Game Freak has been adamant that Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! are not an addition to the mainline, “core” Pokémon series — the one that kicked off with Pokémon Red and Blue (or Green, in Japan) back in 1996. Instead, they’re a soft reboot to the beloved Pokémon Yellow, a revisiting of the original Kanto region and the first 151 pokémon that made the series so popular. It’s an improvement on the original gameplay, but players only need to spend a few minutes with the game to understand just how simple it is by modern Pokémon standards.
There’s a soothing, familiar rhythm to Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! While Eevee and Pikachu are content to ride on your shoulder throughout the game, you can also tag in an extra buddy of your choice that’ll dutifully follow behind you. Spinning around to talk to it will give you an idea of how it’s feeling. The kid-friendly pair of Switch games is reminiscent of Niantic’s Pokémon Go, which simplified the experience of catching pokémon to learning how to successfully flick an in-game ball. I played Let’s Go, Pikachu! today at E3 using the Poké Ball Plus, an undeniably cute controller that will also double as the new Go Plus used in Pokémon Go. Like its name suggests, this new Plus is a smooth pokéball that fits comfortably in the palm of your hand. Its capture button doubles as both a joystick to explore the game’s world, and an A button. On the top of the ball is a second button to cancel moves, and… that’s it.
Let’s Go’s world is easy to navigate, whether you’re catching new pokémon or wandering around talking to in-game trainers. Instead of being surprised by what you encounter in the tall grass, you find pokémon when they appear directly on your map. If you choose to engage with them, there is no typical battle between your team and your future captive. Instead, you can feed it berries so it’ll warm up to you, or try throwing a stronger pokéball to capture it with ease. And your throw determines how successful you’ll be — the game’s motion controls mean you’ll actually flick your controller at the screen in the hopes of nailing your prey squarely on the head. The game then distributes experience evenly to your squad to help them all level quickly.
There are trainer battles that will allow you to use your captures to fight, but the main allure of the game seems to be incorporating the tossing mechanic popularized by Niantic. There’s a familiar comfort to it, a deep satisfaction in lobbing a soft toss or a well-aimed overhand throw that gets you an “Excellent!” rating from the game and possibly a new pokémon. Using the Poké Ball Plus feels good, and it’s likely to appeal to collectors — though the $99.99 price tag for the controller and game may be a turn-off. When you catch a pokémon, the ball emits that creature’s specific cry to mark your success. As an added bonus, walking around with a specific pokémon in the ball will help it level up.
Let’s Go isn’t likely to satisfy fans who want to tunnel into a new, deep adventure in the series, but Game Freak already knows this. Instead, it’s put together a simplified version that may be the key to pulling new players into its long-running franchise.