Pokémon Let's Go Pikachu Hands-on: Old Meets New

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Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee aren’t the bold evolution of the Pokémon franchise that we’ll probably get in 2019, but that doesn’t make them any less charming or fun. I got my hands on Let’s Go Pikachu at E3 2018, and found it to be a delightful mix of the series’ recent 3DS installments and the mobile action of Pokémon Go.

I spent about 15 minutes with the game exploring Viridian Forest, catching wild Pokémon and getting into battles with fellow trainers. The catching process is lifted directly from Pokémon Go - you’ll toss a Poke Ball into an ever-shrinking circle, and if your timing and accuracy are good, you’ll catch the Pokémon.

Except this time, you'll be doing so with motion controls, and not by swiping on a screen. Catching Pokémon in Let's Go Pikachu felt pretty intuitive; with a quick flick of my Poké Ball Plus controller (more on that later), I was able to digitally toss my Poké Balls to get a bunch of Caterpies and Oddishes into my collection.

As with Pokemon Go, you'll be able to feed Pokemon all kinds of berries to increase your chances of a successful catch. Nintendo hasn't said how catching will work when you're in handheld mode, but I suspect that you'll be able to swipe on the display like in the mobile game -- and hopefully not have to jerk around your entire Switch.

Combat, on the other hand, works exactly how it does in every core Pokemon game. You and your enemy trainer take turns selecting moves and using items, until all Pokémon on one team have fainted. The battle animations and overall visual style are very similar to those of recent 3DS installments such as Pokémon Sun and Moon, just with a shiny, high-definition coat of paint. Let's Go Pikachu is a vibrant, colorful game, but it looks more like a spruced-up version of previous handheld titles than a big, graphically overhauled game.

Exploration is also very similar to that of the main Pokemon titles, but with some added wrinkles. For starters, you can actually see the wild, catchable Pokémon in grassy areas, and won't have to guess which ones may pop up during encounters. Pikachu or Eevee will hang out on your shoulders (depending on which version of the game you pick), and one of the other Pokémon in your party will follow you around. You can even turn around and talk to them, which let to some amusingly goofy dialogue from my Charmander.

A second player can also join the action at any time to help you battle and catch Pokémon, which is another notable first for the series.

Poké Ball Plus

I played the entirety of my demo with the Poké Ball Plus controller, which will launch alongside the games on Nov. 16 for $50 and gets you the mythical Mew right out of the box. I was impressed by how intuitive the tiny ball felt, and had no problem navigating the game one-handed using the ball's joystick and two buttons. The Ball delivers a ton of fan service for Pokémon fanatics -- when you're in the process of catching a Pokémon, the controller will light up, vibrate and make sound effects that sync up with what's happening in-game.

The Poké Ball Plus uses the same HD rumble found in the Switch's Joy-Cons, which makes it actually feel like there's a Pokémon bouncing around inside of there. You'll be able to "store" one Pokémon inside of the ball at any given time, allowing you to take the ball with you for a real-life walk and rack up experience points for your creature as you take more steps. If you don't feel like shelling out $50 for a new controller, fret not -- you'll still be able to enjoy the game one-handed on a single Joy-Con, complete with all of the same motion control and HD rumble capabilities.

Outlook

Overall, Pokémon Let's Go Pikachu and Let's Go Eevee are shaping up to be a fun fusion of classic Pokémon and Pokémon Go. This hybrid throwback isn't the big next step for the series that's likely coming next year, but it should offer more than enough addictive catching and battling action when it arrives on Nov. 16 for Switch.

Credit: Nintendo