Find out if Pokémon Let’s Go is right for you.
The Pokémon Let’s Go games could be the most divisive games in the Pokémon canon.
You’d think remakes of Pokémon Yellow would be a slam dunk with fans, but these are no ordinary remakes. Once it was revealed that wild battles would be replaced by Pokémon GO style catching sequences, it seemed like feature after feature was getting stripped from this pseudo spin-off. No hold items, no passive abilities, no Pokémon breeding… how basic could these games get? Aren’t the Pokémon games already made with casuals and kids in mind?
Even the Gemr team’s reactions have ranged from cautious optimism to passionate skepticism. But now that both Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee are here, it’s time to set the record straight. Are these easy mode games for casual players, or will longtime fans have a good time too?
I’m happy to say that, while Pokémon Let’s Go won’t be for everyone, the end result might be better than you think.
The difficulty of Let’s Go is on par with the core Pokémon series.
First, a disclaimer: if you’re worried about the difficulty, go into the options menu and change the Battle Style to “Set.” This removes the ability to freely change your Pokémon after each monster you defeat in a trainer battle, which low-key makes it the game’s hard mode.
I know Pokémon games always have this option, but everything I’ll say below is based on this stipulation. Serious gamers who beat Dark Souls every morning for breakfast should turn off the “Switch” Battle Style and never look back.
With that out of the way, Pokémon Let’s Go is about as difficult as you remember Pokémon Red and Blue being back in 1997. While there were concerns about excessive hand holding leading up to Let’s Go‘s release, the finished product doesn’t tinker too much with the battle balance. Yes, you do have to show that you have a Pokémon with type advantage before you face Brock, but later gyms will, at most, ask if you have a Pokémon at a high enough level. Certain encounters here are actually harder than they were originally, thanks to strategies based around moves introduced since the Gen 1 Pokémon games.
In a bizarre twist of fate, it’s the Pokémon GO mechanics that keep the difficulty in check for seasoned fans. Since wild Pokémon encounters can be wholesale avoided, you have to deliberately try to level grind in Pokémon Let’s Go. In fact, trainer battles seem to award less than or equal to the amount of EXP that catching Pokémon in the wild does. If you aren’t crazy about Pokémon GO and want to pretend this is a core Pokémon game, you can just catch the Pokémon you need and otherwise stick to trainer battles for leveling.
This isn’t to say the game is ever hard. I personally found the difficulty to be at its toughest around the midpoint of the journey. Once you settle into your endgame team and clean up the last few gyms, it’s easy to feel totally overpowered going into the final act. At the same time, Let’s Go still does a good job of making you feel like you earned that power. Even with the stripped down mechanics, it’s still rewarding to obsess over your team composition and get your move sets just right. And even then, I wouldn’t say the Elite Four gauntlet was exactly a snooze fest.
If we’re being honest, Pokémon has never been known for its challenging difficulty (outside of your occasional Necrozmas and Miltanks and all). And Let’s Go can be made a lot easier if you use the co-op play or farm wild Pokémon for a virtually endless amount of permanent stat-up candies. But if you like the way that past Pokémon games played, you can stick to the core series mechanics and feel right at home here.
Online battling is still here. Kind of.
Every core Pokémon game since Gen 4 had an easy way to trade and battle with strangers online, so fans were disappointed to learn Let’s Go wouldn’t utilize these features. But now that the games are out, trainers around the world have found ways to beat the system.
You can trade and battle with friends online, though Let’s Go uses an honestly silly system to do it. Instead of directly connecting to your friend via a friends list, each player needs to enter a code of three Pokémon sprites to connect. If the game sees two people use the same code simultaneously, it connects them. In the wake of this, players realized that you can easily enter generic codes indiscriminately and connect with strangers who also enter generics codes indiscriminately. As of writing, the most popular combination is “Pikachu, Pikachu, Pikachu,” which is the equivalent of a “1111” PIN. Some communities have even established certain code combinations to be their unofficial channels for fighting and trading online.
Given how simplified Let’s Go‘s mechanics are compared to previous Pokémon games, competitive battlers are going to prefer Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon until the Generation 8 Pokémon titles officially launch in 2019. But if your enjoyment out of Pokémon comes from seeing how your endgame team fares against other trainers around the world, you can basically get that experience here.
The post game content is pretty good if you like to catch ’em all.
In the months immediately preceding the release of Pokémon Let’s Go, Nintendo went hard in hyping up challenging post game content. Given what we discussed at the beginning, it’s safe to assume this was a ploy to win over skeptics of the game. Let’s discuss what you unlock after the credits roll.
First of all, your post game objectives from the original Gen 1 games are basically intact here. You can still go to the Cerulean Cave to catch Mewtwo, though without wild battles it’s not quite as threatening as it was before. You do fight Legendary Pokémon before you try to capture them, but even Mewtwo falls pretty easily with the right set up. Even under the worst circumstances, it’s not nearly as hard as whittling down a legendary’s health to a sliver and crying profusely when it uses Recover.
As far as new stuff goes, there’s a number of optional battles added to post game. In line with the past few core Pokémon games, you have the option to refight buffed up gym leaders and the Elite Four. You don’t get much for completing them though, so they’re mainly there as a means to grind EXP and money.
There are a few extra trainer battles that fans will love, though at least one of them isn’t given the fanfare it deserves. I mean, come on, you can’t just include the iconic post game battle of Gen 2 and use the generic trainer battle music. It didn’t quite ruin my day, but my disappointment was absolutely immeasurable.
The real meat of post game is the newly added Master Trainers. There are 153 of them scattered across the world after you beat the Elite Four, and each of them specialize in one Pokémon. To defeat them, you can only use the same one Pokémon they use (though Alolan forms are fair game to bring), and you aren’t allowed to use any items either.
I’m not going to lie, this is mostly a time sink. These Pokémon range from Level 65 to 80, and most of them are purpose-built to be good at taking you (and by extension themselves) out. You can strategize depending on the encounter, but after a certain point, it boils down to grinding the stats you need. Also, if your main squad already uses a Stage-2 or 3 Evolution Pokémon, be prepared to raise a second one from Stage-1 all over again to just take out the respective Master Trainers.
As far as I can tell, beating the master trainers just nets you some fun titles that you can put in front of your name for online battles. In other words, you aren’t missing much if you skip it. I do like the concept of the Master Trainers, since it’s fun to play with Pokémon that you’d never think of using otherwise. So if you finish Let’s Go and want an objective to sink your teeth into, the Master Trainers will keep you busy for a long time. But overall, the postgame here isn’t quite as robust as past core games. It shouldn’t be your sole reason to play the game.
One last thing: play in handheld mode.
This isn’t specifically related to Let’s Go appealing to longtime fans, but I can’t in good conscience write an article about these games without mentioning it.
Seriously, if you play these games, play them using the Switch as a handheld. While playing the game docked, the game forces you to control the game with a single joycon faced upward (or the optional Poké Ball Plus accessory, but I can’t comment on that). This control scheme is awkward, though it’s not completely without merit. For example, I can appreciate playing the game with one hand while I use my other hand to shove handfuls of popcorn into my mouth. But when you try to catch a Pokémon… oh man.
In docked mode, you need to use motion controls to catch wild Pokémon. And when it works, it’s decently fun. The problem is trying to catch Pokémon who like to jump all around the screen. I can’t even count how many Poké balls I’ve wasted just trying to hit a Pokémon on the right side of the screen, only for the Joycon to register my throw going in the opposite direction. Maybe I just don’t get how to do it right, but either way, it’s miserable.
In handheld mode, not only can you control the game with two hands like a normal human being, the catching mechanics are improved. Instead of using motion controls, you aim directly at the Pokémon with the Switch’s gyroscopic controls and throw your Poké balls with the A button. Needless to say, this method is way more accurate. As it is, endgame Pokémon can take 5-10 well timed ball throws just to catch them. I’ll gladly take all the precision here I can get.
Every time I put my Switch into the dock, I wished I could play the game using the Pro Controller and use the same gyroscopic aiming as I could in handheld mode. Perhaps Gamefreak will come to their senses and patch this into the game later, but until then, go handheld or bust.
On one hand, if you play Pokémon games to race to end game and battle competitively, Let’s Go doesn’t have a lot to offer you. Though there are ways to battle online with strangers, hardcore fans are going to prefer the deeper mechanics of the past core games.
For everyone else, there’s a lot to love in Pokémon Let’s Go. Despite what the inclusion of Pokémon GO mechanics may lead you to believe, these games aren’t just for casual fans. Let’s Go captures the charm and simplicity of the gen 1 games and introduces enough modern flourishes to make Kanto feel brand new again. Longtime fans who were turned off by the game’s original announcement can rest assured that this is a faithful Yellow remake first and a Pokémon GO spinoff second.
In a way, there’s a sort of quiet beauty in the simplicity of Pokémon Let’s Go. It’s not exactly the way the Gen 1 games were, but it does recapture how it felt to play them back in the 90s. And frankly, it’s soothing to play a Pokémon game that’s closer to the series’ original mechanics with a fresh coat of paint. While I missed the features from the Core series that I’ve grown to love over the years, I wouldn’t turn away another game in the Let’s Go style either. Here’s to us one day getting a Johto Let’s Go game…
… And probably another Kanto remake in about 15 years.