As far as spin-off games go, Detective Pikachu is one of the strangest ones yet. With Pokemon normally being a series that has relatively little in the way of story, instead centring almost entirely on the battles, Detective Pikachu is a game that treads a very different path indeed. Stripping away the Pokemon trainers, the battles, and the Gyms, before adding a stonking great story in its place, Detective Pikachu slips a literal deerstalker onto the series' best-known mascot, and sends him off on his merry way, to help unravel a slow-paced, Pokemon-themed mystery in what is perhaps the most story-driven Pokemon game in years.
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The tale here centres around the surprisingly normally named Tim Goodman and the titular Detective Pikachu, an unlikely duo who unite in a search for Tim's father (and Pikachu's usual human companion), Harry Goodman. While investigating a strange spate of cases where previously peaceful Pokemon have run amok, Harry vanished mysteriously, leaving his unconscious Pikachu partner behind. Thanks to a strange bout of amnesia that left him with nothing but his super-sleuthing skills intact, poor Pikachu can't remember anything that happened - and, by an unusual twist of fate, Tim is the only human who can understand what Pikachu says. Together, Tim and Pikachu vow to get to the bottom of the mysterious disappearance - but soon, they discover some sinister undercurrents and Pokemon-related conspiracies in the once-peaceful Rhyme City.
But while Tim may be a nice enough (if somewhat bland) kid, the real star of the show here is Detective Pikachu. Despite his cute little deerstalker, this is a Pikachu that's a deceptively hard-boiled detective, with a strangely gruff voice (which sadly isn't Danny Devito's) and a penchant for strong, black coffee. A sassy little electric rodent, he's a bit of a walking contradiction - as pretty much the only Pikachu in existence that can't thunderbolt his way out of a predicament, he relies on his intellect to get him out of harm's way - but he's never averse to turning on the cutesy charm for a lady, something sweet, or even better, a lady with sweets. A loveable grump with a love of mysteries, Detective Pikachu is the best side-kick a kid could ask for, and provides most of the game's comic relief.
On their quest for the elder Goodman, the pair scout out all the places Tim's father last visited, picking up clues to his whereabouts along the way. Essentially just a basic point-and-click-style search 'em up - like Phoenix Wright's investigation segments, except without building up to the trial at the end - Detective Pikachu is a game that's linear, easy to get into, and perhaps a little bit too simple for its own good. After arriving at the scene - a street where an Aipom stole a necklace, a Pokemon-induced cave-in that trapped a pair of TV presenters, or a Pokemon research lab - it's up to you to start examining things, and talking to people as you try to uncover any interesting titbits. However, thanks to Pikachu, Tim has an ace up his sleeve that conventional investigators don't have, as Pikachu is all too happy to hop in as a translator, to find out if the Pokemon saw anything suspicious too. Really, as long as you take the time to examine everything and chat to everyone, you'll fly through each case with ease.
Once you've gathered up your information, you'll need to piece together the facts and evidence in your casebook, dragging and dropping the relevant bits to answer Pikachu's question, in turn bringing you one step closer to figuring things out. For example, a punch up in a park saw a suspicious black feather left behind at the scene of the crime - but with a number of avian Pokemon in residence, you'll need to do a bit of sleuthing to figure out the culprit. Starly is all too happy to give you a sample tail feather, but some of the remaining 'mons require a bit of convincing, or some more devious trickery, before they'll part with their bum plumage. Pidoves, for example, are a bit too skittish to just approach willy-nilly, so you'll need to win them over with a bit of bird food, as recommended by a pigeon-fancier on a bench. As for Murkrow, you'll need to come up with a way to get them to vacate their nest before you can rummage around for a lost feather - and as before, a combination of chatting to people and Pokemon, and making clever use of your surroundings, will get you there.
Occasional quick time events crop up to keep you on your toes, too, although these are usually just a matter of pressing or mashing the A button as and when it pops up on screen. However, it's almost more entertaining to miss them and not catch Pikachu as he falls from the sky, as missing a prompt doesn't really have any consequences, and usually results in a funny little skit instead. Speaking of skits - while you're out and about investigating, Pikachu will quite often call out to you, jump up and down or just generally flash on the Touch Screen - tapping the Pikachu icon will see the wannabe Sherlock give you (largely unneeded) hints and tips, or reward you with a cutesy little scene with another Pokemon instead.
As a a point-and-click-style mystery starring a super-sleuthing electric mouse, Detective Pikachu might sound like a bit of a strange idea on paper, but it works surprisingly well. Pikachu really is the star of the show here, and the juxtaposition of his cutesy exterior and hard-boiled, coffee-loving detective personality is one of the highlights. It's not a particularly hard game, nor is it a phenomenally lengthy adventure, but it's certainly fun while it lasts.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS