With it being the biggest media franchise in the world, we’ve seen our fair share of spin off Pokemon games. Most of them pretty unique and interesting, but none as much as Detective Pikachu that launched on the 3DS back in 2016. It starred the iconic yellow mouse everyone knows but this time around he donned a cute little detective jacket and hat, was addicted to coffee, spoke in a gruff accent and you know, solved crimes. The concept and the game overall was a hit with me when I first played it, and the idea even sparked its own Hollywood movie of the same name back in 2019. Now, many years later, we’ve received the follow up sequel to the original with Detective Pikachu Returns and it offers Tim and Pikachu new cases to solve, mysteries to uncover and is overall a pretty fun experience, albeit one that is very much tailored to a younger audience for the most part.
The events of Detective Pikachu returns pick up a couple of years after the events of the first game. If you haven’t played the original, there is a recap at the start of this game that will assist in bringing you up to speed with the high level key events that transpired so don’t fear that you’ll be completely lost. Even players that have only seen the movie will have little issue following along with the previous events given how much of it was used as inspiration for the feature film. The game begins with Tim and Pikachu being awarded their recognition for saving Ryme City and solving the mystery of the R incident. I liked that this game acts as a direct sequel and acknowledges the events of the first game and how the incident has had an impact on the town but they do still live by their motto of being a place where people and Pokémon can live side by side. The main plot is something that also carries over from the first game too, as not only are Tim and Pikachu trying to discover what is causing certain Pokemon to once again go back into violent frenzies, the pair are still trying to track down and locate Tim’s missing father Harry.
As with the first game, one of the core highlights with Detective Pikachu Returns is its writing and it’s worldbuilding. Having Pikachu handle questioning the Pokemon inhabitants of Ryme City while Tim gathers evidence and speaks to the people impacted by the case and then coming together to share clues and propose solutions is a great mechanic. This game also introduces the ability to have Pikachu team up with another Pokémon to harness their abilities to help with mystery solving too, such as befriending a Growlithe and using their sense of smell to track down clues the Pikachu and Tim don’t have the ability to stumble across on their own. The cases aren’t difficult to solve by any means and the core twists and outcomes in the story are often predictable, but the journey itself is a fun one. Pikachu’s personality continues to be quirky and his reactions to events and his deductions are often hilariously delivered. The game’s witty writing and comedy help it be an engaging experience for players of all ages, but the core plot and the mystery solving mechanics are designed to be approachable for a younger audience. For the most part that is. There were a few times where the story does feature some dark moments or introduces more mature concepts that did catch me off guard, especially when compared to the overall tone of the game otherwise. So just be weary of that if playing with young ones that could be sensitive to those types of things.
I would have loved if the game had committed to being fully voiced. There are quite a number of scenes that feature full voice acting, primarily in the key cutscenes, but outside of that, most of the conversations, dialogue options and questioning are just static text on screen. Being a game aimed at younger audiences, I would have loved to be able to give this to my son to be able to play through at his own leisure but am not quite at that level yet due to the complexity of some of the storytelling and how it’s presented.
Another area where I would have loved to have seen pushed a little further is with its visuals. They certainly don’t seem to be pushing what the Switch is capable of dishing out and does seem like it is just a bigger 3DS game at times. While most of the Pokémon models looks pretty great, the human character models and many of the cities environments lack detail and there’s a noticeable lack of lighting and shadows which would have really assisted in having everything pop more on-screen. It’s not terrible by any means, and I’m sure it won’t impact the fun factor that younger audiences are going to have with the game, it’s just something that really stood out for me given how great some other Switch games have looked this year and also how amazing New Pokemon Snap looked, which was a spin off Pokemon game that launched back in 2021.
It is a fun and charming adventure that’s for sure, I do wish however that the cases forced me to think outside the box a little more and cleverly combine clues to come to plot twists and conclusions on my own, rather than having them be pretty predictable for the most part and having no impact or consequence for selecting the wrong option when answering the questions or coming up with conclusions. Games from series like Professor Layton and the Ace Attorney series prove that crime solving mystery titles can also be a big hit with younger audiences and I would have loved if Detective Pikachu Returns took a few additional pages out of those books when it was designed. I had an enjoyable time playing through the adventure, I just wish it had made me feel a bit more like a detective and giving that sense of accomplishment when I managed to conclude a case, rather than already getting to the conclusion well before I was able to in-game.
Detective Pikachu Returns does continue to deliver a unique twist on the Pokemon franchise and the world and concepts this series has introduced continue to be interesting and pushes the franchise in a fun and different direction. While I didn’t love everything about this game, I do appreciate I’m likely outside of it’s core audience and based on my experience playing through with my kid, I can confirm the characters, writing and concepts do land with the young ones and kept them wanting to play more. I am keen to see where the direction may head should Detective Pikachu get a third outing.
A Nintendo Switch review code was provided by Nintendo for the purpose of this review.
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