It seems like the only Pokémon games I truly vibe with aren’t your traditional Gotta Catch ‘em All games, but instead their spinoffs. I’ve found myself deeply absorbed in games like New Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX more so than I ever did with games like Pokémon Sun & Moon or even the newer Pokémon Scarlet & Violet. The closest I ever got to a ‘classic’ Pokémon experience was Pokémon Legends Arceus, and that’s still a bit of a stretch, depending on who you ask. Detective Pikachu is another of those spinoff titles that I loved back on the Nintendo 3DS, and I even think the movie was pretty decent as well. So, where does Detective Pikachu Returns stand in all this?
Detective Pikachu Returns is the direct sequel to Detective Pikachu, picking up two years after Tim and his partner, the “Great Detective” and coffee aficionado, Detective Pikachu solved the R case, which was causing Pokémon to go berserk. After receiving an award for their service to Ryme City, the dynamic duo is thrown headlong into another mysterious case that will put the bonds of Pokémon and humans to the test. This is a very heartfelt story of how far one would go to save someone they care about while also telling a story about morality and when how far becomes too far.
Overall, I think this was a great story. It really takes you on a journey as you’re going from case to case, all the while trying to get a better understanding of the bigger picture. There were parts where it felt like it was just being drawn out for playtime, and there were definitely some head-scratcher moments that left me confused. However, it all comes together in the end, leaving no loose ends. There’s even a little Easter Egg early on in the game that you’ll have to look out for.
The adventure starts off as a simple jewel heist, but it grows into something much bigger. Tim and Pikachu have to put on their detective hats and start searching for clues right away. Much like in the original game, you’ll run around questioning Ryme City’s citizens and the other Pokémon, gathering all the evidence you can to further your investigation. This time, however, you get to enlist the assistance of other Pokémon who will lend their own abilities and skills to help the detectives navigate tricky areas, see what they can’t see, and, overall, do what they can’t do, at least not on their own.
This is a fun little addition to the game that also gives players the opportunity to play more as Pikachu. Pikachu will ride on the backs of fellow Pokémon, such as Growlithe, and the pair will work together to overcome obstacles. For example, Growlithe can help track someone down by following their scent. I would have liked to see more of these types of interactions put into the game, however the game isn’t particularly long, clocking in at around just 15 hours, even for a completionist who does all of the side investigations as well.
While you’re working on your main mission, you’ll occasionally come across people or Pokémon in need of assistance, or maybe you’ll be tasked with a sudden pop quiz. While they don’t contribute to the main narrative, this is one of the very few games I’ve played where I wanted to do all of the things. Be aware, however, there is no going back once you’ve left an area to progress the story, so if you are a completionist, make sure to get everything squared away before proceeding to the next area.
After you’ve gathered your evidence, you’ll review everything you’ve learned to make a deduction. However, even if you think you may know the answer early on, the game doesn’t let you start deducing until you’ve gathered all applicable evidence. Sometimes the solution is actually pretty obvious, but you are required to play it out regardless. To be fair, gathering all the evidence helps to complete the narrative, so skipping any of the facts would have led to gaps in the information needed later on. It may feel like an inconvenience, but in the end you’ll be glad you didn’t miss anything.
So, what is it about this game, and the others I’d mentioned previously, that makes it resonate more with me than the classic Pokémon games? I think that part of the reason is that these other games are telling stories about life in general in a world that I, like many others, could only dream of living in. Who wouldn’t want to fight crime alongside your partner Pokémon? Who wouldn’t want to dedicate their life to the study of Pokémon and how to coexist with them? Who wouldn’t want to suddenly be transformed into a Pokémon and go on a whirlwind adventure to regain your humanity? Ok, I wouldn’t, but you see my point? Of course, you could always decide to become the best that ever was and battle your way through the world’s gyms and tournaments, if you so desired, but I don’t.
Aside from the stories, I just prefer the gameplay of these other games. Is battling Pokémon fun? Absolutely! But I’d prefer it to be more along the lines of Pokémon Legends Arceus. I also love games about being a detective (you should have seen my raves about Lost Judgment a couple years ago). The subtle jazzy tunes when you’re on the case, searching for clues, doing interrogations, and making deductions… To me, the grind of going from gym to gym and leveling up Pokémon between big events just isn’t as fun.
Now, I don’t want people to think that my opinion of those games is that they’re garbage. I have a philosophy that “the game doesn’t suck, it’s just not my kind of game,” which also goes for most JRPGs, sports games, music/rhythm games, and others. I appreciate what all of those other games are doing for their respective genres, I respect the art form that they are, they just don’t click with me as well. But everyone has games like that, and that’s okay.
Even after singing my praises, I feel like the developers of Detective Pikachu Returns maybe played it a little too safe with the overall experience. Like I said before, the game isn’t very long, even if you shoot for 100% completion. For as big of a case as was being presented, I’m surprised there wasn’t more there to really fill everything out.
The story also lacks the level of depth that I would have expected based on what we’ve seen in some other Pokémon games, though this one does have a bit of a darker tone that could come off as jarring. I was easily able to predict key moments of the story well in advance, making what should have been pivotal moments less interesting. Originality also takes a hit, but I can’t go into too much detail here because it would spoil the story for those who want to find out for themselves.
All-in-all, I feel like this game was geared towards a younger audience more so than being what E for Everyone usually looks like for Pokémon games. It’s a $50 game, but I don’t know if the experience warrants the price tag, especially when considering the price of the first Detective Pikachu was $40. Still, my time with it was enjoyable enough that I’m glad it’s a game I was able to review (thank you Creatures and Nintendo). If you’re wanting to see what’s next for Tim and Pikachu’s detective adventures, it is still worth playing.
On a final note, the game’s graphics and performance were flawless. I never had to worry about excessive wait times, freezes, glitches, or any other issues, and my Nintendo Switch is getting close to its fourth birthday now, a testament to both the hardware development as well as the game’s development. I cheers my next coffee to that.
Cassie Peterson is an Editor for Gaming Trend but also a sporadic content creator and exceedingly average Rainbow Six Siege player. She goes by MzPanik on Twitter and Twitch and all of the gaming platforms.
Detective Pikachu Returns
Detective Pikachu Returns is a heartwarming follow-up to the first game, though it does fall short in terms of depth and originality. Still, the overall experience is worth it for fans of the first game, and the movie, and for Pokémon fans in general.