My relationship with Pokémon goes back to the late nineties.
While I did not consume all the various media (games, cartoons, trading cards) with the same voracity as the Simba chips that had Tazzos, I was thrilled that a company I loved with no official representation in South Africa at the time – this was long before Core came on the scene and die-hard Nintendo fans like myself relied on import market for Nintendo games and consoles – was present in so many spaces.
I dove into Detective Pikachu Returns with some curiosity, having only watched 30 minutes of the Ryan Reynolds movie and not playing the original 3DS game. Luckily there is a recap at the start so I didn’t feel like I missed anything.
I was eager to see how this new instalment would deliver and hopefully be that Pokémon game that converted me to the franchise – I poured hours into some earlier games like Pokémon Silver and Shield, hoping it would eventually click but no such luck.
The game starts with a return to Ryme City, where our protagonist, Tim, and the titular Detective Pikachu find themselves embroiled in a new series of cases. The cases are low-stakes and child-friendly, ranging from a stolen hat to shadowy organizations abducting Pokémon.
While exciting in theory, the deductions are very easy with no real risk of failure, which is a missed opportunity to challenge players of all ages and comprehension levels. I recognise I might not be the target market but I can’t help but feel that the game is terribly dull, even for passionate fans who have grown up with the series.
One of the gameplay elements that could have added depth to the experience is the quick-time events. Unfortunately, these events are uninspiring, as they cannot be failed, rendering them more as distractions than engaging challenges. The potential for thrilling sequences is undermined by the lack of risk and consequences.
The addition of Pokémon helpers for investigations, such as Pikachu riding Growlithe to follow scent trails, sounded promising, however, these mechanics are underutilised and only appear in a couple of cases. It’s a missed opportunity to diversify the gameplay and offer more variety in the detective work.
Ryme City feels empty and uninspired. The environments are large but lack depth, failing to fully immerse me in the world. The lack of interactive elements in these environments left me with a feeling of missed potential. It’s evident that the areas could have been more compact, with more engaging content and exploration.
The puzzle solutions are disappointingly straightforward, with the game guiding me throughout to ensure I didn’t miss essential evidence, like a helicopter parent trying to cushion the world. Deductions are presented in a multiple-choice format, reminiscent of primary school quizzes, further diminishing the sense of challenge. If you do make a mistake, there are no consequences, and you can simply try again, making it a trivial exercise. There’s very little to give weight or pressure to choices.
In terms of visuals, Detective Pikachu Returns offers a simplistic presentation, with Pokémon models that are adequate but unremarkable, with very little change from the 3DS original, which again, is a missed opportunity as the Switch is capable of very impressive graphics. The environments lack vibrancy and come across as a missed opportunity for a more engaging and visually captivating experience. The audio, too, is forgettable, with music, sound effects, and sparse voice acting that fails to leave a lasting impression.
While there are some redeeming qualities, such as Pikachu’s expressive and animated portrayal in cutscenes and a handful of amusing moments, these moments are few and far between, making it challenging to maintain engagement throughout the game. I would have cut this game loose many hours earlier if I was not reviewing it.
In summary, Detective Pikachu Returns is a disappointment. While it attempts to deliver a child-friendly mystery game, it falls short in terms of engaging storytelling, fun gameplay, and immersive world-building. The lack of consequences for mistakes and the straightforward nature of the puzzles makes it a forgettable experience. Despite a promising premise, the game feels like a missed opportunity to create a compelling and enjoyable detective adventure.
Recharged is an independent site that focuses on technology, electric vehicles, and the digital life by Nafisa Akabor. Drawing from her 16-year tech journalism career, expect news, reviews, how-tos, comparisons, and practical uses of tech that are easy to digest. firstname.lastname@example.org