Detective Pikachu Returns Review – A Simple Sleuthing Saga

Detective Pikachu Returns on Nintendo Switch

The tiny Pokémon detective is back on the case with his human sidekick, Tim Goodman, in Detective Pikachu Returns. Despite being a sequel to the first Detective Pikachu adventure released on Nintendo 3DS in 2016, there doesn’t seem to be a need to have any prior knowledge of the franchise. Thankfully, for those players who haven’t delved particularly deeply into any Pokémon games, Detective Pikachu Returns can easily be a standalone title. The cute coffee-slurping private eye catches you up with what you might have missed previously, setting you up for the adventure to come.

As a general fan of both Pokémon and detective stories, I was excited to sink my teeth into this family-friendly adventure mystery. That excitement was short-lived, however, as it quickly became apparent that this is a game aimed less at everyone in the family and more at young children. If I were under the age of twelve, I would be more inclined to enjoy the simple gameplay, but that is not to say Detective Pikachu Returns is without its charms.

detective pikachu returns gameplay
Image Source: Nintendo via Twinfinite

The gameplay is very linear and almost holds your hand throughout as you figure out each small puzzle and how they fit into the larger investigation. The investigations consist of a lot, and I mean A LOT, of conversations with people and Pokémon. You don’t really even have to pay much attention to what they are saying as all important clues are put automatically in a notebook by the miniature Detective. When all the information is acquired, then you choose a deduction and move on to the next section. If you treat the game as an interactive storybook, it makes a lot more sense why the gameplay is so simplistic. I would have preferred to use a bit more brainpower when playing, but I guess it could be considered a cozy game in this regard.

The story revolves around a classic detective trope of a jewel heist, with a few twists and turns along the way. Players who watched the movie or played the previous Detective Pikachu game will certainly get more joy from seeing the story unfold than someone new to the adventure. As the sleuthing pair, it is your job to figure out what happened to a priceless gem and how it connects to the strange goings-on in Ryme City and the disappearance of Tim’s father. Although predictable in places, the plot running through Detective Pikachu Returns is still engaging, and it is fun to jump into some gentle adventures for an hour.

detective pikachu returns investigation
Image Source: Nintendo via Twinfinite

The characters are cute, especially our main guy, Pikachu, and the script is pretty good. The only drawback is that the conversations can go on a bit too long. I found it especially frustrating when you finish an investigative conversation with another character only to accidentally press A and start the whole thing over again. I guess that serves me right for tapping too impatiently through a long-winded discussion.

The game tries its best to use old mystery story tropes in clever and subverting ways, but they still end up a little clichéd. It is often easy to guess who the culprit was and, if you figure it all out before the characters in-game, it can become a little dull. I do have to keep reminding myself that this is a game very clearly aimed at kids, but part of me thinks Nintendo have really missed a trick by stripping it down to such simplistic bones.

Would it have been more engaging if they had a ‘grown-up setting’? Perhaps there could have been an alternative mode that would allow for less hand-holding and more chances to deduce before the characters have had every tiny piece of evidence for their notebook.

detective pikachu returns ss
Image Source: Nintendo via Twinfinite

Visually, the game is pleasant, colorful, and cartoonish but completely recognizably Pokémon. It is great that they haven’t over-modernized the style. The animations we know and love have mostly stayed the same, just smartened up. The clean lines and smooth animations are a joy and really add to the overall warmth and charm. If you are already a Pokémon fan, you will love seeing some of your favorites animated with their own unique personalities and funny movements. For instance, the way Pikachu runs belly-first across the screen, or when he stretches and yawns when you leave him idling on-screen: it’s just too cute!

The humor we know from both the anime and the movie is still there in the characterization of both Pokémon and people throughout, especially when Pikachu interacts with other monsters. I must admit I laughed out loud on more than one occasion and took great joy in seeing my old favorite, Growlithe, living her best life.

Not every line is spoken, but we are treated to some unskippable cutscenes where we get to hear our heroes chat with each other and other main characters. Some of my favorite audio moments are hearing the individual Pokémon types speaking with their cute Pokémon chirrups. My least favorite aspect of Detective Pikachu Returns audio is the elevator-style background music, but thankfully, that’s easily fixed by turning it down (or off!) in the settings.

Overall, this game is a charming mystery story that’s a little disappointing in its execution. If only looked at through the view that it is a child’s game, it is slightly better. My fear would be the conversations are possibly too drawn out for smaller children to engage with. If you absolutely love Pokémon more than anything or are between the ages of 5 and 12, it might be worth a play through.

Detective Pikachu Returns

Reviewer: Rowan Jones