Detective Pikachu Returns Review – Clues and Coffee

Detective Pikachu Returns Review

I know, objectively, that Pokémon games are for kids. The cute characters, the color schemes, the relatively simple combat mechanics. All designed to appeal to a broad audience and a wide age range. At the same time, Detective Pikachu Returns is especially for kids, you know? Something about the writing, the voice acting, and the game design makes me feel like I’m not supposed to be playing this game. This might be the first Pokémon game I’ve played in recent memory that is aggressively not for me.

For The Kids

The story takes place two years after the events of the first game. Tim and Pikachu are being awarded for their heroic efforts when a Pokémon attack occurs. Once again, Pokémon are behaving erratically, and it’s up to our heroes to find out why. Like the first game, you end up on a long and winding path of mysteries. Tim’s missing father is the big puzzle. He’s been missing for several years by the time of Detective Pikachu Returns. I realized I might be in for a rough ride as soon as the voice acting kicked in. I love Pikachu himself, don’t get me wrong. It’s just everyone else that sounds off.

Detective Pikachu Returns Review

You can choose between English and Japanese voice acting when you start the game. I chose English because Pikachu sounds rad. This was a terrible mistake. The other performances are stilted, slow, and terribly wooden. Tim’s mom and sister in particular sound like they were dubbed over by last minute replacements. I know dubbing is very hard. Matching English lines to Japanese speech rhythms is a grueling task. The two languages are just so far from one another. But even so, the voice work in this game is rough.

Wooden English Dialogue

I also found myself getting frustrated with the writing. There’s a lot of simple, repetitive dialogue. Characters will hammer home a point two to four times, all while text on screen says the same thing. It’s exhausting. But it makes sense, because this is a children’s game. I’m repeating myself, I know. I’ve just spent decades playing Pokémon games. I’ve managed to find a sticking point, a lode stone, in every one. At least until Detective Pikachu Returns. I missed the first game. Maybe I would have seen this coming otherwise.

Detective Pikachu Returns Review

The game’s puzzles had me similarly frustrated. I would be presented with a problem, like a locked door. After examining the space, I teased out the solution. But wait! Tim and Pikachu have to talk about the puzzle for a while, first. They need to repeat the critical data to the player. We also need to make sure that the camera lingers on the right places and objects. It’s important that I don’t miss a single piece of this confounding puzzle. After a while, it felt like I was watching Dora The Explorer. I was practically shouting at my screen, begging them to get to the point.

You see? I’m not supposed to be playing this game. At the same time, I recognize that this will be perfect in the hands of its target audience. Young children will eat this up. The gentle challenge, the guiding dialogue, and even the inoffensive character models will go down smooth. Pikachu even scolds you when you stray off course. Relieved, you shake your head and return to your work, confident you’re now on the right path.

Can You Figure It Out?

The one concession I’ve discovered is in the deduction process. If you know the answer, sometimes you can solve a particular puzzle with only part of the evidence. If you need a specific Pokémon for a task, for example. Rather than talk to every single one, you can just make a beeline to the right character and get a move on. It’s a small step that nevertheless saves you precious time wandering around.

While I’ve made it clear that this game is meant for a younger audience, I still recognize its merits. The visuals are clean and crisp, even if the humans look a bit weird. Pikachu himself is a real bright spot, with more charm and personality than any other character. And if you’re a diehard Pokémon fan, there are a ton of them scattered throughout this story. But I can’t recommend this game to anyone reading this review. Rather, Detective Pikachu Returns will be a great fit for your kids. If you’re looking for a fun, approachable adventure they can dive into, this might be a pretty good choice.

***A Nintendo Switch code was provided by the publisher***

The Good

  • Pikachu is a delight
  • Clean, crisp visuals
  • Your kids will love it

The Bad

  • Wooden, stilted dialogue
  • Seriously simple level design
  • Aggressively not for me