Media got a surprise early look at Pokémon: Let’s Go at the Nintendo VSUK event this weekend.
While everyone was promised a UK first hands-on with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, booth staff were told just the night before they’d also be facilitating Pokemon: Let’s Go for media.
As you might expect, it was also the most strict demo at the event with a Pokemon Company representative regularly watching over our shoulders as we played.
The good news, both Pikachu and Eevee versions of the game were playable, enabling us to explore the entire length and breadth of Viridian Forest. The bad news, we got no further.
What’s more, we also got extensive hands-on play with the Pokeball Plus. And we came away mostly impressed, albeit with some slight concerns.
How is that Pokeball Plus?
We didn’t play with the Joy-con at all so are not able to comment how responsive it is or how it plays. The representative also couldn’t be drawn on any specifics, so this preview is based entirely on Pokeball Plus action.
The Pokeball Plus, however, is actually a very impressive piece of tech. Personally, I feel it offers a perfect bridge for those who’ve caught the Pokemon bug with Go and want to jump into a more comprehensive console experience, which Pokemon: Let’s Go offers. Basically, this is how Nintendo capitalizes on that community and gets them on board with Switch.
As you can see from the picture above, there’s a wrist strap similar to that found on a Joy-con but also a ring where you can put your finger. For us, we felt most comfortable slotting a middle finger through so as to keep ball control at all times. Considering one of your regular motions is to throw the ball at the TV screen, that’s probably for the best.
The ring is also in place to keep your finger in-line with the button on top of the Pokeball. A button we were actually forbidden to press during the entire demo because it opened up a secret menu we weren’t allowed to see. From what we can gather though, it will probably bring up the in-game options available to the player when the game launches.
The thing that most impressed me about the Pokeball, though, is the small analog stick on the front of the ball. Despite the size, my thumb never fell off nor did it feel clumsy or cumbersome to control. Sometimes, it didn’t even feel like I was using an analog stick at all, yet most of my time in the demo was spent twizzling it around with my thumb and clicking it in to select actions from the menu.
The ball felt really snug in the palm of my hand with a really smooth surface for added comfort. But it nestles in so well that, to be completely honest, I forgot it was there half the time. The HD rumble does serve as an effective reminder of course and is a natural fit here as your hand is clasped around the entire ball so you get the full effect. It’s never uncomfortable though, and always provides the appropriate amount of reverb unlike one of those gyroscopic power balls on a string.
But I suppose the big question is, how does catching feel and is it any good?
Well, the good news is that it works almost exactly the same way as Pokemon Go. When you’re ready to throw the ball, you simply press and hold in the analog stick button and the familiar shrinking circle will appear around the Pokemon. From there, you ‘throw’ the Pokeball overhand towards the TV screen and the ball responds to the gesture in the digital world.
As we were throwing balls, the rep told us that the gyroscope is so responsive that it can actually track where you throw the ball at the screen. So, if you’re trying to catch a moving Mon like a Golbat and you throw it towards the top right-hand corner of the screen, that’s where the ball is going to go. Based on our time with it, we can definitely back up that claim.
Through the demo, we were mostly catching Pidgies, Ratatas and Weedles, so it was actually quite easy to get great and even excellent throws, but something we really struggled with was curveballs. It’s not just us either as the rep also admitted that he’d struggled to do it as well. It’s not a simple case of spinning the ball around and throwing inward either as the ball just drops limply from your hand.
After an hour with Pokemon: Let’s Go, sadly, it’s not something we mastered or even figured out how to do. I don’t know if this is something still being worked on – bare in mind, this is a slightly updated E3 build – but it is our one main concern coming away from a hands-on session with the ball. Hopefully, Let’s Go will feature some sort of training system for players who purchase a Pokeball Plus so they can get the most out of it and master some advanced techniques.
But the cool aesthetics of the ball really help sell the experience with the LED prominently flashing when you catch a Mon with sounds unique to that creature audibly blaring through the little speaker once they’re caught. Truly, it’s a lovely touch and definitely fulfills the dream of any Poke addict who’s always wanted an interactive sphere of their own.
I’m going to be honest, after playing Pokemon: Let’s Go with the Pokeball Plus I’m not actually sure I want to experience it with a Joy-con. This feels like the definitive way to play. And with them also being fully compatible with Pokemon GO, enabling you to hatch eggs, get candy and count your steps, as well as playing the game without checking your phone screen, I’d argue there’s plenty of justification for the price tag.
It also seems safe to assume that these are quietly replacing the Pokemon Go Plus wristbands as those are no longer stocked on the official Nintendo website. If you have one, I guess it’s a collector’s item now.
Ok, enough about balls. What about Pokemon: Let’s Go?
Well, the good news is there’s definitely a game for all tastes here. As mentioned, we were strictly confined to Viridian Forest, though the build was in such a state you could actually venture beyond that. However, with Pokemon Company reps hanging around, we figured we’d just do as we’re told. We’re good like that.
As you might expect then, this was very much a mechanic-focused demo of Pokemon: Let’s Go. There were no story hints or clues about how faithful this is going to be to Pokemon Yellow. Basically, we had a few trainer battles with the only dialogue being a bit of banter, then we caught a lot of wild Pokemon. What’s immediately clear though, is that the interface offers the right balance of simplicity and complexity for players old and new.
Obviously there’s a huge graphical upgrade from Pokemon Yellow with well-rounded models, gorgeous lighting and noticeable weather effects with bushes rustling and moving in the wind. The battles are also heavily active, animated affairs with trainers throwing out balls and each Mon able to show off their skills in glorious HD.
Pokemon Sun and Moon really set the tone for this and you should absolutely check that out while you wait for Pokemon: Let’s Go.
With a Pokemon following you around at all times which you can chat to, and wild Mons moving around in typical fashion, it makes the world seem incredibly alive. More than in any other Pokemon game. But it also makes it more of a choice-based game, giving the visual cues needed to pursue the type of Pokemon you want, avoiding ones you don’t. Again, another first.
And navigating the menus while playing with ball just felt so seamless. I never felt limited or constrained in any way and was always able to do exactly what I wanted, when I wanted. Like switch out my Poke Balls for Ultra Balls with ease, and combine my approach with Razz and Pinap Berries.
Just like Pokemon Go, berries work in much the same way. Razz Berries will calm down a restless Pokemon making them easier to catch, but in Pokemon: Let’s Go, a Pinap Berry will see a Pokemon gift you additional items when captured as opposed to extra candy.
It’s also incredibly easy to switch out Pokemon during battle should you want to mix up strategies with every member of your team earning experience points as you play the game. Each Pokemon has their unique abilities as well, such as Pika’s lightning strike and Eevee’s tail whip, and they look absolutely stunning on the big screen.
We did level up very quickly while playing, though, and whether that’s been accelerated for the Pokemon: Let’s Go demo is unclear, but it did make the trainer battles a bit too easy. While Viridian Forest is obviously an early area in the game and a way for you to get used to how to play, the balancing did feel a little off and definitely weighted in favor of the player.
Still, as both an old-school Pokemon player and avid collector in Go, I saw enough to convince me that I’m going to love Pokemon: Let’s Go come November. It’s hard to define it as either a reboot or a remaster, it’s more of a reimagining. And while that’s already proven to be quite divisive among the community, there is plenty to be excited about for all players.
Simply put, I’ve no reason to believe this won’t be the biggest game on Switch to date, certain to introduce a whole new community to this incredible console, but also provide a few surprises for the skeptics. No, it’s not a conventional Pokemon experience – you’ll have to wait next year for that – but it feels like a fresh way to experience a classic game and a perfect way to satiate everyone’s hunger for more.