[Best of 2018] Why The Charm in Pokemon Let’s Go Was Cathartic in a Depressing Year

I hate how the discourse has unraveled in the United States over last few years. It’s not just America, but all across the world. Everything just seems to be deteriorating at a rapid pace, with hateful people doing despicable things for attention, greed, or both. Sometimes I just can’t escape the constant torrent of negative news seeping into my timeline. Thankfully, Pokemon Let’s Go was just the break I needed.

Dealing with everything that’s going on right now is a huge, constant headache. And there’s no indication that things are going to start looking up anytime soon. Hell, based on how things have gone this decade, the world is only going to get worse before it will get better.

So that’s why I was overjoyed when Pokemon Let’s Go arrived in November. I’ve been playing Pokemon games since Red and Blue came out in the U.S. in 1998, and they always comfort me. After all, Pokemon Sun and Moon brought me joy in the dark times of 2016. Right now, it’s easy to get lost in a world where there’s conflict, but there’s also heart and warmth along the way. Catching Pokemon and ignoring the real world is cathartic.

Best of 2018 – Comfy Like Shorts

pokemon feels instantly familiar

The familiarity was what drew me most to Pokemon Let’s Go. The game is a wonderful blend of both Pokemon Yellow and Pokemon Go, the more recent mobile title. It has the overall structure and trainer battles of Yellow with Pokemon Go’s items and methods of catching Pokemon.

The nostalgia of Yellow is ever present. There’s a few new things here and there, but this is a faithful remaster of a game released back in 1999: the dungeons are the same, the usual Pokemon are in familiar areas, and even the plot is almost an exact retelling, which is weird because you’re playing with different characters while the older ones are still present. Despite the logic holes in the story, it’s still familiar and pleasant.

Even things that are new, like Secret Techniques, are essentially the same but better and more wholesome. They may be even better than the HMs they replace, not only because it saves up an extra move spot but seeing your Pikachu use a balloon machine to travel across Kanto is just adorable.

Traveling around the world with your Pokemon at your side is a good touch too. Whether it be flying around with Charizard or trudging along clinging to Snorlax’s belly, these animations are a small, but wonderful to see in motion.

Best of 2018 – Going Places

catching them all

The new Pokemon Go-esque features are awesome and cuter and manage to add a dash of creativity to Let’s Go. There’s more emphasis on catching and collecting Pokemon than in other mainline titles. Capturing the same Pokemon and collecting rewards to ramp up capture combos is fun and a nice change of pace from the grinding in other titles. 

I’m torn about the lack of newer features found in later games, like hold items and natures. I’ve gotten used to having these, but at the same time I don’t miss them. Pokemon battling these days are a complex art, and that isn’t how it always used to be. Let’s Go keeps it simple, which ties in to the game’s overall appeal.

These aren’t particularly hard games. Everyone of all gaming experience levels can play and not be intimidated by punishing difficulty. Red Dead Redemption 2 and Spider-Man probably deserve all the accolades they got this year but their scope can be intimidating. I played Spider-Man this year and liked my time with it, but I put it aside after a few hours to play something else. There are so many things to do that I got overwhelmed and just want something that ‘s a bit more linear.

Although some Pokemon games are sometimes guilty of being too linear (X and Y are the biggest examples), they usually strike the right balance, and that is what is bringing me on board at the moment. Pokemon Let’s Go is the best counterbalance to AAA game’s gigantic, sprawling open worlds.

Best of 2018 – My Cherished Rapidash…

pokemon cherished rapidash

I’ll admit that Pokemon is the gaming equivalent of comfort food for me. I could be playing other, technically better games that came out this year rather than the latest remake of Pokemon Yellow, but here I am, listening to the Vermilion fan club owner talk about his cherished Rapidash. I know what’s going to happen at the end of the game and that helps calm me down. I don’t know what’s going to happen in 2019 and quite frankly, that keeps me up at night.

Going through any Pokemon title feels nice to sit down, breathe, and play something that isn’t overwhelmingly negative. No violence, no gore, just catching them all. Positivity and an uplifting tone have always been constants throughout the last 20 years of the franchise. It’s cute in an excessively saccharine way, but playing something sickeningly sweet is sometimes pretty great. Playing an RPG about finding yourself in a world that isn’t doomed or dominated by cynicism is important in these times.

As much as I wish it could, Pokemon won’t solve the world’s problems. Honestly judging by this year, I don’t know what will. But it’s nice to escape from everything for a moment and just dwell in Kanto, where things that seem to be lacking the most right now — warmth and empathy — are here in droves despite the fact that Mew is still not under that damn truck.