When Great Detective Pikachu came out in Japan a couple of years ago, it was the kind of thing memes were built for. It was a mystery game starring a talking Pikachu that sounded like a chain-smoking 40 year old. There was speculation on who should play the titular Pokemon when the game got localized, but alas, the digital-only game was not slated for Western release.
Then, things got weird.
Pokemon has been such a cultural icon for so long now, and with the slew of comic book, video game and anime movies that have printed money over the years (and the follow ups that have hit and missed so hard it’s a wonder there aren’t smoldering craters), it was surprising that there hadn’t been talks of a live action Pokemon from Hollywood. Fans have created speculative trailers of what a live action Pokemon movie would look like, and it was always assumed it would be inspired by the original RPGs, Blue and Red. Then last year we got hit with a curve ball: Legendary Pictures, the studio behind the Batman trilogy, Pacific Rim and recent Godzilla pics would in fact be making a live action Pokemon movie. Cue the confused applause as it was announced to be based off of the Great Detective Pikachu game. The game that never made it West side to start with.
As more and more information came out about the movie, the more amazing/hilarious it became. While people were rooting for Danny Devito to get the starring role, it went to Ryan Renolds, aka the actor who became possessed by the soul of a comic book character and is now actually Deadpool. Serious, respected actors like Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy were cast. Hell, they even got Rita Ora, from Fifty Shades of Bad Twilight Fanfic (talk about resume tonal whiplash...)! This movie is actually going to be a thing. And I, in all seriousness, could not be any more excited for this blessed project to be bestowed onto our broken, undeserving world. Because no matter how bad or how good it ends up being, it’s going to be amazing. Because Hollywood is taking seriously a Pokemon spinoff game with real actors and actresses about a Pikachu wearing a deerhunter cap that swigs coffee and has a thing for pretty human women. This level of absurd is the only thing that makes my shriveled, blackened heart remember what joy feels like.
That being said, Nintendo finally realized since, hey, if they’re making a movie for the western market it’s probably be a good idea to localize the game, huh? And released the game a couple of weeks ago as just ‘Detective Pikachu’ instead of ‘Great Detective Pikachu’, and I finally get to see this beautiful, ridiculous mess for myself before that holy, divine train wreck arrives in theaters and I have a stroke from realizing, that yes, this is going to be a Real Actual Thing that Exists in Our World.
Now here’s where the real surprise comes in: Detective Pikachu is actually a pretty solid mystery game. While not as masterfully written or developed as the Miles Edgeworth Investigation games, Detective Pikachu presents an interesting story with some good mysteries and makes the Pokemon World feel like a real, breathing place. The mainline games for years, and some of the spinoff series like Pokemon Ranger, have all attempted to show what life is like when Pokemon are trainable, captureable entities and affect the culture, economy and society of the world. But when the player is so focused on going from town to town getting badges and taking names, you don’t really stop to think too much about what everybody else who isn’t traveling across the region does on a daily basis. It’s essentially a game from the perspective of the mainline game NPCs, people who aren’t Trainers, Leaders or members of some Team Bad Intentions.
Tim Goodman, a college freshman arrives in Ryme City two months after his dad, a PI, goes missing in a car crash. He meets up with his dad’s Pikachu, who was also in the car during the accident. The Pokemon can no longer remember how to battle or what happened to it in the crash, but for some reason can be understood by Tim. They talk with Tim’s Dad’s old friends and colleagues, and follow his footsteps on the last case he was investigating before going missing. As they look for Tim’s father, they discover a conspiracy behind what had been causing dangerous incidents to both wild and tame Pokemon in Ryme City.
The game play is more visual novel than anything else, where you walk around asking people for testimony (including the other Pokemon because Detective Pikachu can translate what they’re saying) and collecting clues in order to solve various mysteries along the way to finding what happened to Tim’s dad. In between are cut scenes and some quick time events during the more action packed moments, like when chasing suspects or dodging rampaging Pokemon. If you’re looking for a serious challenge Detective Pikachu won’t scratch that itch, because the puzzles and deductive reasoning skills are definitely aimed for younger players. It’s not quite Dora the Explorer, but it’s not Professor Layton either. Though the final set of puzzles are actually pretty pulse pounding, even if they aren’t particularly difficult. It’s also not for people who have no freaking clue how the Pokemon World works, or aren’t familiar with certain aspects of Pokemon lore. Also, some of the load times are brutal. In my first gen 3DS it can take a solid minute to simply boot up the game and load my save file. The autosave can be a bit funky as well as it will automatically save after some scenes/events, but not others.
If you are a Pokemon fan, however, you will love this game and its world-building of the Pokemon universe. The cut scenes and art style are very well done, making the whole game feel like an animated movie. The Pokemon are not only well rendered in appearance and movement, they also feel like distinct species, and distinct personalities within the species. You finally get the idea that Pokemon often do fight each other in the wild, that some are competitive and like to battle while others are more fulfilled being pets or assistants to humans. This game actually answers a lot of questions about how life really works for people and Pokemon that players have often speculated about for now over 20 years, moreso than the anime ever did. The title Pokemon is also surprisingly lovable. Tim has Generic Main Character Disorder, but it’s not really about him. Detective Pikachu is gruff, arrogant and a bit pervy, but he’s also hilarious and quite caring. He really wants to find his partner, and feels bad that he can’t use battle moves.
I really hope this game takes off as a full franchise. Nintendo and Game Freak has had a bad habit of in the past introducing new Pokemon IP and not really doing anything with it. People have been clamoring for a new Pokemon Snap game for YEARS, Pokemon Coliseum had potential to be a sideline RPG series with some interesting lore, but ended after just two games, and we haven’t had a new Pokemon Ranger game since the end of the DS era. While a self-contained story, Detective Pikachu leaves some loose ends implying the story continues, and while the idea of a surly Pokemon PI is random as balls, the formula works surprisingly well.
I am still looking forward to the live action movie, but after finishing and genuinely enjoying the game, I’m now just as curious as to see how they’ll adapt the story as well as the Pokemon World as a whole.