Pokémon: Let’s Go and Helicoptering

Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go Eevee! will be available on Nintendo Switch.

Usually, I steer hard against passing judgement on something just based on trailers or press releases. At best, these show a limited and curated impression of the final product, which can work wonders to cover flaws or equally fail to show off some particular draw. There’s a reason why I don’t usually even write posts here until the subject has had at least a month to settle in my mind.

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Pokémon: Let’s Go <insert_mascot_here>! is a bit of an exception, though, as what we’ve seen about it so far suggests that it strongly represents a trajectory that the series has been on for around a decade now.

Everything that we’ve seen about this game suggests that it’s the most follow-the-path, color-inside-the-lines game in the series so far.

As a preface, Pokémon has always been aimed at children – from the get-go, it was designed after the popular-in-Japan pastime of bug catching, going on an afternoon adventure in your own backyard. Of your parents letting you off the leash to wander around the neighborhood and find your own adventure.

There’s a huge feeling of individual ownership over a given save file – even from your choice of starting party member, the only shared events between players are told in broad strokes, and players are largely free to construct any team of ‘mons they want from the ground up.

This has gotten less and less true over time – the series has slowly begun to introduce more and more specific storylines with each successive entry, to the point where the off-the-beaten-path legendary Pokémon are routine and mandatory gates to progression. You can no longer name your rival character in new games, and some Pokémon are now forcibly given to players whether they want them or not (including, in the recent Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, a souped-up legendary Pokémon thrust upon you halfway through the campaign).

But worst of all is the narrow paths that the player is forced upon to progress. As an example, here are the major quest paths that the player can undertake when reaching Violet City, the first major city in Pokémon Gold and Silver in 1999:

  • Explore Dark Cave
  • Investigate the Ruins of Alph
  • Climb Sprout Tower
  • Challenge the Gym

And here are the major quest paths available on reaching Hau’oli City, the pacing equivalent in Pokémon Sun and Moon in 2016:

  • Follow your rival around town.

There’s a case that the original Pokémon Red and Blue weren’t much better (Pewter City isn’t exactly a hub of activity), but it does illustrate a growing concern that there’s much less adventure-ing in these adventures, for lack of a better way of putting it.

And now Let’s Go, Marketing Bait! looks to make the training wheels even more apparent.

The main mechanics of capturing Pokémon have been retooled completely from the active engagement of wearing down the opponent to the much more to-the-point swipe-and-throw of mobile juggernaut Pokémon Go. Fair enough, as that’s at least more hands-on.

But, tellingly, promo footage suggests the game will require you to have a monster with one of two specific type advantages in your party before you’re even allowed in the door of the first gym.

No trial and error, no muscling your way through with your favorite ‘mons, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t even like the Water- or Grass-type options available up until that point. You will be funneled into trivializing Brock’s entire gym – and there are suggestions from certain sources that this will be the case for every gym in the entire game.

It’s like having an overprotective mother hovering over your shoulder the entire time you’re play. Sure, there’s less of an opportunity for you to seriously harm yourself, but you also have to stay in a specific area under specific rules or else playtime is over for you, young lady/man.

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Ding-dang kids these days don’t know how easy they’ve got it.

Admittedly, Let’s Go just isn’t designed for players like me. The Pokémon Company has already made it known that it’s targeted at young players and those unaccustomed to video game RPGs, with a more traditional “core” entry following next year. And hopefully this split means that next year’s planned title(s) can feel free to take the leash off the player. That doesn’t change the fact that, at a glance, Let’s Go just isn’t trusting its audience to problem-solve for themselves.

And maybe this is just an opportunity for me to get all cranky and complain about how back in my day, we had to overcome Whitney’s Miltank by our own wits and gumption, and how things have gotten oh-so-much worse since the good ol’ days when you had to walk uphill both ways. Maybe it’s actually for the better that the series’ predominantly-young audience doesn’t have to suffer through level-grinding or throwing their Gameboys controllers in frustration.

But I do genuinely believe that Pokémon loses a lot of its youthful, “going on an adventure” appeal when you’re lead by the hand each step of the way. Rarely are there ever any guardrails on a hiking trail, after all. It’s a double-knock when it’s treading over the same ground as the series visited in 2004 and 1996, where apparently the world was so different that an audience could be trusted to find their own way down the street.

That said, I will probably buy this game at some point, because I’ve got a deep soft spot for Pokémon and I am a sucker. But unfortunately, brand loyalty and nostalgia are a wicked cocktail that’ll have me coming back for a while yet, regardless of whether I agree with the series’ gradual change in attitude and lack of faith in its players.

I still have faith that the games can come back and give us a self-paced adventure with a less point-to-point world again.

Just not necessarily this time.

2 thoughts on “Pokémon: Let’s Go and Helicoptering

  1. My daughter is so excited for this and it will be her first experience of a true Pokemon game (she’s played a little Pokemon Go and absorbed all the cartoons) At the age of 7, the training wheels will probably be appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

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