Over the past week I've been playing Pokémon Let's Go for review, and I've done so almost exclusively using Nintendo's new Pokéball Plus controller. The device, which functions both as a Switch controller for Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee as well as a replacement for the Pokémon Go Plus peripheral, doesn't fit every single use case you might have for either a Joy-Con Controller or a Pokémon Go peripheral, but it is a fun novelty that I've found a lot of reasons to keep using.
Let's start with what it does in Pokémon Let's Go on Switch. When connected to your Switch, the Pokéball is recognised by the console as being a new controller, not a Joy-Con exactly, but some different kind of custom controller. It will allow you to navigate basic menus on the Switch with an analogue stick, A and B buttons, but not much beyond that. I did try experimenting with using it as a one-handed controller for a couple of other games and, while it was sometimes recognised, it rarely had the right button layouts to work. In-game you can play almost the entirety of Let's Go with the Pokéball, with a few exceptions, but this is very much a controller you're buying for a single game, or perhaps a pair of games.
While playing with the Pokéball controller prompts do not change in-game, which complicates initial play. Clicking in the control stick functions as an A button, the small red button up top is B, and shaking the controller acts as Y. However, this isn't always the case, because that red button also acts as the X button to open the in-game menu. It sort of plays a little fast and loose with what button does what, and it takes a little messing around to work out. Some on-screen prompts, like the X button shortcut in your Pokémon Box, simply have no button equivalent on the Pokéball, forcing you to go the long way around in menus.
So it's a bit more fiddly than using a regular Joy-Con – why on Earth did I play Let's Go almost exclusively using it? Well, because the gimmicks are great, and make me feel like a little kid again.
Right off the bat there's just something cool about holding a Pokéball while you play Pokémon. It's a well-made prop, with a good twenty-plus hour battery life (it's charged by a USB-C cable, same as the Switch itself), as it certainly should be for £45 – for comparison's sake, a set of Joy-Cons will be £55-70 depending on colour, and the Go Plus device costs £25.
This is a serious investment for fans, and so it engages in some serious fan service. Hammering home the gimmick that this is a real Pokéball in your hand, it shakes in time with the on-screen ball as creatures try to struggle free, it visually lights up to match the capture ring, it makes noises in your hands to emphasise the Pokemon being in there and, when you succeed in the catch, you hear the new creature's cry come out from your hand. It's all little gimmicks, but it really does hammer home the connection between in-game action and real-world prop and is a lot of fun.
The Pokéball Plus comes preloaded with a Mew on the ball and, to answer a question I've seen being asked, yes you can add that Mew to your party pretty much straight away. A starting team with Mew on it! Gotta love the future. You get Mew by redeeming a 'mystery gift' from the ball, and it pops out with randomly-assigned stats: there's no way to trick the game into letting you re-roll for better IVs, believe me I tried.
If you pop a Pokémon in the ball once you've redeemed Mew, you'll basically be able to level it up by walking around with the ball in your pocket. The creature will autospin Pokéstops in Go if you have it connected, and occasionally the Pokéball might make noises, indicating you need to press a button and pay attention to your partner. Once sent back to Let's Go, the Pokémon will receive experience, level up, and let you choose the moves you want learned. This isn't like the old school daycare, where the Pokémon levelling happened off-screen and you risked a move being learned that you didn't want.
The Pokémon Go functionality is basically a different form factor for the Pokémon Go Plus pin. If the ball is empty you will still see a light flash and feel a vibration, telling you that a stop is in range or a Pokémon is ready to catch, both done with a button press. If you load a Pokémon from Let's Go, it'll automatically spin Pokéballs but still prompt your to press a button for catches. It's the same device, but with a different form factor and the ability to autospin stops.
After a week with the Pokéball Plus, the value proposition is... it's a tricky one. I like it, but £45 is a lot of money for a peripheral that only works with two video games. It's a novelty. But it's also a novelty that I can get behind because I'm big into Go, expect to be putting a tonne more time into Let's Go, and enjoy taking Magikarp to the shops and evolving it into Gyrados a bit faster. This is only really one for the Poké-obsessives: but then, you probably knew that already.