What the Detective Pikachu game and movie have in common.
After over 30 years, we’re finally getting the live action Pokémon movie we dreamed of as kids. Well, maybe not exactly what we dreamed of, because who could have guessed Detective Pikachu would be the game that gets major Hollywood treatment?
Detective Pikachu was released for the 3DS in 2018. It’s a point-and-click style Adventure game, similar to The Walking Dead games or classics like Phoenix Wright and Escape from Monkey Island. The concept was well received by the community, though heavily memed prior to the official English localization. Critics liked the game, but didn’t love it. It currently sits at a score of 71 on Metacritic, with reviews praising Pikachu’s character while decrying the simple gameplay and cliffhanger ending. Overall, a charming spin-off title, but it wouldn’t be that memorable were it not for the movie.
With such an underdog entry in the Pokémon franchise going to the silver screen, how much will the movie have in common with the game? And more importantly, will playing the game ruin the movie (or vice versa)? Let’s compare the movie’s current trailers with what we know about the Detective Pikachu game.
How the Detective Pikachu game and movie are similar
It’s clear from the trailers that the core plot of the Detective Pikachu game is intact for the movie.
Protagonist Tim Goodman is searching for his father Harry, a detective who mysteriously disappeared in a car accident. While investigating the incident, Tim encounters the titular Detective Pikachu, his father’s partner Pokémon. Despite Pikachu’s amnesia, Tim possesses the unique ability to communicate with Pikachu. Together, they embark on a journey to uncover the secret’s behind the disappearance of Tim’s father.
The surface level plot is identical, and other key plot details have been confirmed by the trailers too. Pikachu’s coffee addiction, for example, is clearly intact. We can also see Ludicolo working the café, just like in the game. Machamps are doing manual labor in both titles, and the angry Aipom in the second trailer indicates that the first case from the game will also be carried over into the movie. Other notable Pokémon from the game are slated to appear in the movie in a different context, but more on that later.
The most notable carry-over Pokémon here is Mewtwo, who was dramatically revealed in the second trailer. Players of Detective Pikachu know that Mewtwo plays a pivotal role in the plot of the game, but for the sake of spoilers I won’t go any deeper than that.
From the trailers alone, it’s clear that the filmmakers studied the game very carefully for this adaptation. However, it’s clear that we shouldn’t expect a 1:1 conversion of the game by any means.
How the Detective Pikachu game and movie are different.
Right away, the tone of the movie is wildly different than the Detective Pikachu game. The game uses a Disney-esque aesthetic that’s intended for younger audiences. Meanwhile, the movie is realistic to an almost unsettling degree, clearly aiming to appeal to older Pokémon fans. The movie is slated to have a PG rating, which doesn’t seem like a big deal until you realize that every Pokémon movie so far has been rated G. The Detective Pikachu game is also rated E by the ESRB, the video game equivalent of a G rating.
Tim Goodman is also reimagined for the movie. In the games, Tim is a kid and softspoken hero who doesn’t have a ton of backstory. In the movie, it’s revealed that Tim doesn’t necessarily want to follow his father’s footsteps and actually wanted to be a Pokémon trainer once upon a time. We can also see Tim is stronger and more sarcastic in the movie, as illustrated by aiming a stapler at Pikachu when they meet in his apartment.
Speaking of, that apartment scene shows us how key scenes will play out differently in the movie. In the game, Tim meets Pikachu at the start of the first case while chasing down some mischievous Aipoms. Also, while there is a rampaging Charizard in the games, it’s only seen on a video of a parade gone wrong. Both movie trailers have shown Charizard in a cage fight with Pikachu, which doesn’t resemble any scene from the games.
Most importantly, we can see there’s a ton of stuff in the movies that are total departures from the content in the game. We could nitpick the trailers some more to point out every example, but the movie’s IMDB page does all the talking for us. Beyond the two protagonists, none of the named characters appear to have an obvious counterpart to the game’s cast. Lucy, played by Kathryn Newton, could possibly be the equivalent of the reporter Emilia from the game. But judging from the Psyduck by her side, she could just as easily be a homage to Misty from the anime.
It’s not unreasonable to guess that the finished movie will follow the game’s plot more closely than what we’ve seen so far. But even if that’s the case, we can still safely say that the Detective Pikachu movie will forge its own unique identity apart from the content of the game.
What to expect of the Detective Pikachu movie.
After looking at all the facts, Detective Pikachu appears to follow the Scott Pilgrim style of film adaptation. That is to say, the movie will use the source material’s plot to deliver a unique experience that will surprise fans and newcomers.
This is absolutely not a bad thing. As we’ve discussed before, a good adaptation should never be a perfect conversion of the source work. Detective Pikachu is an unprecedented love letter to Pokémon fans, and it’s clear the filmmakers are cramming in as much fan service as possible into this package. If a newly added cage fight with Charizard is an excuse to choreograph a live action Pokémon fight, then I’m all in.
With a Detective Pikachu sequel movie already announced without a corresponding game announcement, it’s inevitable that the movie will forge its own plot separate from the game. But with how well received the movie has been so far, it looks like this was the right call. The jury’s still out on how good the movie will be once it’s released, but even in the worst case scenario, the game will still be a fresh experience if you want to play it afterwards.