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Pokemon Let's Go on Switch feels like Pokemon 101

Nintendo's first big Pokemon game on Nintendo Switch goes for a simple reboot. And you probably don't need that Pokeball.

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Poke Ball Plus is sold separately.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I'm not a hard-core Pokemon player, but I've played Pokemon games. Maybe that makes me the perfect Pokemon: Let's Go! customer. Nintendo's first full Pokemon game for Nintendo Switch arrives in time to make holiday shopping lists. Is it for you? I've played it for a weekend along with Nintendo's separately-sold Poke Ball Plus controller, taking it home to try with my kids. Here are my thoughts so far.

Is it too basic? (Sometimes)

Classic Pokemon games are like full RPGs. The last few Nintendo 3DS games, like Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, were a graphic revamp in that tradition. Pokemon Let's Go: Pikachu and Pokemon Let's Go: Eevee feel more like remakes of the original 8-bit games, and that also means a pretty linear type of experience for the most part. Yes, there are many towns and battles and 150 Pokemon to collect. But it all seems pretty straightforward, and not very complicated to play. Sometimes that's a good thing, especially if you're just trying to figure out what Pokemon is about (shyly raises hand). Other times, it feels a bit too slow and unevolved compared to the rest of the Switch's killer lineup.

That being said, I ended up being sucked in and finding myself oddly compelled to keep collecting.

Is it like Pokemon Go? (Not really)

Sort of, not exactly. Running into wild Pokemon now leads to an opportunity to catch, not battle. Catching involves a throwing motion on the Joy-Con, or pressing a button, but it's reminiscent of the Pokemon Go app. Caught Pokemon earn experience points. Run-ins with trainers and others along the way are how Pokemon battles happen now. But the map-based game and RPG-style story are still more similar to older "full" Pokemon games.

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Poke Ball Plus is the conduit between the mobile game and the Switch game (I haven't gotten it to connect yet.)

Sarah Tew/CNET

Is the Poke Ball Plus worth it? (No, but it's kinda cool)

Nintendo is also selling a separate (or bundled in) Pokemon ball-themed controller, the Poke Ball Plus, that works with the game, can take Pokemon "for a walk" to level them up, and sync with Pokemon Go on phones. My kids thought it was fun to see a standalone red-and-white Pokeball that makes noises, rumbles and lights up, and can control the game, too. But the Poke Ball Plus is $50, which is way too expensive. If you're an extremely serious Pokemon Go player and have a desire to link with the Pokemon Go phone game, maybe you'd consider it.

For me, it's a pass. Pairing the controller with the Switch game is confusing, and the ball's controls feel more cramped than using a single Joy-Con. Clicking in on the center joystick and pressing a flat button on the side handles in-game controls, but it's not usable for other games on the Switch. And so far, I haven't been able to get it to pair with Pokemon Go, so I can't offer thoughts on how that part works.

In that sense, Pokemon Go still feels like the more immediate way to get a Pokemon fix, while Pokemon: Let's Go! feels like a weird in-between hybrid between mobile and the old-school RPG style.

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Eevee is adorable, though.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Eevee or Pikachu? (Coin flip)

Personal preference. The two versions of the game just mean you'll get Eevee or Pikachu to start. I played the Eevee version. That "partner Pokemon" can be petted and cared for in-game like a little Tamagotchi, so you'll see it up close a bunch.

Nintendo's already bringing another new "core" Pokemon game to the Switch next year, which may be worth waiting for. Between that and that crazy Detective Pikachu movie, maybe 2019 is the year for Pokemon. Or, maybe this is the game you've been dreaming of. I guess I expected more, but I also weirdly feel a strong desire to keep playing.

Pokemon: Let's Go! arrives on the Nintendo Switch this Friday. For your holiday money, I'd recommend waiting for Super Smash Bros. instead.

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