I’m a Pokemon kid. Despite not even owning a console until the DS, I found myself playing each of the original four generations of games. I was never a power gamer, barely knowing the difference between a physical and special attack (let along IVs) and picking teams based on which pokemon I thought were the coolest. I haven’t played every generation but I always look forward to the latest news and have played most of them.
Pokemon Let’s Go seems to have been made for people like me, who have a lot of nostalgia about the earlier Pokemon games, and new arrivals. The game is essentially an extensive remaster of Pokemon Red, starting in pallet town and containing only the original 151. (I know, there’s technically 153, but I’m doing similarities first so…bleh.) The map, gym leaders and story is very similar even though it’s not an exact replica.
Most of the changes that were made integrate very smoothly and are to improve the gameplay experience without sacrificing that nostalgia. Most notably to my own play experience was the removal of HM requirements and random encounters. Not having to carry around a burner pokemon just to have something that knows Rock Smash and Cut was excellent, and I can barely express how incredible it felt not to have to trudge my way through eight thousand random zubat battles to find the pokemon I was actually looking for. I know this is a spinoff game and so not necessarily every change is going to stick, but I can at least dream of a future where random battles have been eradicated in future titles.
Not all the changes were completely welcome though. Each gym now contains an entry requirement, from having a certain type of pokemon to a certain number captured. This change restricts game play which can be an annoyance even for more casual fans, and completely throws off any attempt to do a traditional Nuzlocke Challenge. This is kind of a major bummer because self imposed challenges like the Nuzlocke are what help keep Pokemon games relevant to older or more challenge oriented gamers. There are already postings of alternate rulings to the Nuzlocke that can be accomplished in Let’s GO, but the gym requirements are still an odd and obtrusive roadblock that seem to disrupt the flow of play.
While the removal of random encounters has been met with fairly universal enthusiasm, the GO style of pokemon catching always rubbed me the wrong way. not having to battle is a huge time saver when catching large numbers of the same pokemon, but the only reason to catch huge numbers of the same pokemon is because it’s the predominate source of experience. In addition, the simplified battle mechanics mean that Let’s GO doesn’t really feel like a strategy game, the lack of held items and weakening pokemon for capture make battles extremely straight forward. While this could be seen as a good thing for younger players or people new to the series and strategy games in general, pokemon was never a hugely difficult game even with those factors, even a small amount of additional grinding or over-leveling made most battles a cakewalk in the original series. The simplification in Let’s Go means you have to pretty much be actively trying to lose to not just sweep everything with your partner.
While lowering the skill floor (or minimum skill required) for games is usually a good thing, lowering the skill ceiling (the maximum amount of mastery achievable) is generally not. You do want people to be able to play your game without too much trouble, and accessible games are great! But a low skill ceiling means that players have nowhere to go after mastering the basics, which can severely decrease enjoyment in late game and replays. Limiting experience gain to the capture of pokemon also meant that all of a sudden money matters, every dollar I got was spent towards the purchase of more pokeballs because I was throwing them like candy at any Chansey that so much as crossed my path. With the limited battles in game, this means that you can either grind the eilte four for money (uhg) or use Let’s Go’s sister game GO for additional items (UHG).
In what I find to be an incredibly odd choice Let’s Go actually removes quite a few main game features that previous games have had. There are no contests, and while you can dress your character and partner pokemon in different outfits, it’s extremely limited compared to Sun and Moon. There is the addition of Master trainers to add extra battle challenges outside of the main game, but by the end of the elite four I didn’t want more battles, I wanted my pokemon to ~dance~!
The game is far from a disappointment though. It does feel like Let’s GO was lovingly crafted by fans of pokemon who are now grown and making games. The ability to have a pokemon follow you in the overworld, flying on a Charizard’s back or riding and Arcanine are things straight out of every child’s Pokemon driven fever-dream, you don’t even need to have them as the first pokemon in your lineup anymore between this and your choice of starter staying out and with you regardless of party makeup it really allows for more freedom in aesthetic choices without wreaking havoc on party strategy. The PC box is accessible from any point in the game instead of being restricted to Pokemon Centers, and nicknames can be changed at will. All of this really indicates an intentionally streamlined process that was supposedly player focused, whether it became too streamlined is going to vary person to person.
Overall I was happy with my purchase of Let’s Go. The game is different, but not bad, and while its simplified approach did end up cutting some things I think were best left alone the nostalgia of the genre was more than enough to carry me through the changes. Despite my enjoyment however, I actually would not recommend the purchase of this game at full price. $60 may be a fair price looking at some major titles on Switch, but the game being a remake of Red means it just doesn’t have the meat to justify the price tag unless you have additional emotional investment in the series.