It's been over seven years since we got our first helping of the wise-cracking, coffee-addicted Detective Pikachu on 3DS and, in the time since, the gruff private investigator has gone on to star in his very own big-screen adaptation voiced by the one and only Ryan Reynolds. Well, excuse us, Mr Hollywood!
The first Detective Pikachu introduced us to a consistently amusing take on the classic Pikachu character alongside his likeable human pal Tim Goodman, wherein the pair used their investigative skills to unravel a mystery surrounding a drug which was causing Pokémon to fly into violent rages. There was also an overarching plot â one that forms the basis of the hit movie â which saw the sleuths attempting to find Tim's missing dad, Harry Goodman.
As a direct sequel, Detective Pikachu Returns immediately picks up on its predecessor's most important loose ends and sees the pair continue their search for Harry. Tim and Pikachu are now celebrities of sorts in Ryme City after the events of the first game and, if you didn't happen to play through that adventure, fear not, as you're provided with a nice recap to start things off that explains everything you need to know and leaves you free to jump in without fear you've missed something.
Kicking off with the theft of a precious jewel, Detective Pikachu Returns gently eases you into its gameplay mechanics by having Tim and Pikachu question witnesses, both human and Pokémon, as well as investigating a few small areas in and around Ryme City and the Denis Mansion. If you played the first game, you'll feel right at home as this sequel employs the same mixture of simple multiple-choice questioning, close-up examination of scenes in order to pick up clues, and plenty of entertaining conversations with a whole bunch of 'mon that franchise fans are sure to enjoy.
Without giving away too much of what follows in terms of the core story, it's not long before the simple jewel-theft thread begins to unravel into a much bigger and more exciting mystery involving all manner of shady goings with attempts being made to drive a wedge between humans and their Pocket Monster pals. This central mystery also incorporates the continuing search for Harry Goodman and the tension ramps up after a slightly laborious and bland first hour or so spent learning the ropes. We can't go into much more detail here, we're afraid, but the main thrust of the story is definitely an improvement over that found in the first game, even if the actual gameplay doesn't quite move the needle as much as we'd have perhaps hoped.
Of course, it's important to remember going into this one that mystery-game veterans shouldn't be expecting anything on the level of more grown-up detective adventures. This is a game that's aimed squarely at younger players, and as such it's entirely unchallenging for the majority of its duration. If you're looking to have your brain taxed by clever whodunnit conundrums, we suggest you look elsewhere, as the puzzles and detective work involved here are designed so that kids should have little issue overcoming them.
That's not to say there's nothing to enjoy in Detective Pikachu Returns if you're an older Pokémon fan. Indeed, the biggest strength of this spin-off series is that it caters to its younger audience whilst also providing enough comedy relief and asides to make it an enjoyable enough romp for us oldies. This particular writer played through the entire thing with two young children (6 and 9) and can confirm that there were enough jokes, silliness, and fairly exciting situations to keep us all entertained for most of the journey.
As you question witnesses and search various environs for clues, you'll add information to Tim's notebook, which you'll then be prompted to visit when enough intel has been gathered. Here you must join the dots, choosing the correct answer from a multitude of choices in order to further your investigations. Just as in the first game, there's no fail state to fret over; if you choose the wrong answer, you can guess again until you get it right, and this level of breeziness extends to other aspects of the experience. Being caught snooping around areas that are off-limits, for example, just resets you and lets you go again.
Branching out from this, Detective Pikachu Returns introduces a bunch of one-off mechanics and minigames (of sorts) as the mystery deepens and you're whisked off to a few more exciting locations. Over time, you'll get to ride around on various Pokémon as Pikachu, complete a bunch of QTE sections, use X-Ray vision to spy through walls, and plenty more besides. These switch-ups in gameplay are welcome additions that really do help remedy the repetition and retracing of steps that makes up quite a bit of the core of this adventure.
Yes, as much as we did find the main story more exciting this time around, and the game does a reasonable job of introducing new fun areas to explore, there's no denying that, just as with the first outing, there's a lot of repetition involved. There's no getting around it, â the setup is such that retracing your steps and asking a lot of questions is the order of the day. You'll also likely find yourself coming across solutions to puzzles and events you've already guessed the outcome to before you're actually allowed to interact with anything or are able to draw a line under that particular line of inquiry. Again, it's aimed at younger players, so this is all to be expected really and it's not something we feel the need to mark it down for. If you're bored or finding things too easy, it's most likely because you're not the intended audience.
Aside from the repetition inherent in its core gameplay â and the underwhelming nature of most of its fetch quest side activities â the biggest issue we have personally with Detective Pikachu Returns is that it all looks unforgivably drab. Making the leap onto Switch means you lose out on the fun of the 3DS's dual-screen setup, but we were okay with this when we considered how much better-looking this adventure would be.
Unfortunately, while there are fewer jaggies involved and everything runs nice and smoothly, it just doesn't feel like enough effort was made to really make characters or environments pop with colour or detail. This could very easily be mistaken for a game you'd play on your phone, which is a bit of a shame as it really could have made a huge difference had it looked as good as, say, New Pokémon Snap. We would even have loved to see the same sort of gritty style that the movie deployed being used here, but alas what we've ended up with is a bit sterile.
Graphical disappointments and repetition aside, though, what we've got overall does match up to its predecessor in giving us a unique take on a beloved character alongside a sweet, sometimes emotional story that highlights the importance of the bond between human and Pokémon. It also serves up enough excitement, jokes, and silliness on the part of Pikachu that it's hard not to find yourself enjoying the ride, regardless of your age or investigative prowess. It's just a shame that this second bite at the cherry doesn't feel the need to really push for more, either graphically or from a pure gameplay perspective.
Games aimed squarely at a younger audience can often be horribly cynical in how simplistic, short, and unsatisfying they are, and Detective Pikachu Returns deserves to be commended in how it manages to mostly straddle a very fine line. It delivers a charming experience that kids can easily whip through on their own, whilst also providing a level of quality in its writing, characterisations, and gameplay that makes for a properly entertaining romp, and an adventure that's a hoot for parents looking to dig in and spend some time gaming with their kids.