Nintendo’s Detective Pikachu is pretty strange right from the start. Mostly because you’ve got a Pikachu with amnesia, who acts a whole lot like a middle-aged hardboiled detective. Weirder is the fact that everyone who knew him before swears he used to be cute and adorable – like the Pikachu we’re all familiar with. It also turns out that your dad is missing and Pikachu was your dad’s Pikachu. You don’t recognize him because of the attitude change. Oh, and the fact that he can talk to you.
Boy is that old-man voice coming from a Pikachu jarring as hell, even when you’re well prepared for it.
But at least he likes coffee?
There’s so much odd about the premise, that it distracts from the gameplay. Which is probably a good thing, because the gameplay is a little bit too kid-friendly. The game holds your hand through solving puzzles for far too much of the game, even when they are incredibly intuitive. While Detective Pikachu is an all-ages Pokémon game – thus the target demographic skews young – there’s something insulting about just how little the game expects you to know. Way back in the days where I was a kid playing the original Pokémon trilogy, the game didn’t give us near as much in the way of direction. You could wander around completely lost if you didn’t talk to every NPC or figure out a creative solution to a problem (Snorlax blocking the road? Well, time to get on a cruise ship).
Now, every game has to negotiate how much it wants to hold the player’s hand, and that can be a hard balance to strike. Detective Pikachu swings so far into the realm of handholding, even on the difficult settings, that it leaves you feeling like you didn’t do a damn thing. The whole game is just puzzle solving with pretty basic, almost point-and-click controls. Which is kind of a waste of the 3DS hardware. This probably would have done better as something designed for mobile platforms. In fact, the requirement for two screens is the only reason the game has for being on 3DS, but there are more than a few ways around that challenge on a phone or tablet.
Luckily, the story itself is rather fun and can keep you entertained, which bodes well for the Detective Pikachu film.
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