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Detective Pikachu Returns Review (Switch)

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Detective Pikachu Returns review

It’s been seven years since Pikachu and his teenage pal, Tim Goodman, left us scratching our heads at the mystery behind the disappearance of Tim’s dad. Of course, if you’ve seen 2019’s big-screen movie adaptation, Pokémon Detective Pikachu, you’ll already be familiar with the answer to 2016’s Detective Pikachu on Nintendo 3DS’ million-dollar question. 

Still, it’s nice to see developer Creatures pick up where we left off with a newly released sequel, Detective Pikachu Returns. Even more so, through a quick minute recap at the start of the game to get new players up to speed on the events of both the first game and the movie. Having caught up with the story, though, is sitting through the entire playthrough worthwhile? Let’s find out in our Detective Pikachu Returns review down below.

Classic Whodunit

Detective Pikachu Returns

Detective Pikachu Returns’ core is a classic whodunit story. One that infuses plenty of lighthearted humor. Plus, just enough of a dose of intrigue to keep you glued to its drama till the end. But be warned: the meat to the bone of Detective Pikachu’s tale has never been one to sink your teeth into. No. It doesn’t even pretend to carry depth and a story arc typical of adventure games of today. 

Rather, you immediately get the vibe that Detective Pikachu Returns is meant for none other than a single-digit-year-old audience. Anyone looking for a detective story as complex as Sherlock Holmes will have their time better spent elsewhere. 

See, Detective Pikachu Returns is a kids' game. Plain and simple. Its story and adventure are as barebones as you can expect from a Dora the Explorer Nintendo game. One packed to the brim with silly humor, of which Detective Pikachu Returns does a fine job of cracking. Its threads come undone, nearly predictable, too, with players often knowing answers to mysteries before they unravel. The ending comes down to exactly the earnest wrap-up you might expect.

Soft Spot for Coffee

So, now, you’re probably wondering why a double-digit twenty-something-year-old would spend 10 hours or so solving the mysteries of Detective Pikachu Returns. Better still, a fifty-something-year-old lad, wading through the pile of blockbuster mystery RPGs and narrowing down to a whimsical, childish run around in the Pokemon universe.

Well, the answer lies in the main character’s personality: Pikachu. Ever since the first game hit the Nintendo 3DS stories, Pikachu has held a special place closer to our hearts, with his wise-cracking self and coffee-loving aura taking center stage. It’s crystal clear what makes this fella unique among all the Pokemon you’ll find, and the decision to spin a sequel centering on his adventures is a no-brainer once you get to know him.

The Human Pal

Tim Goodman

In tow, of course, is Tim Goodman, a college-ready teenage lad in his iconic red hoodie, always straddling along on Pikachu’s adventures. Of course, one of the main mysteries that has held the series together is solving the disappearance of Tim’s dad. Yet, he still manages to take a seat back as Pikachu steals the spotlight away from him. 

And that’s totally fine because, quite frankly, the writing and performance of Pikachu are impeccable, even for an older audience. Thus, it paves the way for Tim to, well, allow the world-class mouse-talking detective with a bolt of brilliance to have his moment on the small and big screen. 

You’ll run into many more humans and Pokemon on your adventures. The humans all take a back seat while the Pokemon, who’ve finally received voice acting and unique personality touch-ups, take the wheel. You’ll meet all sorts of Pokemon, each with unique abilities. Growlithe, for instance, helps you (Pikachu) track scents. He even lets you mount her back in your quest to gather evidence.

The Butler Did It

Yes, the quests. Well, Detective Pikachu Returns’ mystery unfolds in parts. You’ll start off with a classic “the butler did it” mystery to solve. The mysteries are simple enough for players of all ages. For instance, a famous jewel, the Aurora, has been stolen. You need to find it. As you climb your way up the pro detective ladder, each quest will begin to knit together to feed into a larger narrative, i.e., Tim’s missing dad's ongoing story arc, which we left unsolved in the prequel. 

Tim and Pikachu are now two years in since their remarkable detective work went viral in the first game. They’ve built quite a reputation as “great detectives” and are no doubt much better skilled at their job. Perhaps this is why the gameplay, despite being simplistic on the 3DS entry, seems even simpler now, if that were possible. It’s like a follow-along on almost obvious mystery tropes. I mean, “the butler did it” is a little too strung dry now, isn’t it?

But you constantly need to remind yourself that this is a kids' game. Its intent isn't to conjure twists and turns that thrust you to the edge of your seat. Nor is it to infuse complex storylines a child will easily lose track of. Perhaps it's my choice to sit through the game’s painfully obvious drama just because I need a light escape from the bustle of real life. 

Helping Hand

The sooner you make peace with Detective Pikachu Returns’ overly kid-friendly tone, the easier it is to make it through the main missions. Particularly because the gameplay itself can’t help but lend a helping hand at every turn. Each testimony you gather from interrogations is stored in a handy detective case notebook. As well as clues you uncover from lightly exploring restrictive Pokemon areas. And whenever Pikachu says it’s time to deduce the evidence, you’ll open it up to make sense of what you’ve learned so far.

To solve a mystery, you’ll be given multiple-choice questions. Don’t stress, they’re too easy. And often, if you’re attentive to the story dialogues, you’ll have an answer ready in a split second. But if you missed the dialogue on a coffee run, perhaps you can pull up the dialogue to skim through it. Alternatively, you can keep making guesses until you get the answer right, with no penalty charged. It’s the kind of helping hand that takes away the essence of gameplay. Everything you do seems pointless if there’s no goal or reward to work for.

Look and Feel

Detective Pikachu Returns

Given the seven years in between releases, it’s unfathomable how Detective Pikachu Returns can look worse than its prequel, considering the time difference. Detective Pikachu on Nintendo 3DS somehow looks better, or in reverse, Detective Pikachu Returns looks like a game made for the 3DS platform. The visuals are outdated, period. Especially when compared to the quality we expect from Nintendo Switch adventure titles.

Furthermore, the characters and NPCs lack emotion. They look almost lifeless, with the basic two expressions for every shocking, charming, hilarious, and more moment they experience. Even when happy, the expressions hardly look convincing at all, with Tim honing a hollow face nearly all the time. Moreover, as charming as the Pokemon universe is, it hardly seems exploited for all it has to offer, and that sucks pretty bad. We don’t even get to interact with the universe, instead using cursors and menus to maneuver. 

Verdict

Detective Pikachu Returns Review

Whatever verdict we give, Detective Pikachu Returns is dedicated to a younger audience, first and foremost. And so, stepping into its playthrough will have to be for the mere pleasure of experiencing a lighthearted, silly run through the easiest adventure game in recent memory. Perhaps Pokemon fans will also have a blast, as the core of the game relies heavily on breakout star Pikachu’s quirky personality and that of the Pokemon universe. 

Yet even with a younger audience in mind, the visuals and story could have used a tad bit more ingenuity. The Pokemon universe has so much to offer in the way of charm and personality. We hardly experience that in the game’s seemingly outdated visuals. The same goes for the story, which is more or less infused with the trajectory and arc of its seven-year-ago prequel. Anyone can easily predict what’s to come, which makes the playthrough frustrating for those lagging behind. 

All flaws considered, Detective Pikachu Returns could be a fresh breath of air – on sale. For now, though, 10-year-olds and below, or Pokemon fans, may appreciate its humor and Pokemon adaptations more.

Detective Pikachu Returns Review (Switch)

Simple but Fun Textbook Mystery

Detective Pikachu Returns feels like a fun pastime for the younger folk and fans of the Pokemon series. Its story features whimsical takes on the wise-cracking, coffee-loving mouse detective and his human pal’s misadventures. You’ll solve lighthearted mysteries that never ask too much of you. Simply follow along and enjoy the ride.

But be warned, Detective Pikachu Returns harbors plenty of flaws in its lackluster storylines and simplified gameplay. It can easily frustrate players looking for immersive adventures. Or, a modern-day vibrant visual akin to the likes of New Pokemon Snap and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. So, I guess the question remains: are you willing to compromise?

Evans I. Karanja is a freelance writer who loves to write about anything technology. He is always on the lookout for interesting topics, and enjoys writing about video games, cryptocurrency and blockchain and more. When not writing, he can be found playing video games or watching F1.