Pokémon: Let’s Go… Backwards

The first Pokémon games for the Nintendo Switch recently had their first trailer emerge, setting the internet on fire with many mixed emotions. Some are excited to see anything Pokémon grace their beloved Switch. Others are upset that this isn’t going to be the new core game in the series they’ve been dying to play. And there are a lot of people in the middle struggling to care too much one way or the other. I know it’s early, but with the way hype cycles work I may as well talk about this now while it’s still hot because a couple weeks after its release we’ll be forgetting all about these and looking forward to the next big thing from Nintendo if not just the new Pokémon games themselves.

So the dual release of new games will be Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu and Pokémon: Let’s Go Eevee. They’re based on the first generation of Pokémon. More specifically, they are based on Pokémon Yellow and the events of the popular anime cartoon series. They are slated to feature the original 151 Pokémon along with many series updates, including new form variants. It’s the same old region and will likely be a familiar structure to the originals. There will be no breeding or eggs, nor will there be random encounters. Instead you’ll see the Pokémon on the map and rather than battle them you’ll simple be able to toss Poké balls at them for a chance to catch them just like in Pokémon Go. Speaking of which, you can connect your Pokémon Go game to these and transfer Pokémon from it to your Switch. There’s also a specialized controller being released in the style of a Poké ball that will simulate the experience of actually throwing one and it is planned to be compatible with both Go and Let’s Go. Though battling will still be done in the classic turn-based style. The games also have had a visual overhaul to look more like modern Pokémon titles. Also, depending on which version you pick, you’ll either start with a Pikachu, or for the first time ever you’ll be able to start with an Eevee just like Gary. Ya know… in case you’re the type of person to say things like smell ya later… I guess.

Before I go tearing into this on a bunch of different fronts, I would like to start out by sharing my positive thoughts first. Hopefully you’ll keep them in mind as the urge to light torches and grab pitchforks to run me out of town grows later on. I think having the updates mechanics will help further improve the convenience of the game. The fact that the wild Pokémon encounters will be fixed instead of random while in the grass sounds like a very nice way to alleviate the tedium of exploring certain areas. And being able to do little things like transfer from  Pokémon Go or play co-op are nice touches. Not to mention I’d certainly take the opportunity to start with an Eevee for the first time ever. So there are aspects about the game that sound alright to me. I’m sure that overall it’ll still be a solid Pokémon entry.

The thing is, it’s also a very, very safe one. Not to mention lazy. This game is largely going to be giving the first generation of Pokémon the same treatment as pretty much all the 3DS installments. The visuals and presumably most of the mechanics are going to be the same thing series fanatics are used to while offering a region and roster that even those of casual interest will recognize. It even offers the capturing mechanic from the brief boom of popularity Pokémon Go saw. And, of course, it’s on the Switch. It’s the perfect storm of checked boxes in order to make for a safe level of success. Boy, isn’t that exciting?

See, the thing that was great about the original games is that they were something new. They were a world, a concept, and an experience we hadn’t really seen before. It wasn’t just because of those specific Pokémon or that specific region or that specific story. It was because of the experience. It was the genuine wonder and discovery. It was the entire phenomenon of Pokémon. It was as much about the time period and where the industry was as it was about the games themselves. Remember when they remade these games before? In case you didn’t know, Pokémon Fire Red and Pokémon Leaf Green were remakes of these games on the Game Boy Advance. They basically improved the aesthetics while fixing a lot of the bugs and inconsistencies of the mechanics. It made the first games feel more like the series standard. They didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Flash forward to now and what has changed? Well, not a whole hell of a lot. There are many more mechanics to consider at this point, and the visuals are certainly a decent leap ahead, but once again we’re looking at technical enhancements trying to rekindle the love of that original experience.

I think the only Pokémon game that has been able to spark these feelings in me again was Pokémon White on the Nintendo DS. It was an all-new region and story and all that just like any other game in the core series, but the thing that made all the difference in the world was that it had all brand new Pokémon! It wasn’t just another half-new game shoehorning in older characters to desperately coast on the fumes of nostalgia. It had enough balls to be totally new and address some serious issues. Even though the endgame dropped the ball hard, Pokémon White has so much more identity in the series now because of what it did. That experience was something truly remarkable considering the series we’re talking about.

Pokémon Go tried to capitalize on this nostalgia train too, while opening up the franchise to a broader audience in a way that, all things considered, did next to nothing to accurately represent the main series. It didn’t really inspire much interest in digging deeper into the world of Pokémon. It kind of just rode the wave of hype and quickly became a fad that made its money easily yet now is largely forgotten outside of the dedicated fanbase remaining. What I’m saying with this is that… not only do I think it’s too soon to milk the nostalgia from gen one’s udder again, I also think it’s something that’s being done for business reasons more than for the fans or for the passion of the project.

They need a Pokémon RPG on the Switch to keep the fans from rioting over the fact that the “new” core game will not be out until next year. Or so they predict as of now, anyway. A remake is easy because all the groundwork is there. Gen one is a very popular generation and after losing so many people on the Wii U who wouldn’t get handhelds anyway, it sounds pretty safe to try and draw them back in on their new hit system. They saw how Pokémon Go caught a lot of attention too, so they designed this game to connect with it to further entice people to play both. And the stripping of features like breeding, online play and random encounters help gear it towards a more casual audience. They want newcomers and those who haven’t touched a Pokémon game since the Game Boy to feel comfortable jumping into this. There’s no virtual console to sell the originals or the first remakes at a lower price so here they can get a pretty penny for what may very well have been a 3DS project that was upscaled and tweaked to fit the Switch instead. It’s everything it needs to be in order to be a general success.

However, I don’t think that necessarily makes it good. I guess it’s just not targeting me, and that’s okay, but I also think it’s still frustrating to see how creatively bankrupt the series is and yet it’s still making money hand over fist because they need yearly releases for a steady cash flow from people who have so little will left that they can’t resist buying everything with the Pokémon branding on it. They bred a lifelong consumer base with their original marketing and they are taking full advantage. I mean, do you really think they could sell a sphere with a button on it as a custom controller for a Switch game if it weren’t Pokémon themed? Guess how quickly THAT will get old. I’m having flashbacks to the Mario Kart Wii steering wheel. Somehow, I doubt it’ll be a highly supported controller outside of this gimmicky garbage. Just keep selling us spinoffs, remakes, and half-new games at a steady rate rather than having less releases with more improvements per release and overall a higher quality series. Who cares as long as we get our regularly scheduled dose of anything Pokémon, right? Sure! Reremakes are the wave of the future. Let’s Go, Suicune! Why not!? I can’t wait for the NEXT rehash of gen one where they make it VR or some other bullshit tying int their current trend.

Outside of my blatant cynicism and general exhaustion with overplayed hype trains, I also think a few of the things here are a bit disappointing. No online play? Why not? I mean, I don’t really care but why not have that feature available for those that DO care? They can do co-op but not online? Also having no breeding is another kick in the balls to fans of that aspect. Though apparently they ARE going to let you dress up your starter… because THAT is a very important mechanic apparently. It’s SO integral that I can’t even believe you couldn’t do it in the original OR the first remake! What I’m saying is… it’s dumb. The custom controller? As previously stated, also dumb. The fact that you don’t fight the Pokémon you want to catch takes a bit of the experience away. You’re not trying to weaken it and strategically increase your odds of capture. You’re just flicking your wrist and crossing your fingers. Gee, how exciting. I also wonder if there will be any way to grind outside of trainer battles then. That’s my biggest question as far as basic gameplay is concerned, actually. Is there going to be some way to rebattle previous trainers or will it be made so painfully easy that you’ll never need to grind regardless? Or worse yet, will it require some gimmicky minigame or external device or program to do this? I think this may make or break the solid nature of the game’s core mechanics for me depending on the answer. It’s also a tad lame that you can’t evolve your starters still.

Pokémon: Let’s Go will probably be a decently successful game to keep people from shitting themselves over the wait for the next core game. Even though that game is still coming, was always coming, and was never going to NOT be coming regardless of whatever else they spew out between. I can’t be hyped for that at this point and honestly I can’t be hyped for these either. They will probably be fine, but ultimately pretty pointless if you own one of the previous version already anyway. The appropriate reaction to this is, “Huh.”

But what do YOU think about the upcoming games and what this says about the series? I’d like to know what you think in the comments and definitely would love to have my perspective spun in a more positive light if you’re seeing something I’m missing. Which version are you going to get? Pikachu? Eevee? Both? Neither? Share your thoughts!

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