I used to set my alarm on Saturday mornings so I could get up early, sit in front of the TV with my sister and watch the latest episode of Pokémon. We'd eat breakfast while glued to the adventures of Ash and his pals, and meet whichever new creature was introduced in that episode. The Pokémon TV series was amazing to me back then, because it pulled back the curtain on a world I'd stared at for so long on my black and white Game Boy screen. In the games, all the monochrome pixelated houses and Pokécentres looked alike. People talked in short, repetitive phrases. Interacting with Pokémon was limited to static sprites and menus. But on TV, the world of Pokémon was allowed to sprawl, hand drawn, into huge, lifelike cities and neverending countrysides populated with characters and plotlines developed over countless episodes. How did humans and Pokémon live together? What did battles really look like? Where did humans get all their meat from? I scoured each episode for clues.
You can see the TV show's influence on the main Pokémon games growing over time, the more recent entries in particular adopting cues from the anime's visual identity and storytelling. But the main series of games still offer fairly simple narratives - and mainly, the story of your rise to become a Pokémon master trainer, over and over again. Detective Pikachu is not one of these games - it's a story-led spin-off for 3DS which features smaller, more human tales stitched together over a wider storyline - again, something similar to the cartoon I have such fond memories of.
Each game chapter feels like an extended scene from the TV show, set in environments where humans and Pokémon live together and mingle. You play as a plucky young Ash-like character, Tim, who is new to the game's main city and looking for his missing father - but it is Detective Pikachu himself who is the star. This is the Will Arnett Batman version of Pokémon's mascot - a bit of sass, a slight suspicion of sauce and enough humour to charm even the older fans. He's a straight-talking, wise-cracking hardboiled detective, but also a tiny yellow rat. He's brilliant.
Despite searching for Tim's dad, you'll soon get distracted finding other missing creatures and investigating a spate of attacks across the city. And while you can talk to other people, you'll need the help of your deerstalker-wearing sidekick to chat with and interrogate other Pokémon. Of course, as any fan knows, Pokémon can't usually talk to humans - though the exception being made here for Detective Pikachu is a one-off and, teasingly, the mysterious reasoning behind it appears linked to the game's overall plot. This deeper puzzle involves Pikachu's link to Tim's past - something which you'll slowly begin to unravel.
Detective Pikachu's opening chapters deal with simple scenarios, as gameplay with more than a hint of the Ace Attorney series is introduced. You can examine a scene - looking for a missing necklace, or lost Pokémon - by talking to witnesses, discovering evidence, and then talking to people again once you have unlocked further lines of enquiry. There's a casebook where you can review clues and scroll through a list of suspects. Later on, you unlock a map to help you navigate larger locations with multiple areas. It's your standard narrative adventure stuff, mixed with in-game cutscenes where the results of your investigations play out. These are dotted with quick-time events, although failing to complete one won't stop your progress but result in a slightly different version of the same scene, instead. (For example, In one scenario where you have to catch Pikachu as he leaps towards you seeking a soft landing, expect a slightly different outcome to play out for laughs if you fail and miss).
I've played three chapters so far and have been pleasantly surprised by what I've seen. The game stands out for its warm-hearted humour, while young and returning Pokémon fans will appreciate the depth of knowledge shown towards the series' world. My memory of the later Pokémon generations is hazy, but I was rapidly reintroduced to a colony of Burmy, a haughty Furfrou, and a Ludicolo employed as a waitress (there's a gag with some coffee cups which made me laugh out loud). I can't remember another game which has brought its Pokémon stars to life like this, and let them act as they might in the TV show, or rather, as they were always intended to act in the minds of fans playing the main games - even those of an age where they've left the cartoon series behind.