This review was originally posted on Nintendo Scene on 22nd April 2018.
The Pokémon series is undeniably a worldwide smash hit by this point with millions of units shifted across the various generations of mainline titles, and that’s not even including the various spin-offs and the avalanche of merchandise for the series. One such spin-off is this little curio here, Detective Pikachu. Beginning development in 2013 and being released only in Japan as Great Detective Pikachu: Birth of a New Duo in 2016. This initial version was removed in January this year to be replaced by the release of this, the expanded version containing three times the amount of cases. This all being said, how is Detective Pikachu?
The player fills the role of Tim Goodman, who arrives at the beginning of the story in Ryme City in search of his father, a detective that went mysteriously missing while investigating a case. Shortly after his arrival, he crosses paths with a coffee-loving Pikachu in a deerstalker hat that can speak to him in perfect English, but only him. There isn’t time to absorb this for Tim as he is quickly drawn into a small mystery involving an Aipom and a missing pendant. Although that mystery is fairly nondescript and unrelated, Tim soon starts investigating his father’s disappearance, solving other small cases along the way.
The gameplay of Detective Pikachu is closest to that of the classic point-and-click adventures, mostly revolving around walking around locations, talking to other characters and Pokémon, and pretty much examining everything. Every main area has a single, or often more than one, case to solve, of which enough evidence must be gathered to reach the solution. This evidence can be items found or given to Tim, pieces of testimony from characters and Pokémon, or observations made by Tim or Pikachu and usually solving them ends with the evidence needing to be placed in particular boxes to reach the conclusion.
Thus begins the first frustration in the game, as the player is often left running around an area in circles as they didn’t talk to that one Pokémon again after inching forwards the plot a millimetre. As NPCs and Pokémon will conveniently have more information for you as you progress, cases will often descend into repetitive checklists of talking to everyone over and over again until it pushes the story forwards. This leads onto the second frustration, the button on the touch screen of the 3DS to confer with Detective Pikachu. Often, this will flash and Pikachu will call Tim’s name until the player responds, and then will give the player a clue of how to progress.
However, often what will come of tapping it is a skit of either Pikachu in a bind or interacting with the environment or other Pokémon. Although I can understand the purpose of this for world building and developing Pikachu as a character, there is little more frustrating than when you are trying to find the one little thing to uncover the piece of evidence to solve the mystery, which you like already know the answer to, than turning to Pikachu for help and a cut scene playing of him falling into a bin. I concede that I am not the target audience for this game as it is obviously aimed at children, so these little skits would be thoroughly enjoyable in the right mindset, but these are no less frustrating in their placement or frequency.
Aesthetically though, this game is a joy to behold, with it’s bright and colourful art direction and superbly made 3D models really gelling well to great a believable 3D world of Pokémon. All of the voice acting is wonderful too, giving a real depth to the characters even the initially slightly jarring film noir gravelly timbre of Detective Pikachu himself. The music is pretty much typical Pokémon music in that it’s largely forgettable since Gold and Silver. It perfectly suits the setting with it’s upbeat music in the exploration sections and the more dramatic pieces reserved for solving cases and the like, it’s just not unique or interesting enough to remain memorable after putting down the game.
So, should you buy Detective Pikachu? It’s a neat little throwaway title that really shows that a fully 3D Pokémon game could really work, but its repetitive gameplay and infuriating hand-holding in places will likely frustrate the more seasoned gamer. This being said, as a child-friendly investigative spin-off of the Pokémon series this definitely hits its mark, and younger Pokémon fans would very likely love playing through the cases if only to interact with the multitude of cute critters throughout. A fantastic idea in theory, but missing a few elementary points to land the execution.
Detective Pikachu is out now on Nintendo 3DS both physically and on Nintendo eShop.
Thank you to Nintendo for kindly supplying the code for this review.