Detective Pikachu is an unusual angle for a Pokémon game, to say the least. Of all the roles for Pikachu to take on, why a detective? Why a procedural puzzle mystery game? Who knows. The series hasn’t exactly been rigid in its many spin-offs over the years, so they may as well. A game about catching a menagerie of pocket monsters whose premises grows thinner and thinner with each generation probably wasn’t too sacred in the first place anyway.
That being said, I like Detective Pikachu. It starts Tim Goodman, the son of detective Harry Goodman, who has gone missing in the course of investigating a local mystery. Together with his father’s former sidekick, the titular Pikachu, Tim retraces the steps leading up to Harry’s disappearance, unveiling the true reason behind the increasing aggression of the city’s Pokémon while trying to find his dad.
As a puzzle game, Detective Pikachu isn’t terribly difficult. The formatting has little room for error, and becomes a bit boring until you get a sense of the pacing. Items of interest are highlighted with a magnifying glass, and simple procedural questions are answered with clues using a basic drag and drop system. The second screen organizes the clues and each mystery well, all but holding the player’s hand as they walk through each investigation scene. Since Tim is the only one who can speak to Pikachu, he does so on the sly, with short cut scenes that act as a guide towards the next challenge. If one were to get stuck on an obtuse puzzle—all but impossible at this difficulty level—simple trial and error would solve it within minutes.
Detective Pikachu is heavy on cut scenes, to the extent that it’s almost an interactive movie, and I’m not sure I’m 100% used to Pikachu’s human voice. Combined with his cuteness and his size, I’m reminded of the baby with a stogie from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The hilarious lines and delivery make up for a lot of the weirdness, though, and bring considerable warmth to the character. It also looks pretty great on the 3DS, as soft and adorable as Pikachu himself.
The game is definitely meant for children and, I suspect, to warm up the Pokémon audience to the idea of a talking Pikachu in the lead up to the release of the Detective Pikachu movie. That’s fine. It’s the appropriate pacing and difficulty level for a kid and it gives the player an opportunity to get to know some of the Pokémon a bit better, in a narrative style that reminds me a lot of the show. And despite my adult intelligence level and sensibilities, by the game’s end I found myself genuinely concerned about whether or not Tim ever finds his dad. I hope he does. It seems a little heavy that a preteen has the sole responsibility of finding his own missing parent.
To be honest I’m completely supportive any time someone wants to improve themselves by pursuing a new career path. Good for you, Pikachu. Detective Pikachu may be for elementary school kids (my dear Watson) but it’s still a welcome addition to the extended Pokémon spin-off universe.
Detective Pikachu was developed by Creatures and published by Nintendo. It is available for the 3DS.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer living in Seattle, WA. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.