Detective Pikachu Review (3DS)

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Detective Pikachu for Nintendo 3DS

Detective Pikachu is a game that feels vastly out of character from The Pokemon Company. Amongst all of the main Pokemon games and its various spinoffs there’s a feeling of similarity where you generally know what to expect. A similar art style. A feel good adventure where good triumphs over evil. There’ll be flavour of the month Pokemon getting the spotlight (yes, we get it, Lucario is great). You won’t be allowed to forget the first generation of games happened because they’ll be constantly referenced. Detective Pikachu strays from this mould, and it makes for a really interesting experience. It invites you in with a different look at the Pokemon world, and uses the unusual nature of this world and its inhabitants to create a different kind of mystery story.

The story centres around a young man named Tim Goodman who has come to Ryme City to investigate the disappearance of his father, who was a detective that disappeared while following a lead on a big case. He happens to run into his father’s detective partner; a Pikachu! For some reason Tim is able to understand what Pikachu is saying, and so they team up to solve a series of mysteries that link back to the one Tim’s father was looking into. The game plays out a lot like a kid-friendly version of Ace Attorney Investigations (an adventure game/visual novel for the Nintendo DS). Each case that you get assigned will take place in a certain location, like a research laboratory or a TV studio, and it’s up to you and Pikachu to explore your surroundings to find clues and witnesses. At key points in the investigations you and Pikachu will consolidate what you know, and you have to present the right pieces of evidence to answer Pikachu’s questions. This will open up new leads, building up to a final confrontation with the culprit where you’ll need to debunk all of their alibis and objections with hard evidence. Investigation segments are mixed up with action segments, where you’ll need to push or mash the A button when prompted. Nothing’s all that difficult and there’s no real consequence for failure, which makes it a great entry point into the adventure genre for kids who love the world and characters of Pokemon.

Detective Pikachu for Nintendo 3DS

Since Detective Pikachu is designed with kids in mind, you can’t have people getting murdered or anything like that (though the script does imply some dark things kids might not pick up on) which means that the developers have to get creative with what scenarios you encounter. This is made easier by the fact that the cases directly involve Pokemon who have all sorts of powers that can be used to spice things up. Ghost Pokemon might have taken evidence from the crime scene or a stray Magnemite might have wiped the security footage, making your life harder. While the cases aren’t very difficult to unravel, I was enjoying seeing the creative ways that cases would play out and hearing the fun dialogue. One big issue that the game shares with other similar games is that even though you might have worked out parts of the case ahead of time, you have to wait for the script to reach the point where the characters work it out and then prompt you to show what you know. By this point the game will often blurt out hints that almost totally give things away, which for older player will be disappointing as it robs you of that “Aha!” moment that good mystery stories have.

The game is brought to life through the quality of its writing. There’s plenty of laugh out loud moments, especially from Detective Pikachu himself. He’s something so out of the ordinary for Pokemon because Pikachu is normally the loveable, squeaky clean mascot with heavy branding restrictions placed on it, but here he’s using a raspy voice to critique coffee blends and hit on women. Pikachu gets to shine in small vignettes called ‘Pika Prompts’ which are triggered by touching a Pikachu-shaped button on the bottom screen. These will show Pikachu in cute and goofy situations, like trying to practise evasive manoeuvres or reciting parts of his detective process. Sometimes he’ll interact with the Pokemon and environment around him which make for some hilarious skits. Seeing an adorable Pikachu act like a grizzled veteran detective never gets old, and it’s made all the funnier by all the situations he finds himself in. These Pika Prompts capture all the best elements of the game in bite-sized snippets and are a great reward for digging into every nook and cranny of each crime scene.

An area where the writing doesn’t shine quite as much is in its villains. They have their moments, but for the most part they’re two-dimensional and lacking in interesting motives. It makes the climaxes of each case fall a little flat because there’s no big twists or sprawling plot threads that get tied together in a satisfying manner like there is in the Ace Attorney games. I was especially disappointed in the big bad of the game, who was a moustache-twirling evildoer that I was never given much of a reason to care about. I was also left wanting at the end of the game because there’s a few plot points that are left up to interpretation and are possibly being left for a sequel. Ambiguity can be an interesting direction to take a plot, but it’s a bit frustrating in a mystery story.

Detective Pikachu for Nintendo 3DS

The thing that stood out the most for me while playing Detective Pikachu was the variety of Pokemon on display. It featured Pokemon from all 7 generations of games, and not just the popular ones either! Sure, Charizard and Mewtwo are there and they’re important to the plot, but then you’ve got others like Timburr acting as a courier and Loudred acting in an amusement park show. Heck, Burmy is a crucial witness in one of the cases. It’s so nice seeing Pokemon who don’t usually get a turn in the spotlight play a part in the game. It’s not just the variety of the Pokemon that stands out, either – all the Pokemon are used to develop a world where humans and Pokemon coexist with each other. You really get a feel for what everyday life would be like in a world where Pokemon exist, to a degree beyond that of any of the mainline games. Pokemon help their trainers with their jobs, and wild Pokemon cause chaos by stealing people’s items or causing power outages. There’s such strong worldbuilding on show that capitalises on the potential of Pokemon and their abilities.

The amiibo functionality of Detective Pikachu is very minimal. By tapping the special oversized Detective Pikachu amiibo you can unlock all the Pika Prompts from the cases you’ve completed so far, allowing you to view any that you missed. It’s a neat feature because these clips are adorable and funny, and there’s so many in each case that require you to talk to Pikachu at very specific points which makes them easy to miss. But at the same time, tying it to a $40 amiibo is really rough. It’s the kind of thing that should just be achievable in-game without having to replay every case in the game and mash the Pika Prompt button every few seconds while playing, or at the very least unlockable by tapping other, cheaper amiibo instead. There’s a bunch of Pokemon amiibo that don’t do that much and aren’t even utilised by this game in any way. For more info on the amiibo functionality of Detective Pikachu, check out our Detective Pikachu amiibo guide.

Detective Pikachu for Nintendo 3DS

Detective Pikachu is a foray in new territories for the Pokemon franchise and manages to pull off a mostly satisfying Pokemon twist on the mystery genre. It uses the abilities of Pokemon to construct some creative mysteries that aren’t restricted by being kid-friendly. Kids will love piecing together the various crimes and seeing their favourite Pokemon play parts in each story. Older gamers will probably find things very easy and lacking in depth, but will still be able to admire the creativity on display and the often hilarious writing. I hope the fuzzy detective is many days from retirement because I could happily play through more games in this series.

 

This review was written based off a game or game content provided by the publisher. We don’t assign review scores to game reviews.

Recommended
Summary
Detective Pikachu is a foray in new territories for the Pokemon franchise and manages to pull off a mostly satisfying Pokemon twist on the mystery genre. It uses the abilities of Pokemon to construct some creative mysteries that aren’t restricted by being kid-friendly. Kids will love piecing together the various crimes and seeing their favourite Pokemon play parts in each story. Older gamers will probably find things very easy and lacking in depth, but will still be able to admire the creativity on display and the often hilarious writing. I hope the fuzzy detective is many days from retirement because I could happily play through more games in this series.
Pros
Great writing
Explores the Pokemon world in new, interesting ways
Great introduction to adventure games for kids
Cons
Villains aren't compelling
Cases have a strict order that must be followed
Weak amiibo functionality tied to an expensive amiibo
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