Josh Plays Pokemon #4 - Let's Not Go and Say We Did
Motion sickness warning for the first image in this article - it's a very shakey GIF
It’s no secret to any of my Twitter followers that I was vehemently opposed to Let’s Go when it was announced. It was basically everything I didn’t want from a Pokemon game - Gen 1 pandering, even further simplification/lowering of difficulty and a heavy focus on Pokemon GO integration. I wanted a Poke Ball Plus to use with Sword and Shield though and when I was looking around for a cheap one I found the game + ball bundle on sale cheaper than I’ve seen the game by itself and figured I’d finally check it out. I can safely say that my opinion on it has change- wait, no, it didn’t. It’s funny, I was planning on doing a quick blog post when I was early into the game, with another one or two as I progressed further in, and if I had then that initial post would have been relatively positive looking at Let’s Go as its own thing separate from the main games. It still wasn’t my thing, but there were quite a few things to like about it. But I usually do my writing in my downtime at work and haven’t had a lot for quite some time so I’m now almost at the end of the game while I write this, and the game’s flaws really stand out before too long. Wait, scratch that; now I’ve even finished it in the time it took to finally publish this. And those problems just get worse. And this piece just got longer. Whoops. Apologies in advance.
Let’s Go is in a weird grey area where it’s a spin-off that tries out some new core gameplay loops while also trying to be as close to the main Pokemon games as it can. So you’ve got a weird mish-mash of features that have been retained, reworked or cut and it doesn’t quite come together. The most notable departure from the regular games is that you no longer battle wild Pokemon. Instead you bump into Pokemon roaming around the world and attempt to catch them with mechanics similar to Pokemon GO. This system works for a mobile game where you’ve got to do things quickly in small bursts, but stretched out over a whole game it begins to wear out. Additionally, it’s weird having two completely distinct systems for catching and battling. You spend most of the game catching Pokemon and learning your way around that system, but then key moments of progression are tied to Pokemon battling which plays completely differently. There’s no common elements between the two aside from the Pokemon themselves. There’s also a whole bunch of new issues with the catching system that Let’s Go introduced on top of those inherent to GO’s system.
There are three different control schemes for Pokemon catching. You can use the motion controls of the JoyCon or Poke Ball Plus controllers to simulate throwing the Poke Ball yourself, needing to factor in which direction you throw the ball and how hard you throw it. Or you can use gyro controls to aim your throw and just press the A button to throw the ball where you’re aiming, or you can even use the analog stick to aim instead. The problem is though… you can’t actually choose which of these control schemes you use at any given time. If you’re playing in docked or tabletop mode, you’re forced to use the single JoyCon motion control scheme. If you’re playing in handheld mode then you’re forced to use the gyro and analog controls AT THE SAME TIME. So while you can try aiming your throws with the analog stick you have to keep the console dead still or the gyro will put your throw off. It makes this portable game great fun to try and play on, say, public transport where the constant movement and bumps make the screen look like a superhero movie fight scene.
The lack of choice in how you play is weird enough because all three control schemes are there in the game and yet you can’t, say, use the pro controller with gyro aiming while playing docked because… reasons? But what’s weirder is that the motion aiming and manual aiming play so completely differently that your skills in either can’t transfer to the other. I played most of the game in handheld mode and when I tried going back to docked mode I suddenly couldn’t deal with all the extra hoops I had to jump through to catch Pokemon. It all played so differently and I was basically learning how to play from scratch.
When you’re finally done fighting the controls you have to then fight the other quirks of this system. It tries to emulate the challenges of Pokemon GO’s capture system where Pokemon can move around to make throwing Poke Balls at them harder, and stronger Pokemon have a lower chance of staying in the ball, but it goes too far in allowing these factors to influence the capture process. In GO moving Pokemon shift positions at a reasonable pace and stay in their new positions for a few seconds. You’re then able to hit them by simply aiming in a different direction or throwing your ball from a different spot. In Let’s Go, Pokemon dart around rapidly and your tools for influencing the arc of your throw aren’t as intuitive so it’s harder to hit your target. Then if you do manage to hit them, the capture rates are so low that you’ll have Pokemon regularly breaking out of your balls and eventually running away and ending your Catch Combos. I don’t understand how the rates can be as low as they are - regular Pokemon you find wandering around get as hard to catch as raid bosses in GO and it’s wild. It’s especially funny when you transfer Pokemon from GO into Let’s Go, because some which you caught easily on mobile suddenly eat up all your items when trying to catch them.
Frustratingly, you don’t have many means of easing the frustration of the capture sequences. You can throw berries at Pokemon which make them stay still, and some that raise their capture rates a little, but you can only use one per throw. So if you use a berry to calm a Pokemon down, you’re stuck with the current capture rate, and if you try to boost that capture rate then you could still be wasting balls trying to hit a hyperactive moving target. You’ve also got the different types of Pokeballs you can throw to boost your chances, but it gets to a point where the game is still telling you you’ve got a low rate of success when you’ve got an Ultra Ball out and have fed the Pokemon a capture-boosting berry. It robs the capture process of its key strength, its simplicity, and instead makes it a frustrating ordeal where you’re at the mercy of the RNG.
With those complaints aside, the loop of catching Pokemon is actually alright. Going around casually chaining your captures together for bonuses is nice and breezy and you can easily chill out doing it while also watching TV or something like that (until the capture rates start getting too low, at least). I feel like a game restricted to the original 151 Pokemon was the wrong one to try it with though because it means there’s so little variety in what you encounter. I was building up chains in the early segments of the game and just kinda lazing my way through before being ready to move on to a new area, only to discover that the next route has almost the exact same Pokemon. This tight restriction of available Pokemon is also a major disappointment when it comes to Pokemon evolutions, because there’s some Pokemon whose final forms you don’t get to use because they weren’t in the original games. It means Eevee has less than half of its evolutions available and you don’t get any of the great evolutions introduced in Generations 2 and 4 that revitalised Pokemon like Scyther, Tangela and Lickitung. It sucks knowing that the Pokemon in this game evolve into better forms that you love, but the game pretends they don’t exist for the sake of the nostalgia of a select group of fans.
An aspect of Let’s Go that definitely needs to become a series staple is the way Pokemon appear in the overworld. Like I said before, random encounters are gone and you now bump into Pokemon who wander around in full view. It definitely needs some tweaking but it makes spaces feel more lively, and the game’s dungeons are so much more tolerable when you’re not being interrupted by a Zubat every two steps. Yeah, you can use repels in the main games but if everybody’s skipping the battles then what’s the point of them? A system like this would allow for more intricate dungeons which you won’t mind exploring and getting lost in because random encounters are no longer dragging the process out and annoying you, while you can still keep an eye out for cool new Pokemon you might want to catch. It doesn’t work so well with the routes and dungeons that were designed with random encounters and the Game Boy’s limitations in mind, though. The areas are really cramped and unnatural, so you’ll have a bunch of Pokemon running about wildly in a tiny corridor. It not only looks silly but it means sometimes your path can be blocked by an unavoidable encounter.
Additionally, the system feels a bit unnatural with the way that Pokemon just pop up into the field out of thin air and wander around aimlessly. Going forwards I’d like this to be tweaked so that they feel more like living creatures and less like moving encounter triggers. Sword and Shield are on the right path with Pokemon being able to chase you (or run away from you!) but the endgame should be to get something like Monster Hunter going where you see Pokemon interacting with each other and the environment. Maybe a herd of Deerling and Sawsbuck are eating berries from plants when an angry Mandibuzz swoops in, scaring off the little deer and getting into a fight with the Sawsbuck who’s trying to protect the younger creatures. Something like that’s probably a long ways off just yet but I hope we get there at some point.
You can also bring your own Pokemon into the overworld, either walking around with them or actually riding them around. I loved this because of the ways it expands on the follower Pokemon from HeartGold and SoulSilver. Your Pokemon aren’t stuck behind you and will move about differently depending on the species. I got super attached to a Bellsprout who would run about like a doofus, and it looked like my character was chasing after them rather than leading them around. I was actually disappointed when it evolved and didn’t do that anymore. What happened to the Pokemon I used to love!? The Pokemon can also get distracted by landmarks in the environment or hidden items, drawing your attention to them, which was a nice way of making them feel like more than just a model tied to your path. Riding Pokemon was pretty cool as well, but it was a bit too janky for my liking - your Pokemon keeps going in and out of its Pokeball depending on whether there’s enough space for it to walk around, and in some of the tight designed-for-Game Boy areas you’ll be hopping on and off your Arcanine in rapid succession. There was a bit too limited of a selection of Pokemon to ride as well, but that’s to be expected with such a small section of the Pokedex featuring in the game. Riding Onix and towering over everything was hilarious though.
One of the most off-putting things about Let’s Go before I played it was how easy it was sounding. Part of the reason the 3DS Pokemon games were so disappointing to me was because they were so easy and railroaded. You had no room to explore and discover the world, instead being stopped whenever the devs wanted you to do something, and the battles were just so, so easy. Let’s Go seemed to be going even further down this path by removing mechanics that the series had built up over time and giving players overly powerful tools. People who’d played the game told me the fuss was overblown and it was quite challenging at points but man, I was basically just mindlessly mashing the A button through it. With a Mr. Mime no less; far from an overpowered Pokemon.
I’m not sure how the opposing Pokemon teams stack up against the original games or their remakes on the GBA in terms of difficulty, but it’d be hard to compare them anyway because of how different the mechanics are. There’s a lot of moves and the like that have been added since then but generally the mechanics are a lot simpler than on the GBA. The removal of held items and abilities means that battles are overly simple, with much less to look out for and fewer options to utilise in crafting fun strategies. On top of that, you’re given so many new aids and just have experience points thrown at you at every corner so you end up with ridiculously overpowered Pokemon without even trying. Pretty much everything you do in the game gets you heaps of experience points and as a result I found myself having to swap some of my favourites out of my party because they were just getting way too strong. I almost passed out when I took a Pokemon out for a walk in my Poke Ball Plus controller and came back to about 30,000 experience points a couple of days later.
One of the crazier tools provided to you is the Awakening Value system. Each Pokemon game has some kind of system that determines how many stat points it gets as it levels, and AVs are the system used in Let’s Go. AVs are acquired by feeding your Pokemon candy, to emulate the power boosts your Pokemon get in GO by feeding them candy. You get more candy by catching Pokemon, with it coming in larger quantities if you catch lots of the same Pokemon in a row and ‘transfer’ them to the professor. I’m not a fan of systems in monster collection games that encourage you to dispose of the creatures you’re meant to be bonding with and caring for, but that’s a discussion for another day. The current stat boosting system, which has been in place since Ruby and Sapphire, gives each Pokemon a limited number of ‘points’ you can assign to each of their stats, called EVs, and every 4 of these points will raise that stat by one. This means you have to ration them carefully in order to boost your Pokemon effectively. Loading as many EVs as you can into your attack stat might sound like a good idea, but that could lead to not having enough speed to outmanoeuvre a key threat.
In Let’s Go on the other hand, AVs don’t provide that level of management and customisation and are instead something that is just an outright benefit to each stat. Each stat can have up to 200 AVs, and each will raise that stat by 1. While maxing the EVs in a single stat will provide a boost of 63 to that stat, maximising the AVs will provide a stat boost of 200. For reference, a Level 50 Mewtwo can have anywhere between 166 and 213 HP, meaning that you’re effectively gaining another 50+ levels’ worth of HP if you maximise the AVs in its HP (and a much bigger increase proportionally if you use them on a weaker Pokemon). These boosts apply instantly, meaning that you can have a Level 5 Pokemon that can go toe to toe with Pokemon ten times its level. It’s funny because people heard that EVs and other mechanics were being removed from Let’s Go and cheered that all the ‘BS’ was being removed from battles in favour of a nice and simple system but I’d argue that AVs are an even worse system. EVs provided a level of metagaming that allowed Pokemon to adopt different roles in your team, and as of the last few games it’s incredibly easy to quickly raise or reset them. AVs, however, require a painful amount of grinding in order to get all the candies you need and don’t provide any interesting additions to the gameplay. You NEED to grind every stat to its maximum in order to compete against other players, and a large chunk of the postgame content will require you to do this for just about every Pokemon in the game. It’s an insane grind! Things aren’t more simple or enjoyable at all, that was a marketing line that people bought into on account of not being experienced with the nitty-gritty of the series’ mechanics rather than an actual positive of the games.
Things are majorly simplified outside of battle as well. The original Red and Blue games that everyone fell in love with were quite open games that didn’t provide much guidance. I remember getting lost in Mt Moon for what felt like ages as a kid, and the satisfaction I felt upon finally reaching Cerulean City. I remember feeling like a genius when I worked out I could give the drinks from the vending machines in Celadon City to the thirsty guards in order to let me past. In Let’s Go a lot of the discovery is taken away because you’ll be directed exactly where to go. Jesse and James from Team Rocket are brought over from the anime and have their roles expanded from their cameo in Yellow Version, with a lot of scenes involving chasing them around or overhearing their schemes. It can be subtle at times, but these all guide you through dungeons or to an objective to be completed in another town. There’s also a new rival who replaces Blue, with none of his trademark snarkiness - instead he’ll spend the game running away or telling you exactly where you should go next. Thankfully there’s still a lot of freedom in what areas you visit when but for so much of the game you’re not allowed to just explore and discover ways to progress on your own, and instead you’re following the suggestions of other characters and mashing the A button through battles along the way. It’s bizarre that they made a game that specifically targets people overcome with nostalgia for the original games and yet one of their best aspects is completely butchered.
By far the weirdest part of Let’s Go is that it was clearly marketed heavily towards the GO audience and yet the actual integration with GO is so minimal and so late in the game that it almost feels tacked on. For most of the game, the only interaction between Let’s Go and GO is sending one of your Pokemon into the Poke Ball Plus controller. You can then connect your controller to your phone to making catching Pokemon and spinning Pokestops for items a more automated process, and when you’re done you can bring your Pokemon back into Let’s Go for some bonus items and experience points.
The bulk of the GO connectivity doesn’t unlock til you reach Fuschia City, which you can access about mid-way through the game if you know what you’re doing but otherwise it’s one of the last cities you’ll reach. This is the spot where you can transfer your Pokemon from GO to use in Let’s Go. But not back into GO. So GO players who’ve built up powerful raid teams they’ve gotten attached to can’t actually send any of them into Let’s Go or they can no longer use them in the game they actually care about anymore. On top of that, all their stats and moves will be completely different, so they’re effectively not even the same Pokemon [EDIT (23/10/19): I might have been a little off about this one. Long story short, Pokemon have less stats in GO than in Let's Go and there's a larger range of values in Let's Go than Go. This means that one value will be randomised in Let's Go while the others may vary by a point or so. The game could tell you the quality of the Pokemon is better or worse than it was in GO as a result, but the stats aren't "completely" different.] I didn’t send over any of my high IV Pokemon I’d spent a lot of time using in GO, instead using this functionality to get rid of leftovers and cheese my way to completing the Pokedex quicker. It was useful because it meant I could get Pokemon like Alolan Sandshrew and Alolan Grimer which were normally exclusive to Let’s Go Pikachu.
Transferring Pokemon from GO is the only way you can get two new mythical Pokemon - Meltan and its evolution Melmetal. The transfer process unlocks an item in GO called the Mystery Box, which allows you to catch a few Meltan every few days and then transfer them to GO. Meltan can’t be evolved in Let’s Go, however, so you need to catch a bunch of them in GO and use the candy you acquire doing so to evolve it there. The Mystery Box has a cooldown timer though, requiring you to transfer another Pokemon to Let’s Go once every three days to recharge it, which means that this process takes ages (and the cooldown was originally 8 days, which is even worse!). By the time I actually got a Melmetal I’d already beaten the Elite Four and didn’t really need one anymore. The timer was obviously an attempt to stop GO players from leeching off their friends with Let’s Go instead of buying it for themselves but it resulted in this functionality being more annoying than exciting.
So I’m essentially done with Let’s Go now. There’s some post-game content which consists of catching Mewtwo and taking on some tougher trainer battles, and then there’s the new Master Trainer battles. These are something that sounds good in theory but just aren’t satisfying at all. Basically there’s trainers all around the game world who specialise in a single Pokemon in the Pokedex, and you can battle against them with one of that same species of Pokemon. These trainers are very high level and have loaded their Pokemon with AVs, so you’ve got to grind to ridiculous degrees if you’re going to take them all on. I might do a couple but that’s just not something that’s interesting at all to me, so I’ll be heading on to Emerald sometime soon now that I’ve fixed my dead battery. Wouldn’t mind being labelled a Mr. Mime Master though. I can’t say I really enjoyed my time with Let’s Go that much; it has so many aspects that feel like they weren’t thought through and polished enough due to what I imagine was a very rushed development cycle to get something out on Switch. A hypothetical Let’s Go game covering Gold and Silver could alleviate a lot of these, but I also see no point in playing them when HeartGold and SoulSilver exist and will be better than any game of this style could hope to be.