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Pokémon: Let’s Go simplifies the series without losing its soul

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Kanto never looked better

Pokémon: Let’s Go

Since Pokémon: Let’s Go’s announcement, Game Freak director Junichi Masuda has hammered home a single point: this is not your typical Pokémon role-playing game. Instead, it’s a softer, more approachable version. The kind of game meant to capture the attention of younger audiences who never experienced the original games, new fans drawn into the series by Pokémon Go, and older players whose nostalgia will win them over.

The most surprising thing about Pokémon: Let’s Go — which comes in both Pikachu and Eevee varieties — is that it nails that Venn diagram perfectly.

Let’s Go is a mashup of series favorite Pokémon Yellow and Niantic’s breakout hit Pokémon Go. Set in the Kanto region, home to the series’ original 151 pokémon, players strive to become a top trainer by challenging gym leaders and building a strong team of pokémon. It faithfully follows the story laid out by Yellow, but the actual game has been simplified. Unlike most Pokémon RPGs, which let you choose from three starting pokémon, Let’s Go begins the player with the mascot character from their version, Pikachu or Eevee.

The simplification doesn’t stop there. As the main Pokémon series has advanced, so too have its systems. Modern games aren’t just about catching your favorite pokémon anymore, but breeding, training, and cultivating a team down to the very last stat. Let’s Go allows you to tinker with baseline attributes with candies, but otherwise has ditched those complex systems. Even level grinding individual pokémon is gone; your entire party gains experience simultaneously, whether you’re catching new creatures or battling trainers. Battling, too, has been restricted only to trainer fights. When you want to catch a pokémon, all you have to do is perfect a throw through timing — much like in Pokémon Go — and the Switch’s motion controls.

Pokémon Go

Let’s Go also allows you to tag in a friend for co-op couch play. With drop-in multiplayer, you can double up on battles, or work together to catch pokémon. For players who want a challenge, co-op will bring the game’s already easygoing pace to a halt. The game doesn’t adjust its difficulty to account for two, whether you’re ganging up on a trainer or doubling up your chances on a tricky catch. It’s a mode meant more for sharing the experience than anything else.

That’s ultimately part of what makes Let’s Go so special: its ability to remake something old into something equal parts nostalgic and charming. As a longtime player, there’s something extraordinary about seeing Kanto in fresh new detail, with wonderfully detailed 3D visuals that far surpass any of the handheld entries. I can’t overplay just how good it feels to play a Pokémon RPG on my TV, with an actual controller, instead of strictly as a handheld.

It’s the details that tie it all together, from finding a Nintendo Switch on an NPC’s desk, to letting pokémon out of their balls to follow you around. I was excited every single time a new pokémon would appear on-screen for me to catch. Small touches like the sheer scale of pokémon — an Onix or an Arcanine, for example, dwarf your player character — bring the series to life in a new way. Even dressing up my Eevee, or spending time rubbing its head, for no reason other than that I could, made the game feel that much richer.

As Pokémon has grown as a series, I’ve sometimes felt left behind or even stuck in my memories of older games. I’m less interested in catching them all these days, or massaging specific stats into my perfect fighter. Let’s Go allowed me to live in its world without the grind.

Pokémon: Let’s Go is launching November 16th on the Nintendo Switch.