There's a certain shroud of mystery around Pokemon Let's Go (opens in new tab) Pikachu and Eevee. These new hybrid games - to match the hybrid console you're going to be playing them on - are half Pokemon Yellow and half Pokemon Go, with a load of cross-play for the latter also on offer. But as strange as that might all sound, it's much more like a core RPG Pokemon Switch game than I expected.
My E3 demo took place in Viridian Forest, which was strangely like going back in a time capsule to the '90s and me playing the Kanto games on the Game Boy, but boy is this a world away from the days of the Pokemon Yellow. This absolutely looks and feels like a Switch game; a Pokemon for a new era. Not only does it look fantastic, but there are actual Pokemon milling about for you to bump into and try to catch. It's bizarre walking through the long grass knowing exactly what you can catch. This is very much taking a leaf out of Pokemon Go's book.
It's also strange that you don't actually battle Pokemon anymore, only trainers. Getting a Pokemon into your Pokedex is basically like playing Pokemon Go, complete with the same selection of berries, and actually using the Joy-Con or the new Poke Ball Plus controller to swing and through the ball at the Pokemon, using the undulating rings to dictate how good your throw is. Apparently, Pokemon Let’s Go will include curve balls like Pokemon Go too, but in the full game rather than this E3 demo.
I played the entire demo at E3 using just the Poke Ball Plus controller, and let me tell you, young me playing Pokemon Yellow would have probably cried a lot at the thought of this little peripheral. It’s basically like being a real Pokemon trainer. It’s just the right size, has a nice heft to it and is gloriously tactile. Your A button sits on the joystick click in the centre of the ball, and then a B button is hidden in the top of the ball in the red portion. And… that’s it. You don’t get access to any of the other buttons like you would with a single Joy-Con, and I definitely saw a prompt that asked me to press Y, so that might be a little confusing.
Actually using the Poke Ball Plus to throw the balls is wondrous though. This is basically all those play pretend games I had as a kid wanting to be Ash Ketchum come true. But, sometimes the gyroscope is off and a gentle flick of the ball forwards sends the on-screen replicate careering off to one side. There’s definitely a knack to it. Those small quirks don’t detract from the fact that it’s a great bit of kit, and hearing the noises of the Pokemon inside is a wonderful touch.
Interestingly the idea of variations on Pokemon actually comes into play in Pokemon Let’s Go too, with auras circling Pokemon that are larger or smaller than average. I’m not sure yet how this will help your game, but don’t worry meta fans, CP is still a big deal.
The battles though are much more in line with a traditional RPG - there are even Gyms en route featuring old favourite faces like Brock himself. It's just a case of battling with your chosen Pokemon as per usual. Of course, thanks to the buddy system in Pokemon Let's Go, there are some rather adorable animations to go with every battle. I played the Pikachu version of the game, and he's sat upon your shoulder, but as battle starts you reach around to get him and fling him into battle in a way that very much channels the original anime series. Oh, I am so in.
So yes, although this might not be the core Pokemon Switch RPG you were hoping to play this year, but actually, even if you ignore the Pokemon Go gimmicks, this is already shaping up to be quite the lovely reboot. There are some wonderful nods to the old game, especially in the way its been lovingly recreated and revamped, and ultimately it's a Pokemon game on Switch that's going to be a fantastic window into whatever that big core RPG will be.
Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee are launching on November 14, exclusively for Nintendo Switch.