Backlog Slog – Detective Pikachu

Detective Pikachu, the latest spinoff in the Pokemon franchise, only came out in early 2018 in the West. But, that’s slightly too long for me to properly do a review, and just long enough for me to slide this into my Backlog Slog segment because I haven’t been playing anything much older than that recently.

So. Let’s take a look.

In this game, you take the role of a young man named Tim Goodman, who has come to the big city in search of his father who went missing two months prior. Early in his search, he happens to run into a peculiar Pikachu that happens to know how to speak to humans. Well. One human. To you, specifically. You can’t talk to any other Pokemon, Pikachu can’t talk to any other humans, and you soon discover that Tim’s father is the missing link. This Pikachu had belonged to the man only to lose its memory in the same accident that caused him to go missing.

And so, a quest to find the missing father/partner is on.

The first thing that really struck me about the game was a more realistic look at the Pokemon universe. You’re in a functioning city, not everyone is a trainer but there are plenty of Pokemon about. Whether they’re just friends or workmates. Running into wild Pokemon in the park that no one has any desire to catch. Encountering Pokemon that worked at the local amusement park who loved their jobs entertaining folks.

This is the world of Pokemon that’s believable as we see it through the eyes of a guy who has no drive to be a trainer, and is even going to university soon. This is the kind of look at the world I honestly wish we got more often.

The game has fully voiced cutscenes as well, and all kinds of characters to interview and problems to solve in your quest. And perhaps this is the games biggest failing. As charming as the characters and the world are, that doesn’t excuse the fact that it’s still… Well, a game.

The game is an adventure game with a detective spin as you talk to people to gather testimony and look for clues to solve a final puzzle. Think a sort of Professor Layton or Phoenix Wright style game, though there is walking around rather than static screen transitions. However, the puzzles and the flow is nowhere near as good.

Each case essentially consists of the following: Talk to everyone present, look at some things, and then come to a conclusion about what happened. Which is always incredibly easy, as Pikachu is constantly giving hints. Though these are optional, I never knew when I was being given a clue and when I actually had to talk to Pikachu to advance the plot. Not that hints mattered, because every ‘puzzle’ is frustratingly easy. Which, when I consider there’s an ‘easy’ mode on top of this, I really can’t understand how they could be simpler.

Which really struck me as odd, considering I assumed they were going for a more mature audience due to the older protagonist, detective setting and more realistic look at the Pokemon universe.

As such, there’s really not a lot to speak of in terms of gameplay and, as a result, length. Perhaps it’s not far off being a highly interactive visual novel, really.

But that’s not a bad thing, because the story, while a little predictable, and the characters is where this game shines. It’s a delight to see your gruff Pikachu pal interacting with other Pokemon, and how every case you tackle and every small problem you solve ties in together in the grand scheme of things.

Detective Pikachu is something that I wish I could say was a lot better. It’s really not worth full price due to its length, and unless you’re really new to adventure style games, it’s difficulty is also a huge mark against it, feeling patronizing at times. And yet, I can’t help but wonder if a younger audience would full appreciate such a text heavy and slow game when they could be playing an actual Pokemon title.

It’s a mystery of a game, not sure who it wants to please, but still trying its darndest to make you smile while you play it. Which I did, frequently. There was a Litten who worked at a theme park and he was best friends with a Charizard.

This game is, if nothing else, at least a delight to experience. And I think it really will do much better as the upcoming 2019 feature film.

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