America - Front
America - Back
By Jackson Newsome 18th Apr 2018 | 4,418 views
For a franchise so focused on evolution, the Pokémon series rarely deviates from its established formula. Even in the anime, Ash doesn’t age, and Pikachu never evolves into Raichu. Detective Pikachu turns this formula on its head and boasts the franchise’s most compelling narrative yet, demonstrating that this old Pokémon can still learn new tricks. The setup is simple. Tim Goodman decides to investigate his father’s mysterious disappearance and finds himself aided by Detective Pikachu – his father’s partner at the Baker Detective Agency in Ryme City. However, this isn’t any ordinary Pikachu. Tim learns that he can understand Pikachu's speech just as easily as Pikachu understands his own.
Generally, Tim follows instructions from Pikachu to progress through the story. These instructions range from soliciting testimony to searching environments for clues, including settings in a theme park, laboratory, and cave among others. Players use the bottom screen to interact with Pikachu and present evidence in the correct sequence. It should be noted that the developers set their target on a younger demographic than the mainline games, meaning there are no game over screens and unlimited attempts for solving cases (if at first you don’t succeed). Additionally, there’s a fair amount of backtracking which, while arguably genre appropriate, doesn't always avoid feeling like filler content. Thankfully, brief action sequences aid the narrative’s pacing. I only wished these sequences amounted to something more than single button quick time events. More interactive sequences would have added considerable variety to the proceedings.
It is difficult to review Detective Pikachu without emphasizing its high-quality presentation. Detective Pikachu is continually impressive and punches above its weight on aging hardware. The textures appear sharp on the small screen, which brings scenes to life. Unfortunately, the developers’ ambitions prove too much for the base Nintendo 3DS console. Minor framerate issues appear early on and become particularly problematic in busier sections of the final chapters. Overall, I am uncertain if the larger, more populated environments were worth the performance trade-off. It’s a shame it couldn’t shine on stronger hardware where it might have reached a more purchase-motivated audience, especially considering the game’s conservative use of 3DS-specific features and the popularity of the Nintendo Switch.
I was pleased with the extensive voice acting which, while not always stellar, served its purpose. Interestingly, and unless I’m mistaken, Detective Pikachu features the most voicework of any Nintendo title to-date. The writing is solid, with nine episodic chapters that inch the overarching plot to its finale. I finished the game with an appreciation for the care with which the writing team crafted the narrative. That is not to say it's perfect; there are a few silly plot points, such as a late-game reveal that Pikachu is familiar with the inner workings of machinery just as such a skill would be useful. How convenient.
Beyond its strong presentation and narrative, Detective Pikachu oozes charm and intrigue as the narrative peels back layer after layer of the Pokémon world. I couldn’t resist smiling after Tim meets a rather bold and unsympathetic Murkrow and again after reading Azumarill’s naïve assumption that humans could breathe underwater. Furthermore, I was pleased to see Pokémon representatives from each generation, but it is the detective himself who steals the show with his love for coffee, sense of humor, and unwavering dedication to the mystery at hand. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the game’s world building bests both the mainline games and the anime series.
Detective Pikachu paints a world in which Pokémon are anything but superfluous; they are essential. You see Pokémon contribute to the city’s operations and, in other cases, independently living their lives. It is refreshing and stands in contrast to other titles which only halfheartedly cast Pokémon as anything more than chess pieces for combat. The result is the most believable take on Pokémon yet. In short, Game Freak should take notes for the mainline series. Fortunately for fans, the wait may not be too long for a follow-up based on not-so-subtle hints at the game's conclusion and the upcoming film of the same name.
These strengths make for a strong package but one which suffers from sporadic inconsistencies in both challenge and pacing, along with an uneven framerate near the game’s end. Even so, Detective Pikachu is the most exciting offering from Nintendo’s risk-averse start to 2018. Although it may not steal headlines, the evidence points to one conclusion — Detective Pikachu is a must play for Pokémon fans everywhere. For everyone else, it’s a good point of entry to the world of Pokémon, if only you can tolerate its ease and rookie imperfections.