Detective Pikachu Returns – Review
Follow Genre: Mystery game
Developer: Creatures
Publisher: The Pokémon Company, Nintendo
Platform: Switch
Tested on: Switch

Detective Pikachu Returns – Review

Site Score
Good: It's refreshing to hear voice acting in a Pokémon game
Bad: Very short for the price point
User Score
(2 votes)
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VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 9.0/10 (2 votes cast)

The Christmas season might still seem far away to us common people, but game developers are already starting to trickle out their end-of-year lineup. Nintendo’s big hitter this holiday season is undoubtedly going to be the upcoming Super Mario Wonder, but given Pokémon’s status as the #1 media franchise in the world right now, there was always going to be some kind of Pokémon title ready for Christmas as well. And what a release it is: five years after his relatively niche 3DS debut, and four years after his appearance on the silver screen, detective Pikachu makes his return. The aptly titled spin-off Detective Pikachu Returns arrives mere weeks after the first part of Scarlet and Violet’s DLC. Die-hard Pokémon fans will undoubtedly pick up both, but if you’re a more casual player, is Detective Pikachu Returns a good option to scratch that Pokémon itch?


The original Detective Pikachu game came out on the 3DS a year after the release of the Switch, so many people understandably skipped it. Given that Detective Pikachu Returns’ story is a direct sequel to that first game, it stands to reason that you might be worried about being able to follow what’s going on. Fortunately, you don’t need to have played the 3DS game…provided you’ve seen the Detective Pikachu movie. Detective Pikachu Returns even lampshades this with a meta-joke about a movie having been made about the so-called ‘R-case’. The new game is set two years after the first one, with the events of the R-case still fresh in people’s -and Pokémon’s- minds. Detective Tim Goodman and his partner, the titular Pikachu, are looking for Tim’s missing father and Pikachu’s former partner, Harry. Though initially presumed dead, it was revealed at the end of the first game that Harry could in fact still be alive. Harry’s disappearance also seems to be connected to strange events that are happening across Ryme City. Pokémon are acting hostile toward humans, seemingly controlled by mysterious glowing cubes attached to their backs, the legendary Pokémon Mewtwo has returned, and a strange jewel seems to hold the key to figuring out what is happening. Can our heroes solve the case, find Harry, and restore the balance between the humans and Pokémon in Ryme City?


Recent mainline Pokémon games haven’t exactly pushed the boundaries of what the Switch is capable of handling visually, and unfortunately, Detective Pikachu Returns doesn’t break that trend. We saw what was possible with New Pokémon Snap, and part of us was hoping that a game with a more limited scope than Scarlet and Violet could look as good. While Detective Pikachu definitely doesn’t struggle from the same frame rate issues as the current mainline game, this has more to do with the overall lower quality of the visuals. This is especially apparent when looking at backgrounds and environmental textures, which look low-res and even blurry at times. The games make use of the pre-existing 3D Pokémon models, and these look fine. Human models look arguably more detailed than those from Scarlet and Violet, but their animations look stilted and janky, so we’re not quite sure whether this is a true improvement. The game also makes use of a fixed camera, and it feels odd and limiting that you cannot rotate your viewpoint.


If there’s one area where Detective Pikachu improves upon its predecessors, it’s in that it features actual voice acting. While this is limited to cutscenes and key moments, hearing characters actually talk really adds another dimension to the Pokémon world, and it helps tremendously with bringing the cast to life. The standout performance is the titular Pokémon himself, of course, though if you’re used to the classic Pikachu voice, you may be in for a shock. Detective Pikachu talks with the gruff, deep voice of Fairy Fencer F‘s Kaiji Tang. Other Pokémon don’t use their mainline game cries either, instead following the logic of the anime. Most of them will simply talk by repeating their name, although some of the more animalistic monsters will instead “talk” using roars, growls, and chirps. The game’s music is of the same quality as you’d expect from a Pokémon game, with a variety of catchy tunes, and the sound effects are decent, if unremarkable.


If you’ve only seen the Detective Pikachu movie, you might be wondering how Tim and Pikachu’s adventures translate to gameplay. What you’re getting here is essentially a more family-friendly version of games like those in Frogwares’ Sherlock Holmes or Microids’ Hercule Poirot series. You’ll be taking on a series of cases, wandering around environments looking for clues, talking to NPCs, and solving simple puzzles. Given the kid-focused nature of the Pokémon games, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that our heroes aren’t solving any murders. Instead, you’ll be doing things like tracking down a jewel thief or rescuing a lost researcher from a ruin, to name a few things. Each case ties into the larger, overarching plot which involves the disappearance of Harry Goodman. Of course, while a large part of today’s Pokémon fanbase is significantly older than the intended audience, mostly because they grew up with Generation 1, this game is squarely aimed at the 9-12-year-old crowd, and for this age group, it is fantastic. If you’re an adult Pokémon fan though, you’ll probably find that this game is not for you. We’d say that that’s fine in this case, because for what it wants to be, Detective Pikachu is a good game.

Of note is that the game’s pacing could use some work. A lot of the quests involve needless backtracking and many of the action sequences are simple quick-time events that require repeated button mashing. The puzzles are simple affairs, needing only very little actual thinking, and the game is always ready to provide you with hints in the unlikely event that you do get stuck. While we don’t mind this simpler approach, keeping the potential target audience in mind, we do feel like Detective Pikachu Returns missed a couple of opportunities for more involved puzzles, where the game solves things automatically rather than requiring player input. A good example of this comes in the case that takes place in the ruins, where two statues need to be pushed across a grid to line up. This is done by the characters automatically, with a fade to black instead of having players figure out the right sequence to do so. To the game’s credit, developer Creatures did put in the effort in other areas, such as the ice maze where Tim and Pikachu need to stealthily make their way around an angry Darmanitan, but these instances were few and far in between.

Apart from the main cases, there are also a handful of optional side quests. These typically involve tracking down a specific Pokémon that is hiding in the area or helping out an NPC with a simple fetch quest. They provide a neat distraction, although they didn’t seem to have an influence on the overall story, and there is nothing to gain from completing them other than the feeling of having helped someone around Ryme City. They do add to the game’s overall runtime, but this is more because they involve even more backtracking. Given the game’s overall runtime of roughly 12 hours, this does make Detective Pikachu Returns’ €50 price tag hard to swallow -but given the enduring popularity of the Pokémon brand and the fact that the holidays are coming up, we expect the game to sell like hotcakes regardless.


Older fans of Pokémon games are far better off picking up the Scarlet and Violet expansion pass to scratch their Pokémon itch (even though that has some minor issues of its own) but younger fans are definitely going to love getting stuck in Detective Pikachu Returns. While the visual presentation of the game could have been better, we absolutely love the addition of actual voice acting to a Pokémon game on the Switch. The game does feel slow at times, mostly because of the needless backtracking required, and the puzzles are ridiculously easy, but again, this game will delight the younger crowd… if Santa can stomach the price tag, that is.

VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 9.0/10 (2 votes cast)
VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Detective Pikachu Returns - Review, 9.0 out of 10 based on 2 ratings

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