Pokémon is a massively popular but reliable series in terms of what to expect from each release. Aside from its various spinoffs like Pokémon Go, Pokémon Puzzle Challenge, and other familiar titles, it doesn't change very much. The core gameplay remains the same, which usually satisfies fans -- why fix what's broken? That's why Detective Pikachu, a game that completely shakes things up from the normal formula, works so well. It's an intriguing new vision that gives us another lens through which we can view the world of Pokémon, and it works incredibly well. If you're not totally sold on the idea of a talking Pikachu who happens to also solve mysteries, you will be after taking Detective Pikachu for a spin.
Suit Up, Gumshoe
Detective Pikachu is the most unique Pokémon game currently out on the market, as you'll see just moments after starting it up. We're introduced to the wise-cracking detective immediately, a wholly different character than Ash's Pikachu, who we're all used to from the rest of the Pokémon games, anime episodes, and manga. This sassy, gruff little mouse is far from the obedient companion we've known for years. He's a grizzled old-timer who seems more like the wizened old police chief in movies and TV series, willing to help the less experienced and ready to jump on a difficult case to find a resolution. While it's a new dynamic for the series, it's also one that works ridiculously well, like a strange old buddy cop show.
Pikachu's human companion Tim Goodman makes for an entertaining foil to Pikachu's chuckle-worthy one-liners, and the two make for a charming pair. You'll see more of the detective himself revealed throughout the game through the copious usage of cutscenes, which clue you in on things like the fact that Tim seems to be the only one who can understand Pikachu's human language, or how the two get along outside of solving crimes. You can also unlock additional cutscenes with the comically oversized Detective Pikachu amiibo, if you have one.
Cracking the Case
Tim and Pikachu are working together to find, first and foremost, where Tim's father has disappeared to as they scour the annals of Ryme City. There's a wide variety of criminal mysteries to decode as the story unfolds, most of which require you to do your own bit of detective work, much like the Phoenix Wright series asks of you. For each case, you can chat with potential witnesses, gather information to help you out going forward, and jot everything own in your case book. Your notes are always at your disposal, with all the information you glean on your journey at a glance on the bottom screen if you need it. You can talk to both humans and Pokémon, thanks to Pikachu, and it yields interesting results.
As you work your way through cases, sometimes you'll need to be vigilant enough to pass a quick-time event. These don't make much of a difference for the most part, but they do offer some breaks in longer cases. When you have enough information gathered by investigating crime scenes and chatting to witnesses, Pikachu will let you know when it's time to start putting things together so you can figure out what's going on. The easiest puzzles are at the beginning of the game, obviously, but none of the cases ever meander too far into "difficult" territory. Just the same, they still feel rewarding and fun to solve. With nine chapters that can take about an hour or so or more to solve, there's plenty of playtime here as well, so you have ample time to watch Tim and Pikachu's partnership develop.
With that much to do, however, you do run into some repetition. As mentioned earlier, the cases can be quite simple, and you'll typically be asked to do the same kind of investigations over and over, with different culprits and different outcomes. I couldn't help but feel like this was a gentle "first" attempt at guiding players to a different sort of world featuring some of their favorite characters, and thus that's why it felt a little simpler than it should have. That's probably why I felt a bit frustrated when I was asked to pore over cases that felt a little more stretched out than usual, and those that felt as though they were put together for fledgling crime solvers.
Still, Detective Pikachu has been a solid hit through and through. From Pikachu's weirdly appropriate voice to the fun cases involving both Pokémon and humans to the interesting detective cases to solve, I had a blast getting to the end of the game. It may seem like a trainwreck when you look at it all rationally, but it's some of the most fun I've had in the Pokémon universe in some time. I'm hoping there are several additional sequels in this universe, because Pokémon has needed something fun and fresh to take it in a new direction. If there are Pokémon games coming to Switch indeed, let them be more Detective Pikachu adventures!
This review is based on a Nintendo 3DS download code provided by the publisher. Detective Pikachu is available for purchase now on Nintendo 3DS with both digital and physical editions available.