the style that was used in the Pokemon Yellow game that these games are based off of, which makes it even more appropriate.

pokemon pikachu red.pngWhat a Pokemon game looks like.

Another point of discussion is the Pokemon Go style capture mechanics. This is a bit of a risky move, as the wild pokemon battle has been a series mainstay since the very beginning. However, it’s a move that simplifies the game and makes it more approachable to casual gamers, particularly ones familiar with Pokemon Go.

This is a bit of a tangent, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about, and this seems like an appropriate place to bring it up: I find it kind of funny when someone complains about a major game mechanic change in a new installment in a franchise, saying that it somehow makes the game less hardcore.

Fast Fact: There are no hardcore games. Hardcore is a designation of a person who plays video games, and is not a category of the games themselves.

Hardcore gamers play the same games that the rest of us play, including the casuals. What makes hardcore gamers different is that they play these games consummately, putting a large amount of play time into their games, and they tend to play their games until the point that they beat them, possibly much more.

While one can point out that the average hardcore gamer spends more on games than your typical gamer, non-hardcore gamers make up the overwhelming majority of gamers, so it stands to reason that ordinary gamers make a majority of game purchases. This being the case, what point would there be for game companies to pander to the hardcore audience, especially if they’re going to play the games anyway by virtue of the fact that they’re hardcore?

Returning to the main point, Pokemon Go capture mechanics aren’t anything that players aren’t already familiar with, considering just how many people out there are familiar with Pokemon Go. This site lists several statistics for Pokemon Go as of just last month, with the following being the main ones I want to bring to your attention:

  • Daily active players: 5 million (amazing for a game nearly two years old)
  • Number of active users: 65 million (this number alone exceeds the total sales of any generation of Pokemon games)
  • Number of downloads: 800 million (about 1/10th of the world’s population)
  • Total revenue for Pokemon Go: $1.2 billion (from a business perspective, this game is doing something very, very right)

So, who exactly is being alienated by the new Pokemon Go style capture mechanics? Pokemon Go is familiar to just about everyone with a smart phone, and the capture mechanics are just about everything there is to that game.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t concerns. After all, in times past, one could level grind off of wild pokemon. That can still be done if your party still gained experience points off of pokemon captured. But for late game level grinding, nothing beats going up against the Elite Four. Trainer’s pokemon give more experience for battles, so they’re a better choice for level grinding.

The two-player co-op seems like an interesting idea, but the challenge might be to find another player to give it a go. There are several people in my family who play Pokemon, so it wouldn’t be much problem for me to find someone else who plays. But not everyone is in the same situation as me. There are players out there that don’t know many people who play the game, so they’re likely to have a far harder time giving the mode a try. One thing they could do is try to incentivize playing the mode with some strong rewards for players that try it, but that would risk making players that have a hard time finding other people to play with feeling further excluded. There’s the obvious fact that you can 2v1 some in-game opponents, which doesn’t seem like a fair fight, but it can help players overcome some tough opponents.

Now for my favorite feature: there are no more random battles. Wild pokemon appear on the overworld, and you can see the identity of the pokemon as it wanders about. If you want to try to capture it, you walk up to it.

YES!!!11 one.png

This is something that I’ve wanted to see in a Pokemon game since the very beginning! And they did it! They actually did! Finally, trips through caves are no longer a chore! No frequent interruptions when you have to travel through grass! You can avoid the pokemon you’re not interested in if you’re looking for a certain kind! Everything is right with this!

I don’t know a single person who is just fine with being annoyed by random Zubats every few steps in a cave, so I think that just about everyone is okay with this change. Let’s move on.

Another neat new feature is the Pokeball Plus controller. It’s a bit of a gimmick, but it seems okay. It can work as an optional controller for playing Pokemon Let’s Go, and can add more authenticity to the experience when doing the Pokeball throw. It’s also notable in that it can act as a Pokemon Go Plus device when used with Pokemon Go. I don’t imagine I’d be getting much out of this, and I’d think that anyone with an Apple Watch would have preferred using the Pokemon Go watch app over using Pokemon Go Plus. It’s gimmicky, not really necessary, but I might still give it a try.

What I’d like to see is how creative the modding community gets in making custom pokeballs with the Pokeball Plus.

Pokeball-Plus.jpgPaint me.

The next games are supposed to have a transfer compatibility with Pokemon Go. The transfer process seems to be one-way from Pokemon Go to Pokemon Let’s Go. There are some interesting implications to this.

One of which would be that completing the Kanto pokedex will be a snap if you’ve already made huge progress in Pokemon Go. It’s better news still if you’ve managed to obtain Mew in Pokemon Go, since it means that you’re going to have the rarest Kanto pokemon on day one. But I do wonder whether the stats would be recalculated when transferred. I managed to get a Mew that is statistically flawless in Pokemon Go, so if the stats would change, I’d be a little hesitant to send it over.

So then, if the transfer process is one way, would that mean that Pokemon Go might at some point be phased out? I doubt it would happen any time soon, considering that, as shown above, Pokemon Go still has a huge player base, and still makes huge money.

What’s more, would this also mean that Johto or Hoenn pokemon might be in Let’s Go, considering that these pokemon are available in Pokemon Go?

So far, there hasn’t been any word about compatibility with Pokemon Bank or any Gen 7 game. Does this mean that Pokemon is undergoing a hard reboot, and all the old pokemon are going to be stuck in the past? If so, that might not be too bad a thing. After all, online trading from 4th to 7th gen has been plagued with hacked pokemon, and preventing them from being traded up might keep them from continuing to influence the game. Nintendo has been doing a lot more to discourage cheating, such as banning players that do it from using Nintendo network services. Obviously there’s cheating in Pokemon Go, but we’ve been seeing bans there, too.

Another roadblock for cheaters would be the fact that Switch will have paid online features. A paid online feature would act as a deterrent to those who would take the experience less seriously and might drag it down for the rest of us. What’s more, it would ensure that everyone using the feature will have invested something into it, so they’d have a financial loss as a penalty for breaking the rules. Putting the online service behind a paywall might be what it takes to filter out those that misuse it, and bannings can take care of the rest of the undesirables.

The pokemon-following thing has also made a comeback, which has been absent since gen 4. It does include the option to ride pokemon, which might be a variant of the ride mechanic in gen 7. How this will be implemented is something I’m interested in knowing, as I wasn’t a big fan of HMs in most Pokemon games, which forced players to keep certain pokemon in their party and dedicate moveslots to ensure that progress isn’t impeded by roadblocks.

But even if there are still HMs, it won’t be a big deal, since players now get a PC box that they can access whether they’re in a Pokemon Center or not. I’ve wanted to see a feature like that for a long time, so it’s great to see it finally happen!

The end of the trailer mentions a special pokemon that you’ll meet in Pokemon Go after having connected with Let’s Go. It’s already confirmed that this will be a new pokemon, and is not the Alolan Exeggutor that became available right after the trailer was shown. That would mean that there will be one new pokemon in these new games. But would Let’s Go be a 7th generation game, or 8th generation? Are we getting to the point that the generation designations are arbitrary?

And speaking of Alolan pokemon, those will be in Let’s Go, as well. I don’t know how they’ll be implemented, but I suspect that they might be available in certain areas in the game. The previous remakes for the 1st gen games, FireRed and LeafGreen, included extra areas called the Sevii Islands. If those islands function like the Alola region as far as Alola variants are concerned, that would answer the question of how they could implement these variants in future games.

That’s what I think of these games so far. More information will be available next week, when they’ll be playable at E3. But at this point, I’m really looking forward to them, and they might just be the change that the Pokemon series has needed for a long time.

If you’re planning on getting physical copies, you might have a difficult time of it by the time November comes around. As of this writing, Amazon has already sold out of preorders for the Let’s Go Pikachu version. I’ll more likely get a digital download, which I’ve been doing for most Switch games up to this point. I might get both versions, and which one I get first will likely be decided by version exclusives.

Let’s Go? Bring it.

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