Detective Pikachu Returns adds character and depth to the Pokémon world and an exciting story, occasional jokes and a few quirky characters mean it has some charm. However, very straightforward mechanics, some dated visuals and a slow pace that too often gives away the solution to the player way before the characters catch on means it’s probably not quite the bolt of brilliance we’d hoped for.
Even if you have not played the original 3DS Detective Pikachu, you’ve likely noticed its impact. It was aimed at younger kids, but the way it opened up the Pokémon world and gave us a whole different view of how humans and our favourite pocket monsters interacted was really unique and exciting. It eventually led to the release of the movie (of the same name) and while we lost the gruff Danny DeVito-like voice for the coffee-swilling Detective Pikachu, Ryan Reynolds and the rest of the cast did a great job of introducing an even bigger audience to Tim and his wise-cracking deerstalker-hat-wearing-crime-solving Pokémon. It was a hit, and so we’ve not only had fans of the game but also the movie clamouring for the sequel to come to the Switch. After 5 years or so it’s finally happened and while it definitely builds on a lot of what we loved about the original, it sadly isn’t the great ‘solve’ I’d hoped for.
Thankfully, one of the most important features, the story, is great. It’s probably what I enjoyed the most about the experience and there’s even a good payoff at the end. It starts off two years after the events of the first game (and the movie) and even if you missed all that, we do get a quick summary of the notable events right at the beginning. The great duo of Tim Goodman and Detective Pikachu are once again tasked with solving a series of crimes around Ryme City – with a bigger mystery connecting them all together. Tim interrogates all the humans and Pikachu takes care of the Pokémon.
Thanks to some occasionally funny writing and quite a huge selection of characters with engaging personalities, I really enjoyed meeting and interviewing everyone around Ryme City (especially at first)…
It’s a great premise and thanks to some occasionally quite funny writing (including a quip from Tim’s sister wondering why she and their mom were cut out of the movie that really made me smile) and quite a huge selection of characters with engaging personalities, I really enjoyed meeting and interviewing everyone around Ryme City (especially at first). While most of the time, you’ll be walking from place to place in a very specific order, I did also like that during your adventure, Detective Pikachu will occasionally hop onto another Pokémon and you’ll suddenly have an extra ability – like following a scent-trail with Growlith or seeing through walls thanks to Luxray’s piercing vision. Plus, if the popularity of Nancy Drew, The Famous Five and the series of procedural crime shows are anything to go by – we all seem to have a thing for solving crimes. So, throwing in some cute and often amusing Pokémon cannot be a bad thing.
Despite all this charming goodness, I didn’t really love my experience with Detective Pikachu Returns. It’s not often that visuals (or even performance) are that important to me. In fact, I usually don’t even notice as long as I’m having fun. Unfortunately, having to run only left and right in some areas, have huge areas of flat colour and even the occasional jerkiness is hard to miss in a game that moves this slowly. Plus, I’m not sure if this was originally meant to be a 3DS title but having a cursor in the notebook menu definitely gave me the vibe that it was and that would probably explain some of the visual issues. The mechanic of looking for three to five clues in each section before, opening your notebook and deducing the answer from a series of answers is all presented in a really delightful way. However, when you (very quickly realise) that the game won’t really allow you to miss a clue – and the multiple choice is filled with only one even remotely possible correct answer – it all just becomes a lot of reading between repetitive A and X button presses.
It soon basically becomes a visual novel that takes just ages to get through.
It then basically becomes a visual novel that takes ages to get through. Yes, there are occasional puzzles and even some quite unexpected twists. However, 99% of puzzles are painfully straightforward and only have one often very obvious solution. Secrets are also revealed or at least become obvious to you as the player much, much earlier than the characters figure things out. And you’re so often running back and forth and having to read and click through summary after summary of every action and clue unearthed, going over the same secret that by the time the cast works it out – you’re more than ready to ‘pull a Sudowoodo’ and leave.
Now, I know this game is supposed to be targeted at a much younger audience, however, even that didn’t quite make sense to me. Sure, barring the very last puzzle that took me a second of three to figure out, the rest are so simple that there is basically no way not to solve them. As mentioned above, there’s no real way to move on unless you’ve investigated each item on the screen that needs to be investigated. Even if you choose the wrong option when deducing, nothing happens. You just get another go. So, yes maybe that’s made for young kids. However, the story (which I really enjoyed) is occasionally quite dark, or at least emotionally charged. I suspect very young kids will miss all of that subtext and all the intensity. To add to this, there is just so much reading to do, that I don’t think younger kids will enjoy getting through ten hours of it. So, I’m not really sure it quite hits either the young kid or the young-at-heart demographic well. And, I think that’s quite a missed opportunity and can’t help but feel some more challenging mechanics (even if they were optional) would’ve made a big difference.
The ending sequence is particularly exciting!
That being said, tweaking the settings does let you get through the speeches a little faster and even run at about twice the speed as you make your way across the world. That helped quite a bit. Also, there are some cutscenes and quite a lot of voice work throughout the world which I actually really enjoyed. Even if having Tim utter ‘Excuse me’ before each question did drive me a little insane. Thankfully, the ending sequence is particularly exciting and ends off on a satisfying note which really made what felt like a bit of a slog a little more bearable and even brought a smile to my face.
The rub, bub
Detective Pikachu Returns is a strange one. I’m not sure exactly who it is made for, but no matter your age, you’ll probably find something to enjoy. It’s delightful in parts, and comical and fun in spurts too. However, no stakes or real options, a disappointing visual experience and a ploddingly slow pace means that the story doesn’t quite hit the heights it could and while it’s probably not one to actively avoid, it’s probably only going to make the ‘Switch-must-have’ list for real die-hard fans.
REVIEW CODE PROVIDED BY: NINTENDO
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