Detective Pikachu Returns: The creative director reveals what we can expect in our hands-on preview | GAME3A

Detective Pikachu Returns: The creative director reveals what we can expect in our hands-on preview

With an appearance towards the end of the Nintendo 3DS lifecycle and sales of less than a million units, Detective Pikachu would, at best, be consider...

Fay Watson Sept 09, 2023
Detective Pikachu Returns: The creative director reveals what we can expect in our hands-on preview

With an appearance towards the end of the Nintendo 3DS lifecycle and sales of less than a million units, Detective Pikachu would, at best, be considered a modest success for the Pokémon franchise. Were it not for its high-budget Hollywood adaptation, which grossed over $500 million worldwide at the box office, Detective Pikachu would still remain relatively unknown. This dynamic presents a unique situation for the game sequel, Detective Pikachu Returns: most fans who will be interested in the continuation will likely come from the film rather than the previous game.

During a conversation held last week at The Pokemon Company International offices in Bellevue, Washington, with Yasunori Yanagisawa, the lead creative director of Creatures Inc., where I also had the opportunity to play a demo of the game, the developer acknowledges that many individuals who have only seen the film will likely be interested in the sequel. This presented the team with a certain challenge since, although both the film and the game follow the same storyline, they have completely different endings. In the initial game, Tim Goodman and a talking Pikachu join forces to investigate the disappearance of Tim's father, Harry. However, unlike in the film, it is not revealed at the end that Pikachu had been Tim's missing father all along, nor is he portrayed by Ryan Reynolds.

"With the film and this upcoming game, we are dealing with completely different stories being told," Yanagisawa explains through the translator. "In Detective Pikachu Returns, there is a Chapter Zero where Pikachu talks about what has happened up until that point. The hope is that fans will understand the story by watching Chapter Zero."

Although the game is completely independent from the film, Yanagisawa states that he was inspired during his visit to the film set in London. "I definitely gained some inspiration from it, to the point where I met the producer at Heathrow Airport and started thinking about the story for this game." However, Yanagisawa did not develop Detective Pikachu Returns to serve as a blueprint for the next Detective Pikachu film. "[We] essentially treat the game and the film as completely separate entities. [We] don't really think about developing a story that can be turned into a film."

However, a significant portion of the story in Detective Pikachu Returns will be familiar to the film's fans. It follows Tim Goodman and a coffee-loving Pikachu wearing a deerstalker hat in Ryme City, a place where humans and Pokémon coexist, on their ongoing journey to find Tim's father. The gameplay also remains similar to that of the original game, as you explore different parts of the city, interact with people and Pokémon, gather clues in your journal, and then combine the collected information to draw conclusions and advance the plot. It focuses less on puzzles, like in the Professor Layton series, and more on exploration, attentive listening to dialogues, and observing the environment to solve problems.

Detective Pikachu was not a challenging detective game, and based on my brief time with the sequel, I haven't encountered any obstacles that have even remotely hindered my progress. Yanagisawa states that, similar to the original, Detective Pikachu Returns was intentionally designed to be very straightforward. "It is crafted in a way that even very young children can easily solve the puzzles and engage with the detective aspects of the game."

Yanagisawa states that experienced players and adult Pokémon fans can leverage their advanced Pokémon knowledge to skip sections that require extensive evidence collection, as I experienced firsthand during the demo. While searching for evidence left by a Pawniard in a park, my familiarity with Pokémon allowed me to easily identify a rock that had been sliced open as the sought-after evidence, without having to explore all the other potential points of interest in the park.

While it may not be a demanding detective game, there are still many things for Pokémon fans to love when exploring Ryme City. The sequel introduces a few new features that add variety to the gameplay and enrich the story, such as the ability to play as both Tim and Pikachu.

The ability to interact with Pokémon in the city as both Tim and Pikachu creates many entertaining scenarios. As Tim cannot understand other Pokémon, Pikachu acts as his translator whenever they conduct interviews or search for clues. Pikachu has a way of summarizing what other Pokémon say and adding his own commentary to these interviews, similar to the film, which makes him somewhat of an unreliable narrator. When you later return to these Pokémon as Pikachu and speak with them, you hear what they actually have to say without the filter of Detective Pikachu. I haven't come across puzzles that required me to speak to a Pokémon as both characters, but it's an optional feature that adds flavor and humor to the story.

You will often need to play as Pikachu to access the other major new feature of the sequel: riding Pokémon. Not only is riding Pokémon as Pikachu adorable, but it also grants you access to new abilities that you will need to solve cases. In the demo, I was able to ride on an Arcanine, which could track down a missing Psyduck using scent trails on the ground.

The leap from the 3DS to the Switch is an enormous visual advancement for the series, and I've enjoyed my brief time running around the city with Detective Pikachu. Yanagisawa says that the hardware specifications of the Switch have given developers much more freedom of expression in the cutscenes of Detective Pikachu Returns, and even during my short time with the game, I could tell that it will be a significantly more cinematic experience than the original, although perhaps not as cinematic as the Detective Pikachu movie.

Enchanting and nimble, Detective Pikachu Returns seems to be a perfect farewell for the Switch, just like the original Detective Pikachu was seven years ago for the 3DS. And even though it doesn't offer any major insights into the next Pokémon movie, if there will be one at all, I'll take any excuse to ride on a Growlithe and inquire about the size of its tongue.