The Nintendo Switch is getting its first Pokemon RPG in 2018, but it’s not a core game. Instead, it’s something a little different. The Pokemon: Let’s Go! series, which are branded with mascot-level creatures Pikachu and Eevee as the cover stars, are RPGs, but draw more from Pokemon Go. Now, while many longtime Pokemon fans are disappointed that they have to wait another year for a full sequel, a lot of signs are pointing to Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu and Eevee! being a huge success. Sure, Pokemon is a powerful brand like few other, but by taking the vibe and ideas from Pokemon Go and applying them to a console RPG, Nintendo and the Pokemon Company are making an arguably brilliant move that should help elevate the Switch as a must-have gaming platform.
I shouldn’t need to remind anyone why Pokemon Go was such a big deal. It tapped into the nostalgia most people have for Pokemon, even folks who haven’t played one since the originals, on phones, a platform everyone has access to, for free. From there, it was a perfect cocktail of emergent, environmental storytelling and a social component based on meeting up with people in real life. To this day, tons of people are still hanging out on Facebook and in Discord groups, coordinating real life meetups for gym battles and Pokemon raids.
Just look at Pokemon Go Fest. The original event, due to the population of players among other reasons, was a disaster. But once Niantic figured its stuff out more, it worked out and expanded into multiple events in multiple regions around the world. The next year’s event was a success, and in-game events such as Community Day and more have kept the fanbase thriving as more Pokemon are added to the overall pool of catchable creatures.
In Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu and Eevee! , the RPG and mobile style seem to be fused together. While the classic battles still exist and the overworld looks like it was taken out of a core Pokemon title, all the major differences have Pokemon Go written all over them. Pokemon are encountered on the map, capturing is more of a minigame than modification to the battle system, and there’s even a multiplayer element. Players can team up, explore the world together, and work together to capture critters. Of course, you can also transfer your Pokemon from Pokemon Go into Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu and Eevee!, which gives potential players even more motivation to either keep playing Pokemon Go or hop back in after a long absence.
There’s also the Poke Ball-shaped controller. While expensive, it’s another way for Nintendo and the Pokemon Company to give players that extra bit of tangibility to the Pokemon experience. For Pokemon Go, it’s the dream of going out into the wilderness and capturing wild Pokemon. Sure, you’re staring at your phone (and probably turning AR off), but the dream is alive. In Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu and Eevee!, it’s about turning your metaphorical cap backwards and flicking that controller, as if you’re throwing a Poke Ball in real life. When you're done, you take the controller out and either share what you have stored inside of it or carry it around as an accessory, knowing your chosen Pokemon partner is “inside.”
While Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu and Eevee! is obviously an experimental spin-off, it’s the right kind that is borrowing from past experiences to create something new, rather than throwing a dart at the board. It’s a point of progression for both the mobile and console experience. While it will never replace the core series, it has the potential to become a series of its own, one that brings in a hybrid audience of both classic fans, mobile fans, and perhaps a subset of people who played one, but not the other. It could even bring in people who haven’t played a console video game in years. These games are, to put it simply, new and exciting, and that’s a big deal for Pokemon.