The Catch

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People are up in arms because Pokémon Let’s Go, a remake of the original Pokémon games, dared to change the formula and made it too easy, with the most drastic change being in how you catch Pokémon. But dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that the capture system in Pokémon Let’s Go removes all the annoying friction from catching Pokémon and keeps the primal feeling you get when you hear that Pokéball click shut.

The truth is that Pokémon Red/Blue is hopelessly archaic nowadays, but in very specific ways. One of the biggest was the random wild Pokémon battles you could engage in to capture new Pokémon for your team. Normally it wasn’t a big deal since the random encounters are relegated to tall grass, but almost all of the dungeons in the games feature random Pokémon battles in every inch of them. Not only is the encounter rate elevated to an agonizing degree, but the novelty of catching Pokémon quickly wears off once you start encountering duplicates of ones you’ve already caught. Going through a cave is never any fun thanks to all the Zubats you encounter over and over again, after all.

There’s a lot of pleasing friction in Pokémon games that isn’t the slogfest that are random battles. Pokémon trainer battles are pretty much the star of the games for this reason. Not only do you get to fight powered-up Pokémon with your team, you also get a wider variety of opponent team makeups. The Zubat problem doesn’t apply here thanks to how curated and varied your opponents are, not to mention it makes the grind of leveling up your Pokémon pleasing thanks to enhanced experience points and the thrill of defeating a trainer. You’ll do everything in your power to avoid the random battles after a certain point, but you’ll never want to skip a single trainer battle. Wild Pokémon battles and trainer battles just don’t compare.

The act of capturing Pokémon was also annoying, if we’re being honest with ourselves. You had to lower a creature’s HP low enough without killing it, then throw a Pokéball at it in the hopes that you’ve done enough damage to capture it. Status effects also help wear them down, and special moves like False Swipe which will never knock them out are also available. The thing is that these are the things about catching Pokémon that no one remembers fondly. What people remember is the three twitches a thrown ball makes before it clicks shut and you successfully capture a Pokémon. They remember the epic battles with legendary Pokémon that culminate in you taking control of something incredibly powerful. They even remember the weird urban legends associated with Pokémon catching, like if you hit Up and B at just the right time, it makes catching something easier – a notion that, while not true, proved that there was something elementally appealing about catching Pokémon that the whittling down of HP never really captured.

Enter Pokémon GO, the Pokémon game that played nothing like a Pokémon game except in its barest bones. An augmented reality MMO, Pokémon GO brought Pokémon into the real world, but it also captured a lot of what people love about Pokémon without slavishly sticking to its formula. One of the most pronounced ways in which it accomplished this is in the way in which you capture Pokémon. You never battle wild Pokémon, but rather you throw your Pokéball and you catch it or you don’t. The trick is that it turns the act of throwing the ball into a dexterity game, where you have to hit within a certain circle. Putting a bit of curve into the throw also gives you a bonus, basically making real the Up + B urban legends. But most of all, it removed all the bad friction associated with catching Pokémon, leaving only the best parts and augmenting them in the process.

Pokémon Let’s Go is controversial in part because it does away with the traditional capture protocol in favor of one that’s more in line with Pokémon GO. It also did away with random encounters and made wild Pokémon appear on screen, so you can choose to try to catch them or avoid them. In essence, Pokémon Let’s Go took everything annoying about catching Pokémon out of Pokémon. It also solves the Zubat problem by letting you opt into an encounter with a Pokémon, even going as far as encouraging you to chain multiple captures of the same kind to increase the likelihood of getting a shiny Pokémon. And it keeps the dexterity challenge in throwing the ball from Pokémon GO, making you actually feel like you’re throwing a ball and capturing a Pokémon.

Yes, this ends up being a much easier way to play the game. But it’s also much more fun, and is the first time a traditional Pokémon game has examined its own formula and gotten out of its own way to amplify what makes a piece of it work so well. Catching Pokémon should be about the tension of if the Pokéball will stay shut, of throwing the ball just right, of that final click when you know you’ve succeeded. All Pokémon Let’s Go does is take the boring busywork away from the process.