The last few years of main series Pokémon game reviews have by necessity tread a touchy line of analyzing the minutiae of improvements and updates while bemoaning the fact that the games hadn't gone anywhere dramatically new for several iterations.
But with Pokémon Let's Go! Pikachu and Eevee, games set against the series' most famous backdrop yet on console for the first time and with a number of gameplay shifts, there are new conversations to be had at last.
As a result, the critical ink canvassing the latest Pokémon game has been forced to reckon seriously with the conflicting roles of nostalgia and novelty, and the question of what the Pokémon series is, and ought, to be as it takes its first steps on a new adventure of its own.
As could be expected, a high number of reviews came from series veterans returning to Kanto after years away either playing other Pokémon games or avoiding the series for one reason or another. And from such reviews came a near-unanimous consensus that the nostalgia of revisiting the region of their childhood had a powerful effect on them - an effect Gita Jackson described eloquently in her Kotaku review.
"Retracing my steps, from Pallet Town to the Elite Four, had a profound emotional effect on me"Gita Jackson, Kotaku
"Retracing my steps, from Pallet Town to the Elite Four, had a profound emotional effect on me," she said. "When I first reached Celadon City, a bustling metropolis that is home to a huge department store, I remembered how teenage me had longed to move out of the suburbs to New York City, the city where I now live. Each Gym Leader was like meeting up with a old friend. It's to the game's benefit that these battles are exactly the same. I would remember where I tripped up in the past, and make sure I was ready this time.
"It's not just that I got to right old Pokémon wrongs, though. It was that I could see myself and my journey to adulthood in new eyes."
Reviewers generally agreed that the Kanto region was a delight to revisit due to a myriad of little touches from Pokémon animations to clever references to familiar characters. But their feelings on the actual visual presentation were a bit more mixed. On the positive side, USGamer's Nadia Oxford fondly described the game's models in her as-yet-unscored review as "bright, clean, and to scale" and the environments as "charming."
But Chris Tapsell at Eurogamer felt a bit differently in his Recommended review.
"The game undoubtedly has flaws, perhaps the greatest of which, believe it or not, being its choice of art style - smooth and shallow, straight from the incoherent, juxtaposed fashions of Pokémon Go and the awkward world of AR - that sits in painful contrast to the stirring vision of fellow Switch contemporaries like Breath of the Wild," he writes.
Pokémon Go is wonderful for all sorts of reasons, but it has a remarkable ability to entirely and consistently miss the many finer points of Pokémon itself, one of which being that this is a game built around its art, from its cards, to its anime, to its games, even in the confines of two-colour graphics back in the day.
"Where necessity bred creativity in the art of Red and Blue, importing Pokémon Go's visual style has the sole effect of stripping Kanto, one of gaming's great worlds, of all its most evocative texture, like someone's blended up your favourite childhood meal and forced you to drink it out of one of those plastic Huel tankards."
Another area where reviewers seemed a bit more conflicted was on the relative challenge of the game and what that meant to them. A number reaffirmed the expectation than the game would be a cakewalk, which they found a touch disappointing if unsurprising. But a few others, Nadia Oxford among them, found a surprisingly pleasant challenge on the roads of Kanto.
"Even within the constraints of a Pokémon Yellow reimagining, it feels like an exciting glimpse at the future of Pokémon"Sam Loveridge, GamesRadar
"I don't know what I expected from Pokémon Let's Go, exactly, but I didn't expect to have a never-ending line of experienced trainers run my face up and down the white picket fences lining Route 13," she wrote. "Now, I'm not a competitive Pokémon trainer, so maybe my struggles in Pokémon Let's Go are of my own making because I can't balance a team to save my life. But as someone who breezed through Pokémon Red without much problem when it first launched, I wasn't expecting to be challenged at all, so I'm chuffed Pokémon Let's Go isn't interested in coddling me. It seems to know I'm a veteran of the series, and it treats me accordingly."
Sam Loveridge at Gamesradar agreed with Oxford in her 4.5/5 review that the game was "not intended entirely for beginners" (as she put it), and took it a step further by seeing in Let's Go! an idea of what the series might shape up to be in the near future.
"This is Pokémon Yellow all over again, complete with your very own Pokémon buddy, but with a new level of finish and polish that hasn't been seen before in the Pokémon series," she said. "As this is the first ever console Pokémon game (bar classic spin-offs like Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Colosseum of course) there's obviously quite a high bar in the Pokémon community as to what we're expected. But, from everything I've seen Pokémon Let's Go do, even within the constraints of a Pokémon Yellow reimagining, it feels like an exciting glimpse at the future of Pokémon. From the slick cutscenes and the Pokémon animations, to certain gameplay tweaks that made me literally giggle with glee (and I won't ruin for you here), Pokémon Let's Go is definitely a shift towards a Pokémon future I can't wait to see."
Polygon's Allegra Frank had a slightly different take on what the game had to say about the series' future.
"When so much of Let's Go! comes across as a celebration of Pokémon's humble beginnings, reimagined with this new start, streamlining one of the most essential parts of the game stands out as a particular frustration," she said, referring to the game's focus on collection over battling. "Yes, it's an accommodation for newcomers from Pokémon Go, but if the next mainline Pokémon RPG reverts to business as usual, they'll have a steep learning curve to face."
The changes to Pokémon collection were certainly Let's Go's most discussed feature. There was plenty of room for debate where motion controls were concerned, with Ryan Craddock at Nintendo Life summing up their unfortunate inaccessibility and occasional clumsiness as "fun but flawed" in his 8/10 review.
But surrounding the hit-or-miss (literally) motion mechanics is a catching system that represents a major shift in the franchise - one that Chris Tapsell found to be a necessary improvement.
"Being able to see the wild Pokémon around you in the overworld, as you can in Let's Go, feels like finally upgrading your phone from the one you got in 2010 and insist is working perfectly fine if you just ignore the crashes and the fact it turns off at around 40 per cent of battery life," he said. "Or, to pick a more age-appropriate simile for us geriatric fans, like realising you're not supposed to be squinting at anything further than two inches from your face and finally getting some reading glasses. So this is what it's supposed to be like. Oh yeah!"
Overall, Pokémon Let's Go's Metacritic score solidly in the 80s is interesting. Not because the game saw a wide swath of review scores to get it there - quite the opposite, in fact. Critics were instead in near-lockstep regarding how the game pleasantly surprised them. Review after review expressed surprise that a game seemingly intended for a novice, even child audience proved an effective nostalgia trip and adult adventure at the same time.
In Alex Donaldso's VG247 review, he expresses a succinct summary of that surprise:
"Back when I played a very limited slice of Pokémon Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee at E3, I concluded that it'd likely be pleasing to players who went in knowing and accepting what it is - a simpler, cutesy spin-off and not the next main entry in the series," he wrote. "What's surprised me most about reviewing it is that I hadn't fully made peace with that fact and yet I loved this game anyway - something that's arguably a testament to how well it executes on its vision."