Move over Sherlock and Watson, eat your heart out Cagney and Lacey, and step aside Poirot as the Great Detective Pikachu is here to solve the case. While the anthropomorphic Pokémon is certainly the star of the show, it’s clear that the mystery game is missing a few cells (or marbles) from the detective gene pool. Arthur Conan Doyle can rest easy; it’s Pokémon meets Scooby-Doo.
With a film in the works by Legendary Entertainment starring the foul-mouthed, fast-talking, semi-superhero Deadpool – aka Ryan Reynolds – as the voice of Detective Pikachu due to be released next year, The Pokémon Company are striking while the iron is hot. Developed by Creatures Inc. and directed by Naoki Miyashita, Detective Pikachu is a nine-chapter, 12-hour affair of why Pokémon will never be able to trust people.
When Harry Goodman mysteriously disappears following a freak car accident, Detective Pikachu is not only left without a partner but without his memories, too. Determined to solve the crime, Detective Pikachu bumps into Harry’s son, Tim, whilst on the way to the Baker Detective Agency and both quickly realise that Tim is the only one that can understand the gruff, but very human, sounds of Pikachu’s voice. After chasing down a suspicious Aipom and discovering the whereabouts of a child’s stolen necklace, Detective Pikachu and Tim work together to investigate the disappearance of Harry. But as they dig a little deeper, it seems that Harry’s disappearance is twinned with a bout of Pokémon disturbances, where a mysterious drug enrages the creatures for a short period of time. On the trail of his father’s notes, Detective Pikachu and Tim trek across Ryme City to unravel the mystery of the ‘R’ drug.
Largely played as an investigative point-and-click game, Detective Pikachu features a well-written, witty script voiced by a superb cast of actors. Though it may take fans some time to get acquainted with the star of the show, mainly due to his rough-around-the-edges, 40-year-old voice, the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach soon disappears after a few hours of play. In fact, it’s with great relief that the mischievous and often pompous Pikachu quickly becomes the game’s most attractive quality, both in the cutscenes with Tim and his ‘Pika Prompts’, which can be activated by tapping his picture on the 3DS touchscreen.
It’s a little disappointing, then, that the rest of the game’s features just aren’t up to snuff. The lack of stereoscopic 3D, particularly in a game that doesn’t involve battles with Pokémon or queasy framerate drops, is staggering. There’s a whiff of laziness surrounding others parts of the game, too. When solving puzzles or activating quick-time events, players aren’t penalised at all, they can simply restart the event from the beginning. Bizarrely, during a Japanese-box style puzzle in the later stages of the game, players don’t even have to solve it. You can select ‘give up’ after three attempts and Pikachu will solve the puzzle right before your eyes.
It’s concerning that these solutions are available right off the bat on the game’s normal difficulty level, while easy mode features a small light bulb button on the touchscreen to prompt players with clues. Instead of encouraging youngsters to actively solve puzzles and use their initiative to present logical assumptions, they are often pushed by the game to take the easy way out. Interviewing witnesses and collecting evidence fares better, albeit with clues in witnesses statements highlighted in a colour to notify players of their significance. Piecing together the evidence to reach a logical conclusion in each of the game’s story chapters is certainly the most enjoyable element, as it requires players to make choices from their Case List. While it’s no Ace Attorney, Detective Pikachu effectively blends a point and click adventure with quick-time events very well. Interacting with Pokémon via Pikachu in these story segments also gives it a nice touch, keeping in line with the main series and spin-off titles such as Pokémon Mystery Dungeon.
During the game’s 12-hour storyline, chapters are alternated between the main plot and mini subplots. Chapters can vary in length, often falling between 30 minutes and 2 hours of playtime, and can easily be resumed without losing much progress via the game’s autosave function. While the main storyline feels a little jaded (not to mention predictable) at times, the tongue-and-cheek subplots playfully mock and mimic those late ’90s episodes of Scooby-Doo. Each chapter ends with the amusing underlying tone that the criminal ‘would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids!’.
Although there’s a fair amount of backtracking in each of the chapters, Detective Pikachu is nicely paced. If you’ve managed to get hold of the Detective Pikachu amiibo, you’ll be pleased to know that they can unlock Pika Prompts at the end of each chapter, but that’s as far as its usefulness goes. And if you were hoping for some additional content at the end of the game’s main storyline, you’d be sorely disappointed.
Given the game’s lucrative appeal, Detective Pikachu comes up short. It’s a real shame the game’s intriguing cast of characters and witty scripting isn’t paired with inviting, challenging gameplay. The overwhelming laziness, coupled with its push on youngsters to give up so easily, reveals weaknesses in its structure. Detective Pikachu needs more than a (thunder) bolt of brilliance to land a critical hit; after all, it’s just not very effective.
Review copy supplied by Nintendo UK.