When this game was first announced, it raised a lot of eyebrows, myself included. In a good way, mind you. The idea of a game centered around a gruff-sounding, coffee-loving, talking Pikachu seemed so crazy that it could actually work, or at the very least was worth experiencing. But after its official announcement, we heard basically nothing about the thing for, like, three years until it was suddenly released in Japan in early 2016.
Cut to two years later and the game not only received an expansion but was released in its entirety here in the West for us to enjoy. But was it worth the wait? Does it offer anything of substance outside of its bizarre concept? Is there any reason it should also be getting a movie adaptation? Well, I think I can answer those first two questions at least.
Set in Ryme City, you play as Tim Goodman, who is hoping to find his missing detective father. Instead, he runs into his dad’s Pikachu partner, who has been struck with a classic case of amnesia. Oh, and he can speak English… sort of, since Tim is the only one who can understand what he’s saying. False advertising aside, Tim and Pikachu agree to work together to solve various cases around the city to hopefully find out what happened to Tim’s dad and find him.
So what do you actually do in Detective Pikachu? At the beginning of every chapter, you’re placed into an environment and given a case to solve. To do so, you must explore the area, investigating anything that catches your eye, gathering testimony from nearby NPCs, including Pokémon and doing the occasional QTE. You then use the info you’ve gathered to solve puzzles that, in turn, help you solve the case.
If this sounds overly simple, that’s only because it is and that extends to the mysteries themselves. I wouldn’t call them predictable, but it’s still very easy to connect the dots early on if you’re familiar with basic storytelling devices. Even the puzzles you’re given aren’t especially difficult in the slightest, usually involving you picking the correct piece of evidence to answer Detective Pikachu’s question. And if you somehow do get the answer wrong, there’s no punishment and you’re allowed to immediately try again.
The most interesting element of the puzzles is the inclusion of the Pokémon themselves. Don’t forget, this is a world inhabited by creatures that can turn invisible or walk through walls – certain mysteries become slightly less simple when you have to take Pokémon into account, which I really like. Even when the answer seemed obvious, I still enjoyed theorising as to what Pokémon could’ve been involved, seeing them in action and using my own knowledge of the series to solve certain puzzles. Don’t worry, you won’t need to have memorised the entire PokéDex or something to get by since, whenever relevant, the game provides info on specific Pokémon (e.g. their typing) to help you.
This is clearly a game made for a much younger audience (a Pokémon game made for children? Perish the thought) but this doesn’t mean there’s no enjoyment to be found for older fans; it just mostly comes from the scenario and characters, particularly Detective Pikachu himself. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t crack a smile at some of his antics. While a tad cocky, he’s not an obnoxious character and he has decent banter with Tim, acting as a mentor to the rookie detective. It’s clear, though, that he’s meant to be the focus and the game desperately wants you to remember that. There’s even a dedicated Pikachu button on the 3DS’ touch screen that’s usually reserved to advance the plot or to get hints from Pikachu if you’re stuck, but sometimes you’ll get a little cutscene called a Pika Prompt that’ll show Pikachu interacting with the environment, any nearby Pokémon or he’ll make a quip about the situation. Some of them can be humourous, others are just kind of there.
The rest of cast are fine too and surprisingly diverse in terms of visual design, even if a couple of the women look like they have the same face. None of them are especially complex or deep but they serve their roles well enough. The voice performances are surprisingly strong too. Since there’s no English lip-syncing, I was expecting a lot of awkward line readings from the actors attempting to match the Japanese mouth movements but everyone is on fine form. For a silly little spin-off game, everyone’s at least trying – it probably helps that the game got a tonne of talented and recognisable actors, with Kaiji Tang’s performance as Detective Pikachu being the stand-out, of course.
It’s also a delight seeing your favourite Pokémon interacting with the world around them. In the main games, we’ve barely ever seen them used for anything else outside of battling. But here, you get to see a stuffy, pompous critic fawn over her beloved Glameow, Yanma’s being used as cameramen, Krokorok’s as bouncers; part of the reason I kept playing was so I could see what Pokémon would appear next and what kind of personalities they’d show off. I’ve developed a new-found sense of appreciation for Accelgor because of this game.
Unfortunately, there’s not much else going for Detective Pikachu. You could easily beat it in a couple of days (maybe even one if you’ve got the time) and it doesn’t offer any replay value. You do have the option to go back to previous chapters to find any Pika Prompts you’ve missed but that’s about it.
In the end, though, Detective Pikachu is a short but charming game that’s enjoyable for all ages, though if you’re an adult hoping for some brain-taxing puzzles, you’re best sticking to something like Ace Attorney or Professor Layton. Maybe we’ll get a sequel someday with more content and optional challenge for experienced players but, as is, the game’s fine enough. Now here’s hoping that movie is of a similar quality.