Detective Pikachu is a game that began as an episodic adventure. The first episode, which ended after Tim and Pikachu’s investigation of PCL when it released in Japan in 2016. While it is difficult to tell in some ways, since the worldwide release offers a longer, richer storyline with more loose endings tied, it still tackles the same sort of issue as the initial release. Tim and Pikachu have a lot to investigate and do, leaving little time to connect with certain characters. Fortunately, this personality-driven affair remedies this in various ways.
When it comes to human characters, Detective Pikachu addresses this problem in two ways. People we see multiple times throughout the adventure, like Emilia Christie, Mike Baker, Frank Holiday, Amanda Blackstone, Meiko Okamoto and Pablo Milan, enjoy the sort of development you see in similar adventure games like the Ace Attorney series. They may make strong first impressions, with Emilia being well-meaning and concerned about others or Mike being an authority figure who wants to dissuade Tim from investigating his father’s disappearance to protect him. Repeated encounters show other elements of their personalities. Emilia is a journalist, which means she is searching for the greater good, but she is clearly a novice due to her reactions to certain unpleasant situations. In contrast, Meiko, who works with Emilia and is a veteran, comes across initially as very gung-ho, but is shown to be a professional due to her due diligence in capturing situations and not shying away from danger.
For people encountered less frequently, perhaps even in only a single segment of the adventure, Detective Pikachu takes a different approach. It begins with a strong first impression for people, followed by assessments from partner Pokemon and further interactions. The situation in the Pokemon Research Laboratory is a good example. We meet a number of people in a short span of time that Tim and Pikachu will be encountering over a “two-day” period. When each person is met, a stage is set. Frederick “Fridge” Hartfield is a good example. He does not wear the standard uniform, with a colorful shirt under his lab coat, has a goofy nickname that he goes by in a professional setting and is immediately casual with Tim. He also forgets to use a machine that vents the poisonous gas his partner Pokemon, Garbodor, exudes when demonstrating his experiment. Nina O’Hara follows this pattern, as she is very precise about her medicines when you first meet, because she wants them to look, smell and taste pleasant and right. Speaking to their respective partners, Garbodor and Shuckle, shows how laid back and casual one is and driven and particular the other can be.
The way Detective Pikachu handles Pokemon personalities makes them just as memorable. Again, it sticks with a strong first impression. Each character, when introduced, has a title that describes them. Minccino “cleans up with a smile.” Wormadam are “doubting and overbearing.” Since our conversations with them are done through an interpreter, Pikachu, we can not get the same sense of development as we would in conversations with fellow humans. Starting out by giving them a descriptive introduction sets a scene. We have an idea of disposition and behavior. While the three Wormadams we meet are especially expressive, Pikachu’s repeating of their answers is a good way to determine personality for others. Creatures like Fennekin and Tepig are focused on food, with the former looking for twigs and latter for berries. Burmy and Shuckle are both more subdued and timid. Ludicolo is this energetic young woman. By combining animations, Pikachu’s translations and these introductions, we have a good way to know what to expect in situations where it would otherwise be difficult to offer characterizations.
There was only one issue that I noticed was a frequent problem. In order to complete the Case Notes’ investigations, you may need to wait for Pikachu’s prompts. This can mean tapping the Pikachu button relentlessly until you happen to be in the right place for the revelation to occur. For the most part, this was not too much of an issue, but at one point in the PCL investigation, I found myself tapping Pikachu multiple times in multiple areas after checking the temperature in a room before he finally decided to provide the prompt to complete that leg of the case. (Hint: tap the Pikachu icon in the in the hallway when you are between the doors to the library and reception area.) It gets a tap frustrating when everything else has led you to where you believe you should be.
But that minor snag aside, Detective Pikachu is the sort of adventure that is quite pleasant. It is the sort of point-and-click game you could give to someone new to the 3DS, who is new to the genre or enjoys Pokemon and wants to try something a bit different. You would know they would derive some enjoyment, since its more serious elements are tempered by dealing with cute characters on a regular basis and interactions do a good job of reflecting personalities. While its stars may not be as colorful or over the top as some in the Ace Attorney series, they do not have to be. The development that is there makes it a comforting and inclusive title.
Detective Pikachu is available for the Nintendo 3DS.