I wasn’t very excited for Detective Pikachu when it was first announced. Sure, the mainline Pokemon games just keep getting better, but calling many of the spin-offs in the long-running series “mediocre” is generous. Fortunately, just a few minutes with Detective Pikachu had me hooked on its mysteries and charming characters. This is the best Pokemon spin-off in years, with an exciting new take on the franchise.
Detective Pikachu doesn’t stray far from the traditional adventure game formula. Each of the game’s nine chapters is divided into multiple scenes with several puzzles. As the teenage investigator Tim Goodman and his talking, coffee guzzling Pikachu, you examine items in each area and talk to other characters (and Pokemon) to solve cases. Occasional simple quick-time events mix up the gameplay a little bit.
But the heart of any adventure game is the story, which is where Detective Pikachu excels. The story revolves around Tim’s search for his missing father, an accomplished detective, while investigating bizarre Pokemon behavior around Ryme City. Joining him is a talking Pikachu that used to belong to his father. Detective Pikachu is always entertaining, with his slightly sarcastic comments and love of coffee and sweets. Having a Pokemon that the main character can understand lends itself to a lot of interesting new situations. I somehow never got tired of Pikachu translating what other Pokemon were saying, or the confusion of other characters as Tim talked to Pikachu in front of them.
The investigation leads to a host of different environments around the city and opportunities to meet with numerous charming characters and Pokemon. The conversations with Detective Pikachu also gave some insight into how these characters think. This is a game that digs deep into the Pokemon mythos with often hilarious results.
Either figuring out what Pokemon want or how to use their powers is often instrumental in completing the game’s puzzles, and I never got tired of seeing how some of the more obscure monsters would fit into a scene. Pikachu may be featured on the cover, but developer Creatures wasn’t afraid of digging deep into the series’ 807-strong cast of Pokemon to fit into the story. It’s nice to see a Pokemon spin-off that doesn’t just involve starters or other popular characters.
Each and every character looks fantastic, too. Creatures actually goes for a style similar to a Pixar movie. The proportions of human characters are slightly exaggerated, and the world around them is bright and vibrant. It’s easy to pick up contextual clues while investigating each scene.
The game doesn’t display in 3D though, which I found slightly disappointing. It’s somewhat confusing as well. While the graphics are excellent, other games that look just as good have used the 3D effect. Then again, Nintendo has strayed away from this feature over the last few years.
There are some bigger issues, though. The voice acting is top-notch, and the usual Pokemon noises are done well, but the music is pretty forgettable.
While the game’s mysteries are enjoyable, the puzzles aren’t exactly difficult to solve. Even if you do run into trouble, examining everything in a scene again will quickly get you where you need to go, and there’s no penalty for wrong guesses when trying to solve a case.
Finally, while the game clocks in at a respectable eight hours, when it’s over, there’s not much reason to go back. Ultimately though, the game is so much fun that it’s easy to overlook these problems. Detective Pikachu is an excellent adventure title for gamers of all ages, and a great reason to pick up the aging 3DS again even as Nintendo’s focus moves to the Switch.