Yesterday morning, while I was in the kitchen making coffee, my five-year-old daughter walked into the room with a stuffed Eevee under one arm and a map of the Kanto region in her other hand. We had played a bit of Pokémon: Let’s Go on the Nintendo Switch before bed the night before, and she woke up thinking about pocket monsters. It’s been like this for the past week.
With Let’s Go, developer Game Freak is aiming for a very tricky target. In 2016, hundreds of millions of new players were drawn to the franchise through the mobile game Pokémon Go. But for many of them, the jump to a traditional Pokémon experience — one with battles, experience points, and other fussy role-playing features — was too far. Let’s Go is meant to be a bridge between those two worlds, to appeal to both new and old fans. And if my kid is any indication, Game Freak has hit that sweet spot perfectly.
In a lot of ways, my daughter is the target market for this game. She was introduced to the series through Pokémon Go, which created a magical window into this long-established fantasy world. She went in to Let’s Go enthusiastic about the idea of catching a Pikachu and Eevee but with no real experience in the franchise beyond tossing pokéballs on a smartphone.
Let’s Go is essentially a 3D remake of Pokémon Yellow, which was a slightly enhanced version of the original Red and Blue on the Game Boy. Its story is simple: you’re a kid who leaves home to go on a quest where you meet and befriend as many pocket monsters as possible while fighting to earn gym badges and take on the Pokémon League.
Yellow, like all subsequent Pokémon RPGs, was filled with random battles. In order to capture creatures, you first had to weaken them in a fight. Let’s Go does away with this altogether. Instead, you randomly come across monsters in caves or fields and capture them by tossing pokéballs at them, using the Switch’s Joy-Con controller’s motion controls to simulate the toss. It’s very intuitive and feels remarkably like Pokémon Go. For veterans, it might feel like something is missing, but for my kid, it made total sense: this is exactly how she’s used to catching pokémon.
From there, the game slowly starts to resemble a more traditional Pokémon experience. You still battle against other trainers, and your monsters level up and evolve over time. If they get hurt, you give them a potion or take them to a Pokémon Center. Initially, some of these concepts were a bit hard to grasp for my daughter, particularly finding her way around the Kanto region, but that’s where one of Let’s Go’s best features comes in: co-op.
A second player can join the game at any time, and while they’re limited in their actions, they can still participate in battles and help catch wild pokémon. It’s also ideal for guiding a new player around. I let my kid take the lead most of the time, but when she needs help, I can show her where to go or explain how certain things work. And since each player only needs a single Joy-Con controller, it doesn’t require anything extra to play this way.
Playing with a kid can be frustrating — it’s amazing how long a five-year-old can have fun catching Pidgeys outside of the first town, or how incredibly fast they run out of pokéballs — but it’s also eye-opening. Many of the features that seemed to me like forgettable add-ons are the ones she treasures most — in particular, the ability to use the motion controls or the touchscreen to feed and pet her new Pikachu buddy, which has provided a lot of entertainment. The same goes for the option to take pokémon out of their balls and have them follow you around. Every time she catches something new, she has it follow her just to see what it looks like.
I’m pretty sure that if I played Let’s Go by myself, I would get bored quickly. It’s a story I’ve already experienced, only this time it’s a lot easier. But playing with my daughter has turned it into something else. It’s sharing an experience we both care about in a way that works for both of us — and it provides plenty to talk about over breakfast.
Pokémon: Let’s Go launches on November 16th on the Nintendo Switch.