Nintendo finally revealed their first Pokémon RPG for the Nintendo Switch in Pokémon Let's Go Pikachu and Pokémon Let's Go Eevee. While the prospect of a Pokémon RPG on a home console is exciting for some, the announcement of Pokémon Let's Go did leave a lot to be desired.
Pokémon Let's Go isn't a proper evolution for the series, on a new, powerful and exciting console. Instead it's just a doubling down of everything that has come before it without much innovation. Let's Go might have some fancy new features like co-op and integration with the app, Pokémon Go. However, if Nintendo and Game Freak really want people to get excited about a new Pokémon game for Switch, they're going to need to do more than produce the exact same game that has existed for years on handhelds.
Pokémon Let’s Go isn’t quite a remake, but it’s very close. The two Switch games, which will release in late 2018, will take players back to the Kanto region. This is the area which was the setting for the first games and initial anime. In addition, Pokémon Let’s Go will mainly feature the first 151 Pokémon, with one brand-new addition and a couple Aolan forms from Sun and Moon.
Pokémon Needs to Evolve As A Franchise, Especially on A New Platform
It’s arguable the first generation of Pokémon is still the most popular. However, this is a very limiting and self-imposed guideline to have with the game. The original 151 are a huge source of nostalgia but they’re just a silver of what the gigantic world of Pokémon has become. Let’s Go will have multiplayer, co-op and competitive, but with such a small roster that puts it way beyond the 3DS Pokémon game. They have had the original 151 Pokémon and hundreds more for years.
Speaking of the 3DS games, they are a huge part of why Pokémon Let’s Go is underwhelming. It’s clear for the trailer that the two new games will have a fresh coat of paint slapped on them, but design wise they appear to be largely identical to the handheld games. Let’s Go has the same isometric, semi-third person view and animations that just do the bare minimum to make the world seem alive.
Let’s Go does look better than the most recent Pokémon games, which were pushing the visual limits of the 3DS, but it’s only by a slight margin. The Nintendo Switch can run Doom, it can do more, visually, with Pokémon. Let’s Go feels more like an HD remake than a brand-new game. Motion controls with a Pokéball controller are fun, if very dorky, and so is the addition that your Pokémon will follow you around. Yet it’s really not enough for what should be a brand new era of Pokémon.
Too Much Pokemon Nostalgia is Holding it Back
Granted, no one is advocating for Pokémon to completely change its structure and its art style, and there are still ways to serve fans of the original formula. Part of the reason that Pokémon has continued to thrive for all these years is because of the through line of familiarity and nostalgia. The homogenous look of each Pokémon entry makes the franchise the gaming equivalent of stepping into a warm bath.
Yet there’s a way for a Pokémon game to be both familiar and fresh. Pokémon should never lose it’s family friendly tone or its wide-eyed, anime-esque art style. The second that Pokémon look more realistic is the second that the franchise dies. Mewtwo becomes a lot less appealing to catch when they look like a real-life vein-y, bulbous, hairless cat with physics powers and not the bright, colorful and cartoon model that fans have been treated to for years.
There should be a happy medium between a nightmarish animal fighting simulator and the exact same game that has been on handhelds that has been done dozens of times. Pokémon should change up the camera, make battles just a little bit of dynamic or even just add new complicated, creative and complex monsters that the hardware of the 3DS could’ve never handled.
With so many other franchises the Nintendo Switch has been able to respect the history of the original games and charge forward a new legacy. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild still feels like Zelda but there’s all these new and exciting elements, like a truly open world, a new approach to combat and, yes, even cooking. The same holds true for Super Mario Odyssey which is a revamp on the jumping plumber’s usual formula. There’s hardly anything new in Pokémon Let’s Go.
There is some hope for the future. Pokémon Let’s Go isn’t the core RPG that Nintendo promised during E3 2017. A brand-new Pokémon RPG is coming to Switch in 2019. Hopefully that game adds more than just hundreds of new pocket monster to play with and ends up being the evolution the franchise needs. Right now, as a first step onto the Switch, Pokémon Let's Go isn't enough.