The Pokémon franchise is expanding its presence on the Nintendo Switch with two new role-playing games: Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! When both games launch on November 16th, players will get the chance to experience many firsts for the series: couch co-op, mobile integration, and big-screen play, all in the style of Pokémon’s traditional RPGs. It’s a step forward for Pokémon that begins with a look back.
The Let’s Go games draw heavily from the handheld Pokémon titles, but they’re also as close to a reboot as the game series has ever come. These new games focus primarily on the Kanto region, home to the original 151 pokémon; the player’s titular partner, whether Pikachu or Eevee, prefers to hang outside of its pokéball, just like in Pokémon Yellow. “These games, Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee!, we took inspiration from and used Pokémon Yellow version, Special Pikachu Edition, as the base for these,” says Game Freak director Junichi Masuda.
Yellow was special for many reasons. It launched after Pokémon Red and Blue (also known as Pokémon Green in Japan), and offered a more complete version of both. It prioritized Pokémon’s rising mascot, Pikachu, and incorporated characters and themes from the animated TV show to “better really resonate with young kids,” Masuda says.
The Let’s Go series is an effort to recapture some of that magic by offering an experience that’s friendly to new or younger players. It isn’t the core RPG experience Game Freak has promised, but rather a more accessible expansion on the Pokémon experience. Players will be able to see wild pokémon on a map, for example, and choose their encounters. The game will also offer drop-in co-op, where a friend can jump in anytime to help the main player catch a difficult pokémon or help in battle. ”With these games specifically, we’re trying to introduce an all-new playstyle,” Masuda says. “It’s really a much more simplified experience compared to the traditional series.”
They’re also games that should be considered through the lens of Niantic’s breakout hit, Pokémon Go. The game was downloaded more than 750 million times and significantly boosted Nintendo 3DS sales. Let’s Go will incorporate Pokémon Go in some major ways, starting with the ability to catch pokémon in the mobile game and then transfer them into the Switch experience. The Pokémon Go Plus peripheral that launched specifically for the mobile game has been reimagined as the Pokéball Plus, which will act as both the current version of the Go Plus and a joy-con for Switch players. Game Freak has also teased further crossover between the two games, including “something special [that will make] the connection between both games even more appealing for trainers,” with details yet to come.
Let’s Go demonstrates the company’s continuing ambitions to keep the Pokémon series fresh and relevant for new audiences, while also delivering the experiences that existing fans enjoy. If the company wants to capitalize on the success of Pokémon Go, it will need to find a way to keep those new players engaged. A free smartphone game is an easy sell, but the barrier to entry is higher when potential Let’s Go players need both a Nintendo Switch and a copy of the game.
Masuda says he’s confident players will pay for the pleasure of playing. On a phone, Pokémon Go players would swipe to toss pokéballs and capture their targets. With the Switch, there’s even more free range with motion controls; flicking the remote to mimic the feeling of tossing a ball, or — with the Pokéball Plus remote — playing with a ball itself to feel more like a real trainer. And playing on a big screen with friends “to really enjoy the experience together” can’t hurt either.
If Game Freak learned one thing from Pokémon Go, it was that the series has more to offer through different design experiences. “I really felt the possibilities that came with simplifying that [pokéball] throwing mechanic to [reach] a much wider range of players of all ages to be able to really enjoy the game,” says Masuda. “I think in that sense, of how it kind of simplified the gameplay, it will affect the business going forward, as well.”
Of course, Pokémon’s strongest card has long been that of nostalgia, and Game Freak is eager to reintroduce those original 151 monsters to the general public. Its focus once again on these core pokémon is reminiscent of Pokémon Go’s initial launch. “We started with the 151 and I think because of Pokémon Go, those pokémon were introduced to a much wider audience than before,” Masuda says. “I kind of feel like those original 151, they kind of represent Pokémon as a whole. Those are the ones I would like kids to experience for the first time.”