REVIEW / Detective Pikachu (3DS)

 

The Pokemon series has embraced a lot of genres in its spin-offs, with some exploring stories greater or more mature in scope than the main series can handle. But I don’t think anyone expected Detective Pikachu. Kid-friendly though it may be, a mystery investigation with a smooth-talking Pikachu is a different take on the world of Pokemon than we usually get. And that’s a good thing; it allows us to explore the world of Pokemon outside of the trials and tribulations of Pokemon Trainers. Those random NPCs in the main games who only have one line must have lives too, right? Even before the game’s English release, it was popular enough to get a movie deal, so there must be more to the life of a non-Trainer than meets the eye.

In Detective Pikachu, we play as one such non-Trainer, a soon-to-be-college student named Tim Goodman. He’s just moved to Ryme City to investigate his father’s disappearance after a car crash. By chance, runs into his dad’s Pikachu, who talks like a hardboiled Detective but can only be understood by Tim. The search for Tim’s dad Harry is the mystery that drives most of the plot, with Tim and Pikachu solving a multitude of other mysteries along the way. The story is perfectly tame, but as the older protagonist would suggest, it does feel a little bit more realistic than the main series plots. And even though the mysteries tend to be pretty easy to figure out for an older player, I still find myself interested to see how they’re going to end. It’s well-written and well-translated, which might be more than you expected. The only real problem with the overall story is a lack of closure; while there are enough hints that a clever player won’t have much trouble figuring it out (and in fact many see it coming from the start), you never do definitively find out what happened to Tim’s father. Perhaps they’re setting up for a sequel?

There isn’t a ton to the gameplay, so the engaging story is key. You basically just walk around the relevant location for each chapter, interacting with NPCs and checking various locations for testimony and clues. It’s a bit like the investigation part of the Phoenix Wright games. But this exploration of the world is where the game shines. It’s one of the first few games to explore something close to day to day life in the world of Pokemon, where you aren’t trying to catch ‘em all in any way (be it with a Pokeball, a camera, or a capture slider). Similarly, through translation from Pikachu, this is the first game where you can actually talk to the Pokemon*, learning how they feel about the mysteries and their non-battling jobs. It all works to make the world feel more real. The downside of this is that the human characters can be a bit lacking in background or personality, including Tim, whose voice actor almost always sounds like he’s half asleep. But if you’re here for the Pokemon, you won’t be disappointed; all seven generations are represented, and each Pokemon has a personality that makes sense for what we already know about them.

But when it comes to Pokemon with personality, there’s no beating the titular detective. He may look like a regular old Pikachu, but in fact he’s something of a stereotypical detective. He loves coffee, flirts, cracks sarcastic jokes, and takes finding the culprit very seriously. At any time during the game, you can tap Pikachu on the bottom screen for a conversation, or “Pika Prompt” as the game calls them. Pikachu might give you his thoughts on the case, interact with other nearby Pokemon, try and hilariously fail to use actual Pokemon moves, or deliver his trademark “detective tips.” He even has the voice down pat. It’s nice to see such an entertaining and complex character, especially as he still looks like an adorable Pikachu with a little Sherlock Holmes hat. The dichotomy is a lot of fun, and the game knows how to play with it well.

 

Now, as fun as the game can be, you have to know what you’re getting yourself into. This is still a game meant to be accessible to children. You won’t find a lot of challenge here; as both the puzzles and the mysteries are generally trivial to solve for an adult. The story, similarly, isn’t as mature as one might have hoped. This is really my only big warning against the game: The gameplay and difficulty will not be incredibly engrossing.

But if you’re a Pokemon fan, even an adult fan, you should play Detective Pikachu anyway. The game does a great job of fleshing out the world of Pokemon and the creatures themselves, showing off their personalities more than the main series could. Add in a compelling if simple story and the always entertaining titular detective, and you get a great adventure for fans of the franchise. If you aren’t into Pokemon, though, this game is really not going to do much for you as an adult gamer. Kids might enjoy It, but it probably isn’t the best introduction to the franchise for them. This one is for the Pokemaniacs.

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