Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee occupy an unprecedented middle ground in the world of Pokemon video games. They’re neither spin-offs nor remakes, but they’re also not the “core RPG” for veterans that Nintendo announced last year at E3 2017. Instead, the Let’s Go games are mainline Pokemon games for everyone, blending Pokemon Go mechanics with the series’ traditional battle style and returning to the Kanto region of the original Red and Blue in 3D. With the Poke Ball Plus controller, which is sold separately, the Let’s Go games also attempt to go into the real world.
We had a chance to go hands-on with Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee as well as the Poke Ball Plus at E3 2018. Although the demo was brief, it shed some light on how all of Let’s Go’s seemingly disparate parts work together and answered a few questions we had about how Pokemon stats work. Most surprisingly, it was really easy to play using only the Poke Ball Plus controller in one hand. Nailing the perfect Poke Ball throw was tricky, but playing one-handed has a casual feel that works well with the games’ laidback take on the Pokemon RPG.
The demo took place entirely in the Viridian Forest, which has been remade faithfully in 3D. Even some Trainer names (like Bug Catcher Rick) carry over from their equivalents in FireRed and LeafGreen, the first generation remakes on Game Boy Advance. You can still catch wild Pikachu here, even in Let’s Go Pikachu, and it’s still a windy, grassy road through the forest. But the Let’s Go games are reimaginings, not remakes; we were able to catch a wild Bulbasaur, for example, which you can’t do in the originals.
You can play all of Let’s Go using only one Joy-Con, and we opted to play it with the Switch’s first alternative controller, the Poke Ball Plus. It’s slightly larger than a golf ball, so a lot smaller than what you might expect a Poke Ball to be, but it was comfortable to hold for at least the ten minutes we played. A button on the top functions as B, and the analog stick at the center can be clicked inward and replaces the A button. It’s a limited setup for sure–we couldn’t click menu prompts requiring the Y button, for example–but it’s perfect for those looking for a relaxed, casual experience that’s mostly walking around and catching Pokemon.
Pokemon appear in the overworld rather than as random encounters, and you just have to walk up to one to initiate the Pokemon Go-style catch sequence. Catching a Pokemon requires motion controls–you have to “throw” the Poke Ball Plus to throw out a Poke Ball in the game. We didn’t have enough time to really get the hang of this, and we ended up throwing Poke Balls off to the side on accident. But overall, the new controller both feels good to use and works well with the more laidback nature of what we played, and feeling it vibrate after a successful catch is a nostalgic novelty that wasn’t lost on us.
When attempting to capture a wild Pokemon, the only stats displayed are its gender, level, and CP, the latter of which is new to Pokemon RPGs. In Pokemon Go, CP (or Combat Power) is an overall statistic calculated using the Pokemon’s hidden stats, like Attack and Defense, which helps determine its strength in battle. For a main Pokemon RPG, that likely means a more simplified approach to Pokemon’s individual stats–or at least a more abstracted one, where you don’t have to think as much about what’s under the hood–but it also means that you get a better idea of what a Pokemon’s base stats might be even before you catch it. It’s not clear from what we played how CP will factor into a Pokemon’s other stats, or what those stats are, but that has the potential to save a lot of time sifting through menus to check numbers.
Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee launch November 16. The Poke Ball Plus releases the same day and is sold separately; we learned during Nintendo’s conference that the Poke Ball Plus is the only way to get the legendary Pokemon Mew in Let’s Go. For more on Pokemon, be sure to check our roundup of everything we know about Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee so far. You can also catch up with all the Nintendo E3 announcements with our news roundup.