When it launched for the 3DS, Detective Pikachu got a lot of attention, but is mainly remembered for spawning a successful cinematic adaptation of the same property. A good time later, Nintendo are ready to give this sleuth another stab at it in Detective Pikachu Returns for the Switch. Sure, its a bit niche – but Pokemon is something that carries a lot of weight. Does the charms of this follow-up manage to retrigger interest of this spin-off, or is this one adventure worth skipping? Let’s find out.
The story is kind of the main meat on the bone for Detective Pikachu Returns, but that doesn’t mean it hits a home run in that area. Players are reunited with Pikachu as he teams up with Tim Goodman, who is out looking for his father around Ryme City. Pikachu, who used to partner with the older Goodman is very involved as well, and works to solve minor crimes in the city with Tim, which all begin to lead to the overarching plot.
This is a very dialogue-heavy game, so there is definitely writing pushing the plot and atmosphere forward, but the game kind of has issues with keeping the player’s attention. To put it bluntly, this can be a very boring game that struggles to find its footing in its own universe. Sure, Pikachu is fine, but the rest of the cast offer little, occasionally bringing a chuckle with jokes that give it an offbeat charm. That said, humor doesn’t keep the plot afloat, as the interactions just are not enough to keep the player caring about the story and its main focus of where the narrative is actually going. Will a kid care? Probably not, but older fans may have a hard time staying invested until the credits.
The gameplay in Detective Pikachu Returns is relatively simple. Players control Tim and go from area to area, interrogating humans and Pokemon alike to resolve the simple issues plaguing the town. The controls work fine enough and the layout is never cumbersome, as for what it does, this title does well when it comes to solving cases. In fact, there is a lot of rewarding elements to discover within both cases and the overall world, which makes exploration interesting.
That said, the game holds the player’s hand a lot, like in almost every crime, meaning it is almost impossible to get stuck or feel much of a challenge as the gameplay more or less pulls you along until the correct answer presents itself. It really comes down to genre here. If you can accept that this game is just a visual novel with a little more interaction, you will probably be a bit more open-minded than someone who expects more from the Pokemon franchise. Regardless, I think the first worked a bit better as it at least had the gimmickry of the touch screen to keep it engaging, and the Switch fails to capitalize on its own software in order to modernize those same techniques. For a portable, yes this is kind of neat to have. For a home platform like the Switch – it just feels like a downgrade from the experiences like Snap and other spin-offs that are just far more involved.
Visually, Detective Pikachu Returns is colorful, bright, and mostly well-animated as the city of Ryme looks great and the Pokemon themselves look great. The humans however, well – that is a different story. Humans seem generic and don’t really come across as interesting, as each perform in hollow bodies that lack much emotion or detail that would depict a sense of character. In a way its like those movies that were knock-offs of your favorite Disney flicks. You know, where Aladdin looks sort of like the hero you know and the story is there, but you just find it hard to care about him because the designs seem cheap and forced in. Those may seem like hard critiques, but visuals are what could have saved this game, and there just isn’t a lot to really brag about with what Creatures put into this.
The audio is at least a bit better. The music is outstanding and I loved the voice acting we got to hear, as it almost makes it feel like a movie. However, most voice lines are done through text, and due to the heavy amount of that throughout – these little stories within can fall flat quickly as a result. I will say it was nice to hear actual Pokemon voiced, but without a lot else, there is another missed opportunity here that again fails to make the game feel like a complete, polished package.
I really love Pokemon, but Detective Pikachu Returns is hard to recommend. The visuals are bland and basic, and the story never comes together with enough substance to keep the player entertained. Sure, some of the cases are well thought out, but I found myself speeding through a lot of those to find the gold here that never seemed to appear. This feels like a release that was put out to prepare the property for a possible cinematic sequel, but leaves out a lot of engagement to keep the player invested long enough to care. Younger players and hardcore fans may find some entertainment here, but most fans of the franchise would do better to check out the other offerings for the franchise on the platform, rather than spend too much time in a world that feels generic and lifeless.
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