Detective Pikachu Returns Review - Pokébrilliance
It is frankly continuously baffling to know that we live in a world where the concept of Detective Pikachu is something that exists. Little Pikachu in his tiny deerstalker, speaking in a voice that makes him sound like a grizzled noir detective and a pack a day smoker, is a real character in a real game (and film) that you can experience right now. As absurd as the concept is, it’s also downright genius, and Pikachu and his human partner Tim Goodman are back to solve more crimes in Detective Pikachu Returns as the series makes its debut on the Nintendo Switch.
In case you didn’t play the first game, Detective Pikachu Returns starts you off with a handy recap to explain why Pikachu and Tim have become local celebrities as a crime-solving duo. If you didn’t play the first game but did watch the 2017 film based on it, the plot is largely the same except for the uhh… location… of Tim’s dad Harry Goodman at the end. So the sequel starts with Tim and Pikachu, having learned to work together as partners and determined to find out what happened to Tim’s dad Harry, Pikachu’s original partner whose mysterious disappearance before the first game is what originally brought the two together.
But that isn’t the only mystery they have to solve. While looking for Harry, the duo also encounters some other sinister rumblings beneath the surface of Ryme City, all of which may or not be connected to each other, and (of course) to the location of Harry Goodman. Connected or not, in this game, Pikachu and Tim are constantly solving mysteries – something which sets Detective Pikachu Returns apart from other adventure games of this kind. Whereas something like Ace Attorney is typically comprised of lengthy investigation phases interspersed with lengthy courtroom phases (or in similar games, general ‘deduction’ phases that involve using the evidence you’ve collected to reach conclusions), Detective Pikachu Returns is instead made up of a whole heap of small mysteries, with the solution of each one prompting your next small investigation, or further world exploration. It’s very cleverly paced, with nothing ever feeling like it drags – information you find out will often be relevant in the near future, meaning you don’t have to wrack your brain to remember a conversation you had with a character two chapters ago, nor do you have to comb through files of evidence.
In general, it’s a much easier game than many others of the genre – but that isn’t necessarily to its detriment. It opens up the door for players who may love mystery but not gruesome murder, or younger players who want to dabble in deductive reasoning without stumbling upon too many inappropriate themes. The crimes of Detective Pikachu Returns, though they may touch on darker themes, are typically fairly tame things like robbery – or they aren’t crimes at all. You’re just as likely to be solving the mystery of how to melt a significant amount of ice, or the way into a seemingly locked area, as you are any kind of actual criminal activity. To be clear, I’m not condoning robbery, it’s just likely to be less confronting than the murders that usually feature in this type of game. And it isn’t that there’s no challenge for more experienced or hardened players – there’s still plenty of mystery and intrigue, and the game loop is still satisfying. It’s just more digestible.
The other thing that sets this game apart is obviously the fact that many of your witnesses, perpetrators, and assistants are Pokemon. Though Tim can speak to Pikachu, he can’t communicate with other Pokemon, so his furry yellow friend has to translate. When you’re playing as Tim, this means they’ll communicate using their usual Pokemon noises and then Pikachu will summarise, but during the (in my opinion, far more exciting) moments when you instead get to play as Pikachu himself, the Pokemon will express themselves articulately and in a way that shows off their different personalities. Who wants to play as ‘some guy’ and just hear Pokemon noises, when instead you could be a little grizzly Pikachu, riding around on the back of a Growlithe as she helps you track down evidence?
Detective Pikachu Returns is at its best when it really showcases its Pokemon setting. As someone who fell off the main series because of the addition of way too many complex systems but who still deeply loves the world of Pokemon, I found this to be the perfect way to experience it. You can learn about the unique skills of different Pokemon types, understand how they interact with each other and the world, and experience life alongside them without a focus on throwing them into an arena. Despite all the crime and general shady behaviour going on around you, it’s somehow a very wholesome experience – with just enough darkness to keep you intrigued.
If nothing else, this game is a unique experience – both for the mystery genre, and also the Pokemon series. It’s absurd enough that it somehow works, and it manages to be in equal parts incredibly earnest and also self-aware. At times it feels like it’s talking down to you, and in those moments it feels truly like it’s supposed to be directed at a younger audience – but for the most part it sets itself apart by just being nice. At its core, this game is all about working together to solve problems, and the beauty of understanding the world around you – and though you’ll likely walk away from this game thinking “what in the absolute hell did I just play, how does this game exist”, you’ll also feel good about having played it. I’m already ready for another installment.
Detective Pikachu Returns was reviewed on a Nintendo Switch, with a code kindly provided by Nintendo Australia.