Reviewed on Nintendo 3DS
As someone who hasn’t played a Pokemon game since the release of Diamond in 2006, my knowledge of these little creatures has waned over the years. As they’ve added more and more Pokemon (over 800!) into the mix, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to find the motivation to “catch ’em all”. However, when rumors started swirling through the ether a few years back about a detective game starring the O.G. electric mouse himself, Pikachu, my curiosity was piqued and my desire to play a Pokemon game was rekindled. Now that the game has released, I’m glad I decided to jump back in.
Detective Pikachu stars a teenager named Tim Goodman (pronounced Good-Man, to ensure you know he’s the hero) who embarks on a journey to Rhyme City in search of his missing father, Henry, a well respected detective. Despite not being a Pokemon trainer, Tim’s adventure has him crossing paths with a wide assortment of Pokemon, most notably a talking Pikachu with a gruff and snarky demeanor. This Pikachu was Henry’s partner and was helping him solve a strange string of incidents before his disappearance. Using the expert sleuthing skills taught to him by Henry, Pikachu joins Tim in his search. What follows is one of the most charming and oddball takes on the Pokemon universe to date.
Although not a proper Pokemon title, Detective Pikachu keeps some of the crucial elements of the franchise intact. For starters, your journey takes you to several unique and varied locales, each filled with their own selection of Pokemon. One of the things that I really appreciated was how it mixed in Pokemon from all regions, allowing me to run into an equal amount of critters I was familiar with as well as a handful of new ones to be introduced to. Fans who are up to date with each installment of the core Pokemon RPG’s will enjoy seeing all of these different Pokemon interact, while newcomers and relapsed fans (such as myself) will have a great time seeing these new faces and potentially gaining a few new favorites.
One of the greatest strengths of Detective Pikachu is the lengths it goes to establish each Pokemon as having its own unique personality. More so than the traditional entries, each Pokemon feels like an actual character in this game. Thanks to Pikachu being able to fluently communicate in Human, you’re able to have him talk to any Pokemon you encounter and translate their speech for you, effectively allowing you to hold conversations with them. Whether it’s a Spinarak who wants a treat, a Mimikyu that just wants to be noticed, or a Machoke that’s obsessed with humans with perfect muscles, being able to talk to these Pokemon and learn their personalities, likes and dislikes, and their own individual quirks is more engaging this time around than just reading two sentences in a Pokedex entry.
The game also does a phenomenal job of showing how Pokemon can partner with humans to help with different tasks and jobs. One area shows a man hiring Timburr to help with his moving company, while another delivers a multitude of Pokemon using their skills to help advance medicinal research. The traditional Pokemon games occasionally showed the ways in which Pokemon and humans could work together to achieve physical tasks or become more efficient at work, but Detective Pikachu explores this partnership in greater depth.
However, the star Pokemon here is obviously Pikachu. Pikachu’s gruff voice, mixed with his humor and quirky personality, make for a fun character that’s silly and charming in equal measure. As Tim and Pikachu search for clues regarding Henry’s disappearance, Pikachu begins to train Tim in the ways of being a detective, leading to several comical moment between the duo. Despite Tim being a fast learner, Pikachu is extremely self-obsessed and thinks himself the greatest detective to ever walk the face of the Pokemon world, often ignoring Tim’s hard work or just telling him he did “alright”. The game manages to find a good balance between his self-righteousness being funny and annoying, so it never reaches a point where it’s unbearable. Unfortunately, while Pikachu is often funny and entertaining, Tim never reaches those same heights. He’s not a bad character, by any means, but he feels subdued and undeveloped compared to the great character work put in for Pikachu.
With a title like “Detective Pikachu”, it’s a given that there’s going to be some sleuthing to be had. The game is broken up into 9 chapters, with each chapter having its own location and case to solve. There is an overarching plot, but a lot of the cases feel self contained. For the sake of spoilers, I won’t get into any of the specifics of the cases, but they (mostly) all share the same formula. You start off by exploring the area and taking everyone’s testimony, then you look for contradictions and clues, and solve a handful of puzzles. Each chapter ends with Tim and Pikachu gathering everyone in the chapter together and then revealing the who, what, where, when, and why of each case. It’s a simple formula, but it doesn’t lend itself well to playing multiple chapters back to back, which can feel extremely repetitive.
As for the actual mechanics of how everything works, it’s, again, very simple. You have a journal where you store clues and information gathered from testimonies, and when you’ve gathered enough of them you can piece them together on a sort of “puzzle grid” to solve part of the case and move it along. There are a couple of instances where you have to do a few quick time events to move an object or dodge something that comes your way, but the vast majority of the game is played by walking around and talking to people. Those looking for a more action oriented experience should probably stick with the RPG’s, but those who want a slower and easier ride might find a lot to enjoy here.
For the most part, Detective Pikachu is an easy game to get through. There’s no fail state, so you never have to worry about solving a puzzle incorrectly, accusing the wrong person, or missing any clues. You’re allowed to make mistakes and instantly try again if you got something wrong, which is nice for younger players, but also means you can essentially try things at random until you get the right combination of clues or puzzle answers. Detective Pikachu is at its best when you actually comb over your notes and logically try to solve each case, but don’t let that make you think this is a game full of complex puzzles and mysteries. As long as you’re paying attention to conversations, checking your notes, and thinking logically, it’s pretty easy to get through every case without an issue.
Detective Pikachu forgoes the traditional RPG combat of the core series for a slower and more character driven experience. Instead of traveling the region and trying to “catch ’em all”, you interview people and Pokemon, search for clues, and solve puzzles. It’s a fascinating take on the franchise that emphasizes Pokemon as characters, explores their bonds with humans, and delivers a simple detective experience. It’s a fairly easy game that shouldn’t give you too much trouble, but it’s ability to be easily manipulated without putting in the work, as well as its relatively weak lead human character bring down the experience a bit.
FINAL SCORE: 7.0
– Zack Burrows