The title says it all. There, I admit it. For myself and so many others that have played these games since childhood, the announcement of Let’s Go! was, to say the least, a disappointment. Cries of shock and horror were heard all across the internet; “It’s just a kids game!”, “The graphics look terrible!”, “No one asked for Pokémon GO 2!”, et cetera et cetera. I openly acknowledge that I was one of those swept up in the hate, claiming that this game was simply a rehash of the first generation adventures, and it’s graphics and gameplay choices were obviously intended to draw in the younger generation and the fans of the hit mobile spinoff Pokémon GO. We believed there was nothing here for the long time series veterans and competitively-minded fans. I still mostly stand by these points; Nintendo definitely knew what audiences it was trying to appeal to.
However, lost in the swath of raging fanboys and gatekeeping nerds, I feel like I lost sight of something quite important to me and this series as a whole. For years now a large majority of the fanbase, present company included, felt that Pokémon had lost some of its luster. It was very difficult to put a finger on what it was that we thought was missing, and with each new entry to the series the issue only grew. In my, (humble), opinion the fourth generation games were the last to feel truly whole as a Pokémon experience, though as anyone who has played these games for more than a few years will know that opinion varies greatly with who you ask. Diamond, Pearl and Platinum were, for me, the last games to possess a great deal of something the series relied so heavily on; heart.
Simply put, many of the recent games in the series don’t feel like Pokémon anymore. These games that we grew to love as children all those years ago have become a warped amalgamation of what they once were, and while some of the charm certainly remains today it’s simply not the same. You can make the argument that involving oneself in the competitive scene will bring about this change in cognition, and that argument definitely has some weight to it. The games became less of an adventure with the friends you trust and count on and more of a regular numbers game RPG, of which thousands can be found elsewhere. Pokémon held something far greater than that for the millions it encaptured; a sense of camaraderie and childlike wonder the likes of which have remained almost entirely unchallenged. Who can forget the first time they beat the Elite Four and thought they had finished the game, only to find their rival waiting as the champion for one last battle? Or the time when it seemed like the fate of the world was at stake as Groudon and Kyogre raged against one another, until Rayquaza descended from the sky and quelled the terrifying behemoths? Modern day Pokémon doesn’t lack these great and memorable moments, but these older titles had the heart to make them stick with us for years.
Okay, enough nostalgia, what does this have to do with Let’s Go? If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m of the opinion that this game actually does bring a lot of heart back to what we love. For once, I’ve actually been able to put my finger on where this comes from. Remember that age old mantra from the late ‘90s that followed Pokémon everywhere it went, “Gotta Catch ‘Em All”? That was once the very core of the series, and during the initial craze of the first few generations it held a lot of weight, due to it being actually achievable. The first couple of generations practically forced players to trade and play together to all reach that same goal, which was a wonderful mirror to Pokémon’s main theme of people working alongside each other and their Pokémon.
But as the years went on and the number of catchable creatures grew to a staggering number, that goal became far less realistic. What was once a communal challenge where people from all walks of life came together to reach the same goal and “catch ‘em all” now exists as an indifference to the newly released creatures and, more importantly, the other people playing the game. Therein lies the heart of the issue; catching new Pokémon simply doesn’t matter to many people anymore. 80% of the new Pokémon are revealed in trailers before a game is released, so the joy and wonder of stumbling across something fresh and exciting is ripped away from the games that need it the most.
Let’s Go shrinks the enormous roster down to the much more manageable original 151, plus a few Alolan variants from the new games. Just like the old games players must now rely on not only their own skill and dedication, but each other as well to get their hands on every available Pokémon in-game. In a way I think, and hope, that this will grant these games a much needed breath of fresh air, and bring people together again in a way not seen for probably about a decade.
Ultimately, nostalgia is a powerful thing, and Let’s Go has that in spades for anyone who grew up with the first generation games, or even for people like me who started with the third gen remakes. Let’s Go is not perfect by any means; many of the gameplay choices lead to the games being remarkably easy, even for newcomers that were brought in by Pokémon GO, and it’s that real lack of difficulty that sets it apart from its predecessors. It would also be nice to be able to actually battle and weaken wild Pokémon so it feels like you earned them on your team, but at least you still can for the Legendaries and Trainer battles.
This game may still not be for you, as it’s certainly a niche pickup with games like Smash Ultimate right round the corner. But if you’re like me and are brushing the game off because it’s “for kids” or something similar, I only ask that you give it a chance and, perhaps for the first time in a long time, actually have fun with a Pokémon game.