Detective Pikachu Returns Preview – Another case to crack

Detective Pikachu exists in an extraordinarily rarefied space in the video game industry. A sequel to the popular Pokemon franchise that debuted as a video game in the 2018 3DS title, the name Detective Pikachu is most synonymous with the 2019 live-action theatrical film starring Justice Smith and Ryan Reynolds. But shortly before that movie’s release, the Pokemon Company announced a sequel to the 3DS game, and finally, four years later with its imminent release upon us, I got my hands on the long-awaited sequel.

The original 2018 title came about as developer Creatures noticed a hole in the expansive offerings in the Pokemon series. “There hasn’t really been an adventure game in the Pokémon series,” says senior creative director Yasunori Yanagisawa. “It’s a great opportunity to go into that genre, and the adventure genre is actually a genre that’s perfect for a setting where Pokemon and humans coexist. (…) When it comes to the game’s cutscenes, there’s a lot of freedom to explore.”

For those who haven’t experienced the original game, the title begins with a brief recap of the story, telling players the mystery surrounding protagonist Tim Goodman’s missing father and Detective Pikachu’s origins, and what led the pair to pursue this adventure. That’s a mystery. While many are familiar with the film’s premise, the games exist in a separate universe, so it’s a great move to kick things off that way.

Despite this apparent explanation, the existence of Detective Pikachu Returns may owe much to the work done on the film. “The creatures went to see how the filming was going along with the film,” says Yanagisawa. “We were inspired by that. Even at London Heathrow Airport, we decided to write a story for this game. We are aiming for the same level of story for this game as the movie.”

Detective Pikachu returns

While I don’t have much information on the story itself, my gameplay demo picks up during Chapter 1. Tim and Pikachu are investigating a jewel heist in Rime City with two leads. One involves a ducklet, whose feathers were found at the crime scene, while the other involves a pawnyard. We first choose to follow the Pavniard lead, which leads us to a terrace within Rime City’s park.

Upon our arrival, we see the crime scene window facing the terrace. Tim and Pikachu have heard that Pawniard likes training on the terrace, so we start looking for clues. After finding some chopped leaves and loose whimsical cotton, we hit the jackpot with a rock full of marks that could have been made by the blades. Tim and Pikachu decide to try to lure Pawniard, which gives me a prompt on how to do it. My options include singing a Pikachu song, waiting around, or climbing a rock. After trying out the song option (complete with harsh-sounding Pikachu’s full-voiced musical stylings) and the stakeout option, we remember that Pawniard doesn’t like it when someone else touches its rock, so Pikachu climbs up and, sure enough, runs out of blade-handed Pokémon.

Detective Pikachu returns

After a very enjoyable interaction between the noir-inspired Detective Pikachu and the warrior-like Pawniard, we learn that Pawniard isn’t the culprit, as witnesses say the Pokemon punched him in the back of the head and Pawniard’s bladed arms do. Punching someone is a challenge. From the time I played Detective Pikachu Returns, these interactions where you really get to understand the personalities of the various Pokémon in Rime City have been highlights.

Since Tim Detective can only understand Pikachu, Pikachu has to translate other interactions with Pokémon. “Detective Pikachu has this kind of middle-aged character, so in terms of interacting with Pokémon in Rime City, we wanted to explore what’s really interesting about having a middle-aged character talk to Pokémon,” says Yanagisawa. “In terms of cutscenes, the focus is more on how each Pokémon’s personality can flourish and shine through those scenes.”

Detective Pikachu returns

We follow a lead on Ducklet that takes us back to the mansion the police are investigating. On the way, we find a student who serves as a quiz professor at the university. She challenges us to find the Pokémon with the longest tongue. I’ve encountered Likkitung before in my demo, so I know where to go to complete this particular challenge. These side quests are known as Local Concerns, which give you additional knowledge and story about what’s going on in Rime City. Other local concerns I encounter include a missing lollipop and a kid looking for Pokemon to play soccer with. I wish I could help all these people, but my time is limited.

We book it to the mansion where the original theft took place. There, I found three Pokemon with special abilities that would aid our investigation. A clefable with sensitive hearing should be able to hear a ducklet’s sounds, but a manectric’s tracking ability is perhaps even more helpful. Unfortunately, Clefable is unable to hear Ducklet over the loud city, and Manectric remains committed to his work with the police and loyally refuses to leave his post. Looks like we’re going with Growlithe and its super strong sense.

Detective Pikachu returns

New in Detective Pikachu Returns are the sequences where Tim and Pikachu break up. In this case, Pikachu jumps on Growlithe’s back and the pair follows the scent left by Ducklet. These new special abilities offer different gameplay sequences.

Although I didn’t see any special abilities in my demo, Yanagisawa gives an additional example. “Another Pokemon revealed at this point is Darmanitan, who has a strong punching ability,” he says. “With Darmanitan, you can punch your way through places you couldn’t get into before. There are others we can’t get into today.”

Detective Pikachu returns

After following the ducklet’s scent trail, we find it hiding in the bushes. We interrogate the duck-shaped Pokémon to learn new details about what happened that day. It turns out there’s a Cramorant that no one has mentioned yet, so we have a new lead. Unfortunately, I’m not able to follow that lead as my demo ends.

Although my time in Rime City was brief, I enjoyed interacting with the various Pokémon that coexist with humans in this unique subseries. The case-solving mechanics are fairly basic at this point, but it’s worth remembering that I’m playing through the first chapter, so that’s to be expected. I look forward to working on new cases when Detective Pikachu Returns launches on Switch on October 6th.

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