Game Review – Detective Pikachu

Detective Pikachu

Detective Pikachu
名探偵ピカチュウ (Meitantei Pikachu)
Adventure / Puzzle
The Pokémon Company
Nintendo 3DS

Summary:

After his father disappears, Tim arrives in Ryme City to see if he can find out anything. Instead he finds a Pikachu that speaks human language! This Pikachu, whom only Tim can understand, proclaims he’s a detective, and the two of them decide to investigate Tim’s dad’s disappearance and any other mysteries along the way. Take on the role of Tim and examine crime scenes, question witnesses, and solve the case!

Review:

I never really followed the pre-release hype, so all I pretty much knew story-wise was that a very detective-like (and self-proclaimed detective) Pikachu teams up with someone to solve mysteries. As far as gameplay, it’s a junior version of Ace Attorney. For me, it was one of those, “Eh, if I find it on sale” type of deals. Didn’t pay much attention to it, but something to consider after a price drop.

Well, then the movie adaptation was announced and started to be promoted, and although I haven’t gone out of my way really to see the trailers, it’s hard not to see one pop up at the theaters or on tv. So between the two, I actually was more familiar with the movie Detective Pikachu than the game before I started it. I had no idea how close the movie previews were to the game, but shortly after I booted it up, I am guessing pretty different: bright colors versus the more gritty world of the movie. And, of course, a gruff-sounding Pikachu that is very different from Deadpool’s — I mean, Ryan Reynold’s — voice.

So the game kicks off as the player, taking on the role of a soon-to-be university student Tim, arrives in Ryme City. His dad lives in this town and works as a detective, but he has disappeared. Tim wants to find out what happened, and he meets a Pikachu that only he can understand. This Pikachu turns out to be his dad’s Pokémon, but he has amnesia. Still, Pikachu remembers his sleuthing skills, and between his talents and Tim’s inherited skills, they’re going to figure out why Harry (Tim’s dad) vanished.

And help others they meet while searching, because it wouldn’t be Pokémon without the main characters arriving just as someone needs help.

Let’s talk about the gameplay first. Players move Tim around the field (usually in a fairly limited area) on the upper screen with the analog stick, and he can examine things or talk with people and Pokémon (the latter with Pikachu’s help) by using the A button. It also hosts some quick-time events. The bottom screen is the menu that contains very unorganized lists of witness statements and evidence along with notes, an icon to talk to Pikachu, and most of the puzzle-solving aspects of the game.

Which brings me to my first complaint: I really, really disliked the controls. I wish that the map (or rather a second map) was shown on the bottom screen. I kept wanting to touch points of interest, but I had to keep telling myself, “No, Krystallina, the map is on the top screen, not the bottom.” So instead of just tapping on the suspicious piece of paper, I have to use the analog stick to move to it and then use the A button to select it. A simple menu button could have been placed in the corner to bring up the full Detective Pikachu menu. Or maybe add a Pikachu icon right on the map to fast-track his prompts. Regardless. I wanted to simply click on the various people/Pokémon and the environment. It would have made things so much smoother and take real advantage of the touch screen.

I guess the developers didn’t want to have players just click on the entire screen to find something (which I admit doing at times in Ace Attorney), but I don’t understand why not. Because… you cannot lose this game. There’s no health bar or anything, so if you get an answer wrong, just try again. And again. And again. Not that most players above the age of like 12 will be needing that many attempts. Sometimes, my Ace Attorney/Layton-playing mind was like, “It can’t really be that easy, can it…?” I also found myself getting ahead at times (solving before Tim and Pikachu), but while you may be able to skip a piece of testimony here and there, there’s not much you can do to fast-track things. Even missing the quick time events (which only involve the A button, never anything else) just continues the story with some slightly altered dialogue. The game also gives you notice that an event is going to happen, so it’s not like these come out of nowhere. Plus, you can also start the game on easy mode.

Ultimately, Detective Pikachu is a kid’s intro to logic puzzles. You generally solve them by moving pictures of Pokémon or people with their statement into a slot, and then when it comes time for the big reveal, you may need to choose from a text list. Non-Pokémon fans won’t have to dig deep into a database to figure out characteristics or names of the 600-700 Pokémon that were around at this time, as any Pokémon-related puzzles will have a clue somewhere about their type, color, etc. Even when a few new types of interactions are introduced (like moving things to make a path), it’s pretty much too late. Veteran puzzle gamers will likely have zoned out, only finishing the game to check off their gaming lists.

Detective Pikachu Screenshot 3

… Or for Pikachu himself, as he is great.

I’ll talk about the story more in just a moment, but Pikachu’s best moments come from the Pika Prompts. These are also, without a doubt, the most challenging part of the game if you want to see them all. At any time, you can touch the large Pikachu icon on the bottom screen to get scenes. Generally, which I didn’t realize, if you press it while the icon is flashing (and Pikachu is jumping up and down on the upper screen), you will get a scene about the case or him interacting with the environment. Pressing at other times gets you a generic scene… usually. Even if you’re touching the icon constantly, you are likely to miss some. Some areas may have multiple scenes, but getting them to activate appears to be a combination of location, hidden requirements, and plain ol’ luck. If you aren’t using a guide, there’s no way to know if you should be keep pressing for a new scene or you should be moving on. If hunting, you’ll end up hearing the same ones again and again and again, and although you can use B button to go back without watching the whole thing, it’s annoying.

Pika Prompts are listed at the title screen, which you can only access by force closing the game or finishing a chapter. If you miss one, well, there’s good news and bad news. You aren’t SOL. You can go back and replay chapters after completing them, which is probably what the other two save slots are for rather than having different people share a cartridge. Note that this game has no traditional save feature; it’s auto-save only, which is activated whenever Tim moves to a new screen or something major happened in the story. That stinks. There’s also no way to backtrack to parts of Ryme City you’ve visited before, so if you’re looking to complete the Pika Prompts without a guide, you’ll end up having to repeat chapters — or even the whole game! Reportedly, you can also get them all if you use the Detective Pikachu Amiibo, but no one should be paying $30+ for just some <30 second cutscenes, even if there are 150 of them.

Detective Pikachu Screenshot 2

Surprisingly, while these require more work than the rest of the game, they are rewarding. This Pikachu is a detective, but he’s also a bit of a wisecracker and still very much a Pokémon at heart. Pika Prompts cover scenes from showing off his detective knowledge to drooling over coffee to having his thunder stolen by another Pokémon. Some scenes even have a couple of versions depending on what you say. I never knew what he was going to say next, and this is where the real fun lies.

During the actual game, Pikachu translates for Tim what the other Pokémon are saying, and I liked getting to see how the other Pokémon see themselves in regards to their Trainer/partner. Like one Pokémon thinks of the human they’re always with as a daughter. Most Pokémon games cover the bond between Trainer and Pokémon, but in Ryme City, where keeping them in Poké Balls isn’t the standard, Detective Pikachu adds that fun of “what is my pet thinking?” that we all wish we could get answered in real life.

Otherwise, the game is on the short side. It’s nine chapters, and it’s the hunt for Pika Prompts that will increase the game length since there are no side quests or post game content. Ten hours is a fair estimate, give or take a couple depending on how much you love Pika Prompts.

Even though Harry is missing from the get-go, the story starts off rather dull, featuring chasing after Aipom and escaping caves. Things change around Chapter 4. The mystery starts getting clearer and allows the pace and intrigue pick up. The mid- and endgame are quite a step up from the opening portions. As a kid’s game, Detective Pikachu doesn’t go too dark, but it still has some of the science flair found in other Pokémon entries. Both old and young might get some surprises, including a reference that made me literally laugh out loud.

Detective Pikachu Screenshot 1

Unfortunately, Detective Pikachu appears to have been imagined as a multi-game series. It still might be, as the game ends in a way that will leave most players unsatisfied. It’s especially disappointing since the game places major hints in regards to a certain mystery, yet it fails to resolve it either way. I wouldn’t necessarily call the ending a cliffhanger, but this is not a fully-contained adventure.

I won’t go too much into the characters. Obviously, there’s the lively titular Pikachu, who is both a gruff, old-timey detective and a carefree Pokémon. Tim is more of a generic, easygoing nice guy; despite being the player character and doing the actual mystery-solving (because no one else can understand Pikachu), he’s secondary to Pikachu. I did like how Tim is a little older than a typical Japanese media hero: he’s getting ready to enter college and can drive a car. There are some other recurring and/or main characters (including one that could be considered a love interest even though I’d estimate she’s several years older), but no one else is going to come close to leaving an impression on players like Pikachu does. Even the villains end up spilling their guts in rather unimpressive fashions. Pokémon featured are from a mix of generations, and with the featured number being on the low side, chances are that your favorite did not make it in here.

The game is partially voiced, with about 3 or 4 hours of cutscenes. These are unskippable, which adds to the Pika Prompt frustration. Witnesses and some of Tim and Pikachu’s conversations are unvoiced. Players can choose the language upon startup, and if Japanese hiragana is chosen, the game will be voiced in Japanese. Either way, anime fans will likely recognize several anime voice actors, from the Japanese Tuxedo Mask/Saint Seiya to English Haruhi. You can’t switch audio midgame. I chose English, and the voice cast does a solid job overall. Some of the Pokémon cries were not that good, but Pikachu’s voice actor must have been having a blast. Tim, on the other hand, sounds like he’s stuck in permanent narration mode, but that’s also because of his personality.

As the text on the cover indicates, this game has no 3D effects. So from that alone, you know the visuals aren’t going to push the 3DS to the limit. Unlike the more chibi style in main Pokémon games, the people here are fully proportioned. The Pokémon themselves are as well, but probably not as scaled as they are in Let’s Go. It gives the game a different — and, in my opinion, a more realistic — feel than the main games. Regardless, again, the real draw is all the expressions Pikachu has. Happy, sad, annoyed — lots of Pikachu goodness for the young and old. Some people and Pokémon do move around a bit on screen, and there is some diversity in the cast (Asian camerawoman, black detective, etc.). Maps are fairly small, and in some cases, there are no other screens to enter to force the game to save. Otherwise, the graphics are good and smooth, but it’s hardly groundbreaking.

Translation:

You may be surprised to learn that the characters’ names are the same in the Japanese version — Tim Goodman, Harry Goodman, etc.

Final Comments:

A few days is all that’s needed if you want to complete Detective Pikachu for curiosity’s sake, making this a title to rent. Plus, maybe a borrowed copy will have most if not all Pika Prompts unlocked. Otherwise, while Pikachu is entertaining to the max and the story isn’t half bad, the lack of game challenges and the set-up for sequel(s) make this a game only for the young, collectors, or those who want to compare the film adaptation to the game.

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6 Comments

  1. raistlin0903

    Crazily enough the only pokemon game I ever played was pokemon pinball ?? Still, having read through your post, this new game doesn’t sound like my cup of tea. And I really don’t like games with controls that are annoying. What I did like though was this post, which as always was a lot of fun to read ?

    Reply
    1. Krystallina (Post author)

      Pokemon Pinball… man, I think I forgot all about it until now. I remember it being fun though!

      Yeah, for most gamers, probably the only reason to play this game is to compare it to the movie. But I’m glad you enjoyed my review! ?

      Reply
      1. raistlin0903

        Haha, it really was fun that game. But then again, I’m a massive pinball fan anyway, so I may be a little bit biased ??

        Reply
  2. dreager1

    Definitely sounds pretty reasonable although a bit shorter than I had expected. When the game was first announced I almost put it on pre order but the game just didn’t seem quite as interesting/exciting as I would have hoped. i do like a good puzzle title like Layton so I certainly will get it, I just think I’m probably gonna end up watching the movie before playing the game this time around

    Reply
    1. Krystallina (Post author)

      No matter which one you start with, both Detective Pikachu (the characters) will be fun. Just wish the game had a little more challenge to it rather than solving that the stick can be made into a pickaxe handle.

      Reply
      1. dreager1

        Heh, yeah that puzzle sounds pretty basic. Definitely the characters look pretty fun, I’ll be looking forward to that part/the story the most

        Reply

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