Previews

Pokéball Plus, Go! — Hands-on with Pokémon Let’s Go! Pikachu at E3 2018

While there was no shortage of amazing games to get excited about at E3 2018, I found myself overly excited by the prospect of returning to the Kanto region in the upcoming Pokémon Let’s Go! Pikachu and Pokémon Let’s Go! Eevee games. I got to dive into an early, limited demo of Pokémon Let’s Go! Pikachu at the Nintendo booth, and as an added treat, I even got to play using the newly announced Pokéball Plus accessory.

The Pokéball Plus is made to be held with the thumbstick facing straight up and the red half of the Pokéball facing the Switch; it feels solid, with a slightly rubbery shell which makes it feel durable and makes it feel secure, not at all slick or slippery, within your palm. As an added bit of trivia: the Pokéball Plus was designed to be the exact size of the Pokéballs which trainers use within the Pokémon anime! Unlike its animated cousins, the Pokéball Plus does not magically grow larger before being tossed, but it does come equipped with a thumbstick and a button. The thumbstick acts both as a controller and, when pressed, as the game’s A button. I found it easy to navigate the world and click the desired menu option using this, though our news editor Sean Anthony had a bit more difficulty due to his larger hands; He kept nudging the thumbstick while pressing it, frequently pushing the cursor to the right when trying to click the stick.

The Pokéball Plus fit comfortably into the palm of my hand, and comes equipped with both a wrist and a finger strap to help keep the accessory firmly within your grip. While the finger strap fit comfortably around my somewhat dainty fingers, Sean once again had some trouble, as the finger strap was entirely too small for his larger hand. Not to worry, though; the Pokéball Plus can still be used without the finger strap, and the wrist strap was plenty long enough to fit around even the largest of wrists. An inlaid button, which we were told is the ‘B’ button, sits at the very center of the red half of of the Pokéball Plus, within easy clicking range of my index finger.

Our demo was restricted to the early stage of the Veridion Forest, an area where Weedle, Kakuna, and Pidgey flourished, running wild both in and out of the tall grass. Playing as the male trainer, with an adorable Pikachu perched on my right shoulder, I used the Pokéball Plus to wander about, weaving in and out of the tall grass and dodging wild Pokémon as a Charmander followed close behind me. Pokémon Let’s Go! features not one, but two partner Pokémon; your chosen starter, Pikachu or Eevee which rides on your shoulder or head (depending on the version you purchase), as well as a walking Pokémon. The first Pokémon in your party, other than your starter, will follow close behind you, appearing in a small flash of blue-white light after battles, and flashing back into their ball during encounters.

While I wasn’t able to interact with my partner Pikachu during this demo, I was able to turn around and talk to Charmander by pressing down on the thumbstick. He responded with a little shuffle, a music note appearing over his head, and a text box said that he seemed curious about the Pokémon I’d recently caught. It really brought me back to playing Pokémon Yellow on my GameBoy Advance, capturing the spirit of Pikachu’s interactions.

Curiosity satisfied, I made a “Beedrill” line for the nearest Pidgey and initiating a random encounter. There was no lag or load time as the view shifted from map to battle view, and I was restricted, in this demo, to only tossing berries and Pokéballs. The second option allowed me to select a raspberry, which I tossed to the Pidgey by clicking the thumbstick, then it took one click on the first option, “Get Ready,” to enter capture mode. At this point, faint circle, indicating the “hit area” for the Pokémon appeared in front of the Pidgey, a colored ring slowly shrank away from the outer edges. If you’ve ever played Pokémon Go, this setup should sound familiar; it’s literally identical to the setup used in Niantic’s licensed side game. Green rings mean that Pokémon are easier to catch, while yellow, orange, and red are more and more difficult. Feeding a raspberry to a wild Pokémon will make them easier to catch, moving the ring color closer to green.

 

At this point, the Pokéball Plus’ motion controls take over, and your goal is to both aim and time your ‘throw’ so that the ball will hit dead center, and it will ideally do so when the colored ring is at its smallest. “Throw” is in quotes because you don’t actually want to let go of the Pokéball, something which makes the wrists and finger straps all the more important. I was able to throw a number of great and excellent throws right out of the gate; I found that the most difficult part of this mechanic was just keeping the Pokéball Plus itself properly oriented. I would absently roll the ball around in my hand on occasion which caused my throws to go awry more than once. I was able to throw both over and underhanded with equal success, but there was no option to throw a curveball, and there was no information available as it if curveball throws would be in the final version of the game or not.

Once the Pokémon is in the ball on the screen, the Pokéball Plus itself starts to vibrate inside your hand. Each time the Pokémon tries to break free, the Pokéball Plus gives a subtle but threatening rumble; the ring around the thumbstick even lights up with each escape attempt, glowing the color of the difficulty ring of your target Pokémon. Once captured, the Pokémon is transferred to your box, and your Pokémon acquires experience points thanks to the capture. I had a full team of six and an Exp Share, and saw several of my Pokémon level up two or three times during my short demo.

Next up was a trainer battle, and a poor, unfortunate Bug Catcher was to be my first victim. He stood defiant, convinced that his Kakuna could stand against my full team of six, but I knew better, and so did my trainer and his Pikachu. The male trainer turned his head, locking eyes with Pikachu, who pulled his brows down and gave a determined smirk before actually climbing up onto the trainer’s shoulder, stepping down his arm, and jumping onto the ground, ready for a fight. The battle was on, and the system was familiar; different in a few ways, but still basically the same.

Pikachu’s available moves were listed down the left of the screen, the background color of the bar signifying the element tied to that attack. We were able to try out a few different attacks, take some damage, and even swap out our active Pokémon for another in our team of six. New Pokémon enter the field via a tossed Pokéball, like in the main games, while Pikachu ran off the field to hop back onto the trainer’s shoulder when recalled.

We were also able to see an entirely new feature; one Pidgey which was flapping around the map had a strange blue aura around it, something which looked like multiple tiny, blue, tailed comets orbiting around the Pokémon. This is apparently a tool to indicate the size of aPokémon; mall Pokémon have a blue sphere around them, while large Pokémon are indicated by a red aura. Upon entering the encounter, the words “Tiny” popped up above the Pidgedy. All the Pokémon on the map are scaled to their correct sizes; the Butterfree which roam the map are impressively large, especially when seen alongside the much smaller Weedle.

It’s also worth noting that the original Kanto starters can be found wandering the world, and thus be captured. I spotted a Bulbasaur in the Viridian Forest, though the demo I played already had Charmander, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur as part of my team. It was mentioned that there will be no breeding, and there are no eggs in Pokémon Let’s Go!, and while they couldn’t provide any information on shiny Pokémon at the moment, it has been confirmed that any shiny Pokémon which is transferred from Pokémon GO to Let’s Go! will remain shiny.

While we the demo was pretty limited, it’s worth noting that this is an incredibly early build. Despite this, the game was solid, lag free, and the Pokéball Plus integration was seamless. Pokémon Let’s Go! Pikachu and Pokémon Let’s Go! Eevee are an easy to pick up, easy to play experience which were specifically designed to appeal to Pokémon GO players, younger gamers, and more casual players. While battling and trading are still a part of the game, the gameplay has been simplified, and encounters with random Pokémon are much less daunting, since you no longer run the risk of your Pokémon taking damage or fainting during a random encounter.

There’s still a lot to learn about the Pokémon Let’s Go! games, including item management, co-op play, and what happens to all those extra wild Pokémon you catch, but my time with Pokémon Let’s Go! Pikachu showed something very promising, both in how easy it was to pick up and in the stability of the demo. Game Freak is trying something new and refreshingly different with these new titles, and creating a game-sized sandbox where they can implement and test new features, mechanics, and gameplay modes without impacting their core audience; I’m excited to see what comes of this bold and adorable experiment.

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