Director: Katsuyoshi Irie
Creative Director: Yasunori Yanagisawa
Scenario Direction: Hiroyuki Jinnai
Art Direction: Atsushi Watanabe
CG Engineer: Takashi Koga
Release Date: 06/10/2023
Detective Pikachu is back to drink coffee and solve crimes, most likely in that order if it’s up to him. Joined once again by his partner Human, Tim, this sequel picks up around nine months after the 3DS game, makes a joke about the Detective Pikachu movie, and then moves on in its timeline.
Detective Pikachu Returns begins with Tim and Pikachu being awarded medals for stopping the “R Case” in the previous game. Even if you haven’t played it, the game does an excellent job of catching you up, and if you’ve watched the movie, even if the plot is very different, how “R” works and what it did to Pokemon remains the same, so it’s easy to get onboard. However, one big difference between the movie and the 3DS game was that the game didn’t wrap up the mystery surrounding Tim’s father, Harry, who still needs to be added at the start of Detective Pikachu Returns. I have no idea if this is a George R. Martin situation where The Pokemon Company gave some brief outline for the sequel to Hollywood before they went back to Hollywood to make the film. Still, there’s only a handful of similarities between the two.
Not getting much of a celebration between their award ceremony and their next case, Tim Goodman and Pikachu are quickly interviewing humans and Pokemon to discover who stole a rare jewel. This first case serves mainly as a tutorial, laying out the game’s core mechanics and the structure each following will take. You’ll be posed a key question either by Tim or often by Pikachu, which is now kept in a Detective Journal. Through investigating the environment, looking for clues, or talking to humans and Pokemon, you’ll gather evidence and then piece things together to answer that key question. In the first case, for example, you’ll at one stage have to find out why none of the Pokemon in the mansion noticed someone stealing the jewel. Most of the time, the answer is very evident before gathering enough evidence for the game to let you answer the question.
Something you’ll have to get used to as an adult playing Detective Pikachu Returns is that the game is very easy and is designed for kids. The puzzles are easy, and the showdown of each case where you present key pieces of evidence can’t be failed. It makes for a highly accessible game; if you’re looking for a challenging game, this will not be for you.
I didn’t mind the ease of the game — it’s a Pokemon game, and I’m in my 30s — but there is a level of repetition to each of the cases that could have had some more life injected into it. By the time I was into the third case, I could map out what I would probably be doing hour-by-hour.
Fortunately, when I felt somewhat bored by the game design, I was always entertained by the characters on screen, particularly Detective Pikachu himself. As he was beloved in the 3DS game, and then on the big screen voided by Ryan Reynolds, he is again here a lot of fun to be around. The mix of “a bolt of brilliance” lines as Pikachu would work on solving a tough clue, mixed in with him joking around with Tim or, most enjoyably, other Pokemon, made watching the game and reading it more enjoyable than actually playing it most the time.
The last time I remember getting to see so many Pokemon interacting with each other without human interaction and being impressed with that concept alone was the original Pokemon Mystery Dungeon. There’s a lot of it in Detective Pikachu Returns, with Pikachu spending nearly an entire case without Tim in the mid-game, and there are plenty of times he’ll be interacting with a new “buddy” Pokemon away from Tim. There’s one of these Pokemon introduced in each case as a way to shake up the gameplay, and they always inject a bit of action into the case. For example, in the first case, it’s Pikachu teaming up with a Growlithe, which can track scents. The hardest part of Detective Pikachu Returns would come not from a puzzle but from a couple of sections in the second half of the game where you have to sneak around humans while Pikachu rides another Pokemon.
From a production point of view, the game left a lot to be desired. It doesn’t run with consistent issues, unlike the Pokemon Scarlet & Violet games, but there is a softness to all of the art, and as cute as some of the Pokemon look, the game is missing a significant pop. The human characters, in particular, seemed dull and not engaging. I understand it’s a sequel to a 3DS game, but I didn’t expect to see it cheap out of animation and art direction this much. The music was a weird mix-bag, too, with a couple of tracks standing out, but many weird music production choices are happening in the background. Often, a sad piece of music would be playing following a big story moment. Then I’d click a button to investigate a desk, and the boppy song for, just desk investigation would start playing and then just cut out back to the sombre one when I was done.
I also really wished the game were fully voice-acted because it would be great for many younger kids at that stage, but with such heavy use of text on-screen to read through, it’s going to be one you have to keep until the kids are a little older.