Detective Pikachu exists in an exceptionally rare space in the video game industry. A subseries to the wildly popular Pokémon franchise that started as a video game in 2018′ 3DS title, the name Detective Pikachu is more synonymous with its 2019 live-action theatrical film starring Justice Smith and Ryan Reynolds. But just before the release of that film, The Pokémon Company announced a follow-up to the 3DS game, and with the impending release finally upon us four years later, I got my hands on the long-awaited sequel.
The original 2018 title came about because developer Creatures noticed a hole in the expansive offerings in the Pokémon series. “There wasn’t really an adventure game in the Pokémon series,” senior creative director Yasunori Yanagisawa says. “This was a good opportunity to go into that genre and also, the adventure genre is actually an appropriate genre for a setting where Pokémon and humans coexist. […] When it comes to the cutscenes of the game, there’s a lot of freedom to explore.”
For those who didn’t experience the original game, the title starts with a brief recap of the story, telling players of the mystery surrounding protagonist Tim Goodman’s missing father and Detective Pikachu’s origin, and the adventure that resulted in the duo following the trail of that mystery. While many are familiar with the baseline elements from the film, the games exist in a separate universe, so it’s a smart move to kick things off in that manner.
Despite this clear delineation, Detective Pikachu Returns’ very existence may be owed to the work done on the film. “Creatures went to observe how the filming was going with the film,” Yanagisawa says. “We were inspired from that. Even just in London Heathrow Airport, we decided to write up a story for this game. We were aiming for a similar level of story as the film for this game.”
While I don’t have a lot of information on the overarching story, my gameplay demo picks up during Chapter 1. Tim and Pikachu are investigating a jewel theft in Ryme City with two leads. One involves a Ducklett whose feathers were found at the crime scene, while another involves a Pawniard. We choose to pursue the Pawniard lead first, which takes us to a terrace within one of Ryme City’s parks.
Upon our arrival, we take a look at the crime scene’s window that faces the terrace. Tim and Pikachu had heard that Pawniard likes training on the terrace, so we begin searching for clues. After finding some cut leaves and loose Whimsicott cotton, we hit the jackpot with a rock full of marks that could have only been made with blades. Tim and Pikachu decide to try and lure Pawniard out, which gives me a prompt for how to do it. My choices include having Pikachu sing a song, waiting around, or climbing on top of the rock. After trying the song option (complete with the gruff-sounding Pikachu’s fully voiced musical stylings) and the stakeout option, we remember that Pawniard doesn’t like when someone else touches its rock, so Pikachu climbs on up, and sure enough, the blade-handed Pokémon runs out.
After a very enjoyable interaction between the noir-inspired Detective Pikachu and the warrior-like Pawniard, we learn that maybe Pawniard wasn’t the culprit, as the witnesses said the Pokémon punched them in the back of the head and Pawniard’s bladed arms would make it challenging to punch anyone. From my time playing Detective Pikachu Returns, these interactions, where you truly get a sense of the personalities of the various Pokémon of Ryme City, were the highlights.
Since Tim can only understand Detective Pikachu, the other interactions with Pokémon need to be translated by Pikachu. “Detective Pikachu has this kind of middle-aged-man character, so in terms of conversing with the Pokémon in Ryme City, we wanted to explore what would be really interesting in terms of having a middle-aged-man character talking with Pokémon,” Yanagisawa says. “In terms of cutscenes, the focus was more on how each Pokémon’s personality can flourish and shine in those scenes.”
We follow the lead on Ducklett next, which takes us back to the mansion where the police are investigating. On the way, we find a student at the university who serves as the Quiz Professor. She gives us a challenge to find a Pokémon with a long tongue. I encountered a Lickitung earlier in my demo, so I know just where to go to complete this particular challenge. These side quests are called Local Concerns, which reward you with additional lore and story for what’s going on in Ryme City. Other Local Concerns I encounter include a missing Lillipup and a child looking for a Pokémon to play soccer with. I wish I could help all of these people, but my time is running short.
We book it over to the mansion where the original theft occurred. There, I find three Pokémon who have special abilities that might be able to assist our investigation. A Clefable with sensitive hearing might be able to hear the Ducklett’s sounds, but the Manectric’s tracking ability is probably even more helpful. Sadly, Clefable won’t be able to hear the Ducklett over the loud city, and Manectric is bound to its job with the police and loyally refuses to leave its post. Looks like we’re going with Growlithe and its super strong sense of smell.
New in Detective Pikachu Returns are sequences where Tim and Pikachu can split up. In this case, Pikachu hops on Growlithe’s back and the duo follows the scent left behind by Ducklett. These new special abilities offer distinct gameplay sequences.
While I don’t see any other special abilities in my demo, Yanagisawa offers up an additional example. “Another Pokémon that has been disclosed at this point is Darmanitan, who has a very strong punching ability,” he says. “With Darmanitan’s help, you can punch your way through places that might not have been accessible for you previously. There are others that we won’t quite get into today.”
After following the trail of Ducklett’s scent, we find it hiding in the bushes. We interrogate the duck-shaped Pokémon to learn new details of what may have happened that day. It turns out there’s a Cramorant that nobody had mentioned yet, so we have a new lead. Sadly, I don’t get to follow that lead as my demo comes to a close.
Though my time in Ryme City was brief, I enjoyed interacting with the various Pokémon that coexist with the humans in this unique subseries. The case-solving mechanics feel fairly basic at this point, but it’s also worth remembering that I was playing in the first chapter, so that’s to be expected. I’m looking forward to working on new cases when Detective Pikachu Returns launches on Switch on October 6.