Title: Detective Pikachu Returns
Developer: Creatures Inc.
Release Date: October 6, 2023
Reviewed On: Switch
In 2016, The Pokémon Company released Detective Pikachu, a unique spin-off game for the Nintendo 3DS. Although it arrived late in the Western market, in 2018, toward the end of the console’s life, I often wondered about the possibility of a sequel due to the unresolved ending of the plot. Years passed, and a movie adaptation was released, which made me begin to doubt the likelihood of a sequel. To my surprise, however, in the June Nintendo Direct, Nintendo unveiled Detective Pikachu Returns—a legitimate sequel for the Nintendo Switch. Naturally, I was intrigued by what sort of adventures Tim and Pikachu would embark on.
Detective Pikachu Returns picks up its story two years after the conclusion of the original game. Once again, you assume the role of Tim Goodman, a rookie detective still determined to locate his missing father, Harry Goodman, alongside his talkative partner, Pikachu, or, pardon me, DETECTIVE Pikachu. Despite resolving the R Incident, which involved a drug causing Pokémon to go berserk, mysterious incidents involving Pokémon continue to plague Ryme City. Tim embarks on another quest to solve these mysteries and, hopefully, this time, reunite with his father.
If you haven’t played the 3DS prequel, the game’s prologue attempts to provide a quick recap of events. However, this quickly falls apart, as Detective Pikachu Returns immediately assumes you’re at the very least familiar with elements and plot points from Detective Pikachu. While this makes sense for a sequel, it somewhat diminishes the story’s intended charm. Furthermore, the prologue “recap” lasts less than a minute, which, even as someone who played the original, I find simply insufficient to explain all of the events properly.
Each of the cases requires you to explore crime scenes, collect evidence, and interact with both people and Pokémon by asking them questions and annotating their testimonies in a case notebook. Once you’ve gathered a sufficient amount of testimonies and evidence, the duo can advance the case through deductive reasoning by pairing the pieces they’ve found together. In each chapter, exploration is limited to specific areas, although some chapters work around this limitation by switching between daytime and nighttime, altering the Pokémon wandering around and the people you can interact with.
Furthermore, you can accept requests from people by speaking to anyone, whether a person or Pokémon, with a blue bubble over their head. However, these requests are generally basic fetch quests that may not be worth pursuing if your primary focus is advancing the main story. You might learn a Pokémon fact or two, but even the tutorial suggests you’re free to ignore them.
At the end of each chapter, you face a series of multiple-choice questions, usually straightforward if you’ve paid attention, though you can also press ZL for a log of the conversations. If you’re stuck in an investigation, pressing left on the D-Pad provides a hint, although I must say it’s often not very useful as it tends to repeat the objective already displayed on the top right of the screen. Additionally, there are puzzles where Pikachu rides on a Pokémon and uses their abilities to advance the story. These puzzles range from stealth sequences to moving or destroying rocks to create a path forward.
Similar to its predecessor, Detective Pikachu Returns is relatively short, with a playtime of approximately 10 hours for the main story, possibly even less if you ignore all of the fetch side quests. Considering its $50 price tag, this may deter some potential players. Furthermore, the title screen features a mode called “Story Jump,” allowing you to skip to any chapter in the main story. While this may be convenient for those who find certain chapters uninteresting or want to revisit previous episodes, it raises questions about why this feature is necessary in such a short game, especially as an option from the beginning.
The story contains moments of light-hearted humor and banter between Pikachu and Tim, but it also delves into darker themes involving the antagonists. It seems tailored more toward a teenage audience, which makes sense. Nonetheless, the comedic elements occasionally make it difficult to take the plot seriously. This is further enhanced by the fact that you can be several steps ahead of Tim and Pikachu’s deductions while they’re still wondering “whodunnit.” I didn’t find it bad per se, as it became evident that this was intended for a younger audience.
Surprisingly, the game doesn’t utilize any of the Switch’s unique features, feeling like a missed opportunity. Even in Handheld Mode, you can’t use the touch screen to interact with anything in the game; everything relies on moving a cursor with the pad and pressing A. This can break immersion in some cases, such as when you need to enter a numerical code but must manually use the D-Pad to input it.
Graphics-wise, Detective Pikachu Returns does feel somewhat outdated compared to other Nintendo Switch titles, leading me to believe that the game may have initially been in development for the Nintendo 3DS before being shifted to the Switch. Some in-game elements seem better suited for the 3DS’s dual screens than a single screen. Furthermore, the models’ expressions are not always well-defined, affecting the intended tone of certain cutscenes.
While Detective Pikachu Returns is undeniably enjoyable, its only standout feature is its somewhat decent storyline, which ties up loose ends from the original 3DS game and provides moments of laughter as Tim and Pikachu interact with each other. However, it suffers from several issues, such as somewhat dated graphics for this day and age, a short playtime, and very easy difficulty. Nevertheless, it’s a game I’d recommend during a potential sale, allowing you to comfortably unwind in bed while enjoying Pikachu and Tim’s misadventures in Ryme City.
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