I’ve been fairly critical of Pokémon in recent years. Ever since Pokémon X and Y released, I haven’t felt like the franchise has been for me anymore. But at the same time, I never lost my love of what Pokémon once was. That’s why, when Nintendo first revealed the Let’s Go series, I was staunchly opposed to it. At least, I was until I played it.
Concerns with recent games
My problems with the franchise started with Pokémon X and Y. I wanted to like these games. Generation VI introduced some of my favorite Pokémon designs, such as Greninja and Talonflame. But the games’ emphasis on new mechanics and story ruined any chance they had of winning me over. I even tried to play Y twice before finally giving up. It got to the point of feeling like a chore, and I didn’t want to force myself to keep going. That’s not the experience games should create.
The new mechanics that have developed in more recent games have been somewhat hit and miss. Despite my dislike of Sun and Moon, I much enjoy the inclusion of Alolan Pokémon. The same can’t be said of Mega Evolutions, however. I’ll concede that there are some fantastic Mega Evolution designs, but I dislike the temporary aspect attached to it; I’d much rather have a full-on further evolution instead.
I can also appreciate the idea of wanting to change up the formula with Sun and Moon. However, the execution didn’t cut it for me. I missed the gyms and the Pokémon League. I missed not having to run around on a silly fetch quest to take pictures of Pokémon. These changes took away from what I thought made Pokémon so great.
One of the best aspects of the older Pokémon games was how out of the way the story was. What story there was felt seamlessly integrated, whereas in later games it stole the spotlight. This increased emphasis on story translated into what I would consider excessive handholding. Sun and Moon had a significant problem with this. I’ve heard that the games pick up after the first island, but I never got far enough to know that myself.
How Pokémon: Let’s Go fixes the franchise
When Nintendo announced the Let’s Go series, I rapidly jumped on the bandwagon against them. Given my disdain for recent Pokémon titles, this should come as no surprise. I understood what Nintendo was shooting for, but as I found myself outside of the intended audience, I couldn’t get excited about it.
In my eyes, Let’s Go was taking everything I despised about what Pokémon had become and amplifying it tenfold. Gym requirements were nothing but a hassle. The removal of random encounters and the wild battle system took all the fun out of training. Accessing your box from anywhere removed a vast amount of strategy from your journey.
All of these changes were coming to the region I grew up with, the land I’ve loved for two decades. If it were a new region, maybe I wouldn’t have been as opposed. But how dare they change as it stood?!
Then things changed for me the day the Let’s Go demo came to the eShop. After hearing about how good it was from some of my most trusted friends, I decided that I should at least give it a shot. What I found wasn’t a subversion of my childhood; it was an evolution. I finished the demo, grabbed my keys, then drove out to purchase Let’s Go, Pikachu! and the Poké Ball Plus.
Let’s Go is successful by introducing the most substantial amount of immersion in a Pokémon game I’ve felt to date. Seeing wild Pokémon roam freely brings the world to life more than ever before. Using my Poké Ball Plus to capture Pokémon makes me feel like I’m trying to catch them. Rarely have I ever felt this much a part of the virtual world in which I’m exploring.
The future of Pokémon
I would love to see some of these changes implemented in the franchise going forward. Detective Pikachu has proven that there is room for some of these changes, at least in film. The best part of the movie, one that’s criminally underdeveloped, is the world in which it takes place. I became fully immersed in the idea of Pokémon and people living together in harmony.
There’s no reason that the games wouldn’t be able to perpetuate these additions, though I can’t say I’d want them in every title. I could see Let’s Go becoming a spin-off series, letting trainers far and wide revisit all the previous regions. Some things, like uninterrupted access to your Pokémon box, would make excellent additions to the core lineup. However, I’d still want a more traditional experience in this series.
Regardless of whether these aspects persist, it’s been years since I’ve been this excited about Pokémon. Despite its changes, the Pokémon: Let’s Go franchise instilled a strong nostalgia in me. In doing so, I remembered why my love of Pokémon has continued through each new generation—something I had long since forgotten. To quote the TV series, “It’s a whole new place, with a brand new attitude, but you still ‘Gotta catch ’em all!’ and be the best that you can be.”
No matter where the franchise takes us, no matter what it evolves into, Pokémon is and always will be about the journey. The experiences I’ve had with the franchise thus far will always be there. These aren’t a result of the games’ mechanics. Instead, it’s about the adventure of setting out on your own and exploring the world around you. New games mean I have a chance to start another voyage down an uncharted path.
I can’t wait to dive into Sword and Shield when they release. In the meantime, I’m planning on revisiting the games I gave up on with a fresh set of eyes. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even head back to the first generations to relive the best parts of my childhood.