Pokémon Let's Go Has Much More to Offer Serious Trainers Than You Might Expect

By Laura Kate Dale on at

Everything about the way Pokémon Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee has been marketed focuses, and this is not too surprising given the runaway success of Pokemon Go, on accessibility and appealing to players who may not have experience with the series' core RPG entries. From the heavy focus on Pokemon Go connectivity to a simplified capture system, the presence (initially at least) of only the first 151 Pokemon, to the decision to make wild creatures visible on the world map, everything seems geared at making it less daunting for people who haven't played since the Game Boy to get back in and started on a grand Pokémon adventure.

While it's true that Pokémon Let's Go is a little more simplified than past RPG entries in some regards, and not all of those changes may turn out well for the top-end competitive scene, there are more than enough new changes and depth to keep more experienced trainers happy. Yes it's easier for new players to jump in, but it's also easier for those who've played every games story but never cared for stats and shiny hunting to get more invested in those activities. Ultimately the changes made in Let's Go make the depths of Pokemon more convenient to access, which is surely a good thing.

This is the Pokémon game that finally makes shiny hunting, natures, and IVs accessible for everyone, and after around sixty hours of play, I believe a rising tide is going to raise all ships.

At its core Pokémon Let's Go is a pretty faithful Gen 1 remake, with additional content, modern conveniences, and an expanded endgame. You once again play a young kid from Pallette Town, being given your first Pokémon by Professor Oak, heading out to get your eight gym badges, defeating Team Rocket, and collecting a full suite of Pokémon. It's not 100% a remake of Yellow (which was itself basically a director's cut of Blue / Red) there are some unexpected story beats introduced that help to better flesh out why certain events take place and to better contextualise certain events, but it's built on those same foundations.

One change that has proven unpopular online from those yet to play the full game is that the catching mechanics have been changed to mimic Go, and that's not an entirely good thing. Rather than fighting Pokemon to lower their HP to near zero, applying a status effect, then trying to capture then, capturing is now purely based on your timing and angle when throwing a ball, and if you've used up any consumable berries to help out on the capture. The downsides are pretty clear: you've got less control over your capture encounters, and in some cases this is frustrating. When you've thrown twenty ultra balls in a row at a legendary, and it's not staying in the ball, the inability to just paralyse it first is irritating. Berries and balls are both consumable items, the latter costing money earned in trainer battles, so throwing a few balls in a row at a creature rather than weakening it first feels like a real waste if you're a series veteran. It also drastically increases the fear of a runaway when you luck into finding a shiny.

But the change is actually not all doom and gloom and, as much as I initially opposed the idea, I really appreciate this switch in the post-game. A lot of Let's Go's endgame is about catching the same Pokémon over and over in chains, to increase average stats odds and shiny rates, and not having to battle each individual Ponyta I encounter in a chain before trying to catch it is pretty great. Additionally, by not requiring players to fight monsters before making catch attempts, I no longer had to fear my team being too overpowered and accidentally one-shotting the Pokemon I wanted to catch. I didn't have to keep running back to the Pokémon Centre to refresh PP for moves, which encouraged me to stay out catching for longer without breaks. It encouraged me to catch more duplicate creatures, and to stay in areas catching longer, which feels like a net benefit.

With regards to the catching mechanics, it is true that you can't turn off motion controls, but it's also true most people can play without making use of them. In docked more, the only option is to make a throwing motion with the joy-con to throw the pokéball. In handheld, gyro motion is used to aim at the Pokémon, with a button press used to throw the ball. However, the left stick also works for aiming in handheld, which does open up the option of holding your hands still and using the stick to aim. If you're a player with mobility issues, where keeping your hands still is an issue, you will unfortunately be out of luck, as there is no option to turn off motion entirely and just play the game with handheld mode's stick-point and button-press method. This feels like Nintendo purely trying to push motion controls rather than offering players the best possible user experience, and given the game's more general focus on accessibility feels a bit of a shame.

On the other side, the ability to play one-handed on a console is nice, and in handheld using the stick to aim and the gyro to pinpoint that aim feels great. It makes catching a relaxing zone out experience.

One of the other big changes made to encourage more players to engage with Pokemon's depths is the increased transparency of IV values. A quick explainer: in most of the Pokemon core RPGs there are stats called IVs, or individual values. The idea behind these values, which were previously not shown in-game and had to be reverse-engineered by the community, is that two level 8 Caterpie might be the same level, but both have different potential max strengths in a series of values. You could train both up to level 100, and they would have wildly different strengths and weaknesses based on these invisible IV values.

About three gyms deep into Let's Go, there is an NPC who can reward players with the ability to check these IV values in-game. Once unlocked you can simply view any Pokémon in your collection, press one button, and see on a spider graph how close to perfect the IV values are in each stat. This increased transparency around IVs makes it far easier to know at a glance if the Magikarp you caught is worth training up for serious use, or should be tossed back in the river. Some core players may be annoyed by these changes but, honestly, all it's doing is speeding up the process of checking creatures in-game, and allowing more people to work out they can be better than they are. There really isn't much to dislike.

A help with this is that you can catch as many Pokémon as you want, with plenty of encouragement to find better creatures and push for the top end of stats, with your 'box' of Pokémon accessible from the in-game menu and seemingly unlimited in size. It's easy to sort, easy to mark the creatures worth keeping, and makes the idea of capturing countless Rattata much more palatable.

One thing that Pokémon Let's Go doesn't really tell players early enough, but feels important for serious players to know, is how the chain capture system works. Because Let's Go places all its Pokémon spawns visible on the overworld, it's now easy to deliberately encounter the same Pokémon over and over in a consecutive row. By catching the same Pokemon consecutively, without any of the ones you try to capture running away, a combo meter builds, which does a number of things in-game. When you reach a combo of around ten, you'll start to encounter rarer creatures in that area at a slightly higher frequency, as well as being rewarded with more EXP for capturing them. You'll also find you get more rewards related to the Pokémon you're chain-catching; they will become easier to capture to the point they'll eventually seem to stop putting up a fight, and you'll drastically raise your chance of encountering a shiny one.

If what you want to do is hunt Shiny creatures in Go, you can still luck into them with an incredibly low rate of natural appearance. I personally caught a shiny Zubat in Mt Moon, and that was the first time I have ever caught a shiny without explicitly trying. If you chain-catch the same Pokemon over and over, in my experience you're looking at a chain of 130-150 ish to find a shiny. The shiny Pokemon isn't guaranteed to be the one you've been chaining, it seems to heavily favour the chained creature but could be any in the current route, but this seemed to be roughly the number range needed to boost your luck to the level where one is almost certainly gonna turn up eventually. Shiny Pokemon also appear shiny on the overworld map, so you don't need to check every single wild Pokemon for shiny status.

On top of that, catching the same Pokemon that many times in a row seems to cause the quality of their IV stats to trend upwards, not guaranteeing perfect stats but helping you get closer. After my first 130 capture chain I managed to capture two of my target Pokemon with near-perfect IVs, which I was happy were good enough to be worth using as my early ones to train up. Catching the same Pokemon over and over will often reward the player with items to power up the chain Pokémon, or candy to increase a specific stat in the rest of your party. If you really persevere with a chain combo, in my test case catching 400 Ponyta, I ended up with 1 perfect IV non shiny, seven non shiny with stats just shy of perfect, and four shiny creatures with middling stats, three Ponyta and one non Ponyta.

All these changes make it easier for pro players to do what they already want to be doing – getting the very best Pokémon – and make it far more appealing for new players to seek improving their skills. The bulk of these changes make the catching and training endgame much more approachable.

Given the game's approach you might expect that the difficulty has been toned down, but this isn't the case. The battles are missing a few traditional aspects of the series like held items and passive abilities, but it's still built around type matchups, a team with good balance, and being able to deal with the unexpected. There are some truly tough battles, particularly those with Coach Trainers who each have a specific combat gimmick, and when it comes to battling trainers and fighting your way to the top, this is still a challenge worthy of Pokémon.

Additionally, once you've beaten the elite four, you'll find a bunch of master trainers hidden around the world, who each challenge you to a one-on-one battle where trainers can use only one Pokémon. Having delved pretty deep into this system, I can say spoiler-free that it's surprising what movesets and styles you'll see used against you, and counter-intuitive tactics that work surprisingly well. It's a real challenge to beat these trainers, as well as a signal that you're raising decent Pokémon in your own right. It also feeds back beautifully into the capturing stuff, and really makes you aspire to find better and better Pokémon.

Pikachu or Eevee, whoever your starter Pokémon happens to be, is now your HM moves Pokemon, but you'll be pleased to know they don't take up slots on your battle moves list, and even better don't have to be in your Team. It has to be noted that your starter Pokémon has perfect IV stats, so you'll probably want them in your party anyway, but if you don't then they still hang around for the new world-traversal equivalents of fly, surf, or strength. I primarily played Let's Go Pikachu, and I found myself invested in making my starter the first creature I bulked up to its perfect potential in spite of not needing it in my party.

On the topic of your starter creatures, there's a few important things to note. No matter which version of the game you start with, you can catch both wild Pikachu and wild Eevee, meaning that getting evolved forms of your starter, as well as the other starter, is doable. Wild versions will not be able to learn the starter-specific new moves, which allow Pikachu or Eevee to have a much wider move type spread than normal, but you won't be prevented from getting both starters and their evolutions regardless of version.

Also on the topic of starting Pokémon, the ability to dress up both player and starter is adorable. The selection of outfits available was surprisingly wide, with random NPCs often just giving you cool outfits for talking to them. Talk to every single NPC you can find in the game, or risk missing some of the best threads available. It's a shame the play and feed mechanics offered regarding your starter are not available for your full selection of Pokemon, but I did get very attatched to my little Pikachu with a fringe, glasses, flowery tail and cute sailors hat.

At the time of writing, unfortunately, the Pokemon Go link-up is not available in Let's Go – it's arriving via an update soon. We'll cover the Go inter-connectivity in a separate feature once it's available. At the time of writing, Go Park appears in Let's Go, but accessing it is not possible.

After these granular thoughts on the game, I'd like to step back a little bit from the specifics, and think about Let's Go as an experience. Sure it's yet another Gen 1 remake, but it's also a beautiful Gen 1 remake that changes a number of mechanics in ways that make it fresh and new. Locations from Kanto have at times had thematic or visual remixes, additional plot characters change the tone of the adventure, and there's a bunch of surprises waiting for players to find after finishing the main game. There's a whole different style here. It's equal parts about dressing up Eevee as a Team Rocket member, and equal parts capturing 200 Geodude in a row to find a shiny and a perfect IV rockball.

Sure, I kind of miss the option to battle Pokémon pre-capture, but overall Let's Go earns the changes it makes by managing to craft an accessible entrypoint to the series, aimed at the kind of player who enjoyed Pokémon Go, while maintaining the depth that more committed players love. Yes Pokemon Let's Go is sometimes a simplified HD remake of Yellow, but it's also so much more and builds to a serious endgame that will satisfy almost any trainer. Some Pokémon fans wonder if they should skip Let's Go entirely, such is their disquiet at its changes. This hasn't lost the depth, and if anything the whole solo adventure and endgame is set up to bring more players into that online competitive side. Let's Go has kept me hooked in the post-game better than perhaps any past entry and that says it all. This might look cute and fluffy, but it's got serious bite.