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Detective Pikachu Returns review: One for younger fans

Detective Pikachu Returns review: One for younger fans

Lacking the needed spark

I’ve been a Pokemon fan for more years than I care to count and while I love the core games in the franchise, I always seem to gravitate towards the outliers and spin-offs. I championed the Rumble series on Wii; I seemed to lean pretty hard into Stadium and Pokemon Snap; and Mystery Dungeon is up there as one of my favourites.

There came a point in Detective Pikachu Returns where I felt frustrated - I was fed up with the game’s pacing, and the way that it shifted the story forward. The cases I was set to solve felt too easy, the game felt overly bloated with meaningless tasks and dialogue. During a break from playing I realised that while playing all these games, I often forget that Pokemon games are, generally speaking, family games.

There’s a cycle; Tim and Pikachu wander into a mystery and the tasks to check through involve talking to local people and Pokemon, looking for evidence, and exploring contained areas. Once you’ve collected everything needed to solve the case, you’ll scrimmage with Pikachu and open your casebook to piece together the solution.

To give an early example, there’s a point where you need to work out which Pokemon cut open a glass case to steal a jewel. Once it’s time to deduce, you’re presented with a few boxes illustrating the possible answers and it’s blatantly obvious which is right. Every single time. During the investigation, you will have met a particular Pokemon who has steel blades for hands and you know right there that this is the solution. It’s obvious.

This is the biggest detractor for the game. From the moment I meet these Pokemon my brain is saying that this is the Pokemon I point to when solving the case, yet I still had to talk to everyone else to confirm the theory, despite already having the answer.

Detective Pikachu Returns /

Now, if a younger player is tackling these cases there’s a chance it is puzzling for them, but for a large percentage of the players, you will always be several steps ahead of the cast. It becomes frustrating over time unless you start to treat the game differently. Rather than a mystery title that would give my brain a workout, I began thinking of the game as a visual novel instead. Once I changed my mindset, I felt a lot more forgiving and began to appreciate the game as a kind of showcase for the franchise.

If you want something twee, a bit silly, and full of lovely Pokemon models, then Detective Pikachu can offer a lot. There is a certain level of charm that comes from the cut scenes as the humour from Detective Pikachu, the character, often lands nicely. He’s brilliantly animated and taps into that cutesy feeling of the Ryan Reynolds-led film. A personal highlight is watching Pikachu chase after Tim and struggling to keep up, and then seeing him out of breath when we stop. It shows character.

There are downsides in the cast and most of these come from the more wooden performances around Pikachu. As the star, he is electric, but Tim and most of the other humans in the world lack any personality or depth. Whenever Pikachu isn’t on the screen the game loses its spark. This makes a lot of the leg work in solving a case tedious, at times. However, when Pikachu is talking to a Pokemon - something only he can do - it feels a lot more fun and inviting.

Detective Pikachu Returns /

It’s a shame that my biggest frustrations came from the nature of the mysteries and their lack of difficulty. Detective gameplay is often broken up with mini-game-style sections. While not necessarily ‘games’, this is perhaps the best way to summarise sections where you’re asked to control a Growlithe carrying Pikachu while he follows a scent; or while controlling an ice-smashing Darmanitan, again carrying Pikachu. These sections break up the reading and dialogue, but as with the cases themselves, don’t offer any degree of difficulty.

If players treat this like Digimon Survive, which was marketed as a visual novel, they will get less disappointment from this otherwise charming game. Or, if the game is given to a child, they will likely have a blast figuring things out and talking to their favourite Pokemon. Having played Detective Pikachu Returns, I know the game isn’t for me, and that’s okay.

I could appreciate the animation, the odd joke, the voice acting from the English dub Pikachu, and just being in the world of Ryme City. It was an extension of the film I enjoyed and it was a place to be with my favourite Pokemon, too. I think if you temper your expectations, Detective Pikachu Returns can be exactly what it wants to be, a delightful journey through the world of Pokemon.

Pros: Lovely Pokemon models, often funny, great to be in a world of Pokemon, great for younger players.

Cons: The majority of the game is far too easy for most, some wooden acting, can be a bit too wordy at times.

For fans of: Pokemon, visual novels

6/10: Good

Detective Pikachu Returns is out now for Nintendo Switch. Review code provided by the publisher. Read a guide to our review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Nintendo

Topics: Pokemon, Nintendo Switch