Pokemon Detective Pikachu Review

At long last, the video game movie curse is lifted!

Ever since the 1993 Super Mario Bros. live-action film introduced the world to cinematic video game adaptations, the genre has – somewhat uniquely – never really been any good. At least the earlier adaptations had something of an excuse, as they were trying to figure out a way to take video games, (which by nature are quite different than movies) and translate them to movie audiences. As the years went on and video game movies never got any better (and in fact, often got worse), it seemed like game-to-movie adaptations were nothing but a failed novelty. Sure, there were a few video game movies here and there that perhaps appealed to the fans of the games (Mortal Kombat comes to mind), but it would be difficult to call them good movies unless you fit snuggly into the franchise’s established fanbase. But now, we have Pokemon Detective Pikachu, the first honest-to-goodness video game movie I would call a ‘good movie.’

Obviously, this live-action/CG hybrid is based on Nintendo’s beloved Pokemon franchise. While plenty of animated Pokemon films have been released over the years, they have all been direct continuations of the TV series (even if they don’t always share the same continuity). Pokemon Detective Pikachu, however, is not only the first live-action Pokemon movie, but the first one to be directly adapted from one of the games (interestingly, the film is based on a relatively obscure spinoff title in the franchise, the Nintendo 3DS’s Detective Pikachu).

What makes Detective Pikachu work so well may sound obvious, but it’s something that has eluded Hollywood’s video game adaptations for decades: It embraces and respects its source material, while telling a cinematic story set in that world. Because of this, Detective Pikachu  will delight fans of its franchise, and should even win over audiences who may not be overly familiar with the games or TV series, because it tells a good story.

So many video game movies come across as being embarrassed that they’re based on video games, and don’t seem to give much effort into being good movies, either. Pokemon Detective Pikachu feels tremendously refreshing with how it delights in indulging the world of the Pokemon series.

The story centers around Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a young insurance salesman with previous dreams of becoming a Pokemon trainer. Tim has an estranged relationship with his father Harry – a famous detective of Ryme City – due to what Tim perceives as his father’s preference for work over his son, particularly after his mother passed away while Tim was still young. But one day, Tim gets a distressing call. His father, it seems, has perished in a car accident while in the midst of a case.

Tim travels to Ryme City to gather his father’s belongings, but while there, he stumbles across a most peculiar character: a Pikachu capable of speaking human language, though only Tim is able to hear him (everyone else hears the iconic squeaks of “Pika Pika Pi!”). This is Detective Pikachu (Ryan Renolds), the Pokemon belonging to Tim’s father.

Detective Pikachu was involved in the crash that supposedly claimed the life of Tim’s father, and is suffering from amnesia because of it. Despite his busted memory, Detective Pikachu remembers one important detail; Tim’s father is alive. After a bit of convincing, Detective Pikachu manages to sway Tim into helping him discover the mystery of what happened to Harry, and to solve whatever case he was working on at the time of the crash. The duo soon becomes a trio, as they are joined by Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) a plucky junior reporter trying to become a serious journalist, as well as her Pokemon partner, a Psyduck (so I guess it’s a quartet).

It’s a simple detective mystery plot, but it makes for a good story thanks to the likable characters (particularly Pikachu himself, with Ryan Renolds giving a terrific vocal performance as the iconic character), as well as its embracing of the Pokemon license as a whole. Indelible elements of Pokemon lore find their way into the plot, with the film both paying respects to its license and also utilizing it for the benefit of its writing (the film finds plenty of ways to bring out humor in its creatures). Pokemon Detective Pikachu is a charming film for established fans and newcomers alike.

It’s hard to believe the original reveals for the various CG designs of the Pokemon were met with backlash, because honestly, they’re really faithful recreations. Pikachu looks like Pikachu, Charizard looks like Charizard, Psyduck looks like Psyduck. The CGI of the film is impressive, and the fact that they stayed true to the character designs of the games is admirable (ain’t that right, Sonic?). Perhaps the only one that still throws me off is Jigglypuff, who is given fur in the film, but I always figured had more of a balloon-like quality. But that’s not much of an issue, especially since Jigglypuff only shows up for its expected joke (singing karaoke at a bar, and putting the patrons to sleep). One mixed visual element may be Ryme City itself, which may look a little too dark at times – leaning into its Film Noir aspect perhaps a little too much – but the many different Pokemon keep the cute and colorful aspects of the franchise well intact.

Pokemon Detective Pikachu admittedly has its faults, with the most notable being its somewhat fragmented structure. While the film is always charming, it can feel tonally episodic. The film’s elements of action, emotion, comedy and mystery seem separated into their own scenes (“this scene’s a funny moment!” “This part’s an action scene!” “This scene has emotion and drama!”). It’s never bad, but you do kind of wish Pokemon Detective Pikachu could better blend its different elements together (Pixar comes to mind) instead of feeling so fragmented. Still, that’s ultimately a small price to pay when you remember that – by God! -Detective Pikachu is a video game movie that’s actually good.

It’s not just that it breaks the video game movie jinx that makes Pokemon Detective Pikachu stand out, but also in the possibilities it opens up for franchise filmmaking. Back in 2017, The Lego Batman Movie accomplished something similar, showcasing a Batman feature that could take its franchise in a brand new direction without affecting the integrity of the license itself. And I think Pokemon Detective Pikachu accomplishes something similar.

A sequel has already been confirmed, but I hope that Detective Pikachu begins a new trend of Pokemon movies altogether. Some Pokemon movies can be sequels and share continuities, while others could be standalone features with their own styles and tones. The only common link would be that they use the overarching Pokemon mythology as a backdrop. Why not have a Rocky-style feature about an up-and-coming fighter and his Machamp? It really is a franchise that can have so many different creative voices.

Pokemon Detective Pikachu is a cute and charming family feature, one that brings a merciful end to the video game movie curse, while also (hopefully) acting as the start of a new sub-genre of franchise filmmaking.

 

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2019 Video Game Awards

Here you can find all of my 2019 Video Game Awards (celebrating the best of 2018) in one convenient place.

 

First, the Introduction

And the awards themselves.

Best Sound

Best Visuals

Best Music

Best Remake/Re-Release

Biggest Surprise

Best Multiplayer

Best Content

Best Indie Game

Best Gameplay

Best Handheld Game

Best Platform

 

And of course, Game of the Year.

Top 10 Games of 2018 (Game of the Year)

At last, our journey takes us here, to the end of all things.

And by that, I mean it’s time to wrap up my long-delayed 2019 video game awards (celebrating the best of 2018 video games) with the big “Game of the Year” award.

While 2018 wasn’t quite on par with 2017 in regards to video games (which would be no small feat), it still produced some truly memorable gaming experiences. Enough that I could once again compile a full top 10 list, as opposed to my usual top 5. And also, with my gaming purchases beginning to slow down, who knows if I’ll be doing a full top 10 again any time soon. Best to take advantage of what I’m given when I can.

So, what were the best games of 2018? Well, according to me, anyway, they were these following ten titles.

Continue reading “Top 10 Games of 2018 (Game of the Year)”

Video Game Awards 2019: Best Platform

With all the awards I’ve been giving to the video games of 2018, it’s time to give one to the platforms we play them on.

I’m not one for console wars. Sure, I have my favorite gaming consoles (two of which are currently the biggest sellers on the market), but I feel it’s immature to claim one brand superior to another just because. The people who shame Nintendo for being “kiddy” warrant that very pejorative more so than anything Nintendo has ever made. And those who make similar claims against Playstation or Xbox aren’t any better.

But this isn’t about console wars, it’s just awarding the console I feel was the most consistent over the calendar year that was 2018. So without further ado… here’s that!

Winner: Playstation 4

 

While the Nintendo Switch definitely had a great sophomore year in 2018, it did admittedly not quite reach the heights it did in its unparalleled debut year of 2017. Playstation 4, meanwhile, may have had its best year yet.

Between God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man, the Playstation 4 received two of its best exclusives to date. Ni No Kuni 2 and Tetris Effect also proved to be memorable exclusives. Not to mention the absolutely beautiful Shadow of the Colossus remake. On top of that, the PS4 also saw great Multiplatform releases like Red Dead Redemption 2.

For all the murmurs we keep hearing about a Playstation 5, I find it kind of hard to care too much about that at the moment. The Playstation 4 clearly has plenty of life left in it. No need to rush the next generation when the current one is still thriving so strongly.

 

Runner-up: Nintendo Switch

 

Past Winners

2014: Wii U

2015: Playstation 4

2016: Playstation 4

2017: Nintendo Switch

Video Game Awards 2019: Best Handheld Game

Handheld gaming is in quite an interesting place these days. Mobile gaming has of course taken most of the handheld market over the last decade. But perhaps more interestingly, the Nintendo Switch has essentially bridged the gap between handheld and home console gaming.

There was once a clear cut difference in terms of what kind of games you’d see on handhelds. In the Game Boy days, it meant the compromise of quality for the convenience of portable gaming. In the Game Boy Advance days, handheld titles were smaller, shorter experiences, but no less great than their console counterparts. But now with the Nintendo Switch, there’s really no difference.

This is, of course, making this particular award a little tricky. Do I stick with what is traditionally considered a ‘handheld’ game (3DS, etc.)? Or do I include Switch titles?

Well, I suppose since the 3DS is (unfortunately) on its last leg, I guess now is as good a time as ever to allow Switch games into the mix. However, I will only consider Switch exclusives eligible for this award. I don’t want to dilute the idea handheld gaming too much. Therefor, if I only make the exclusive Switch titles eligible for this award – as opposed to multiplatform games and ports/re-releases that also happen to be on Switch – then I feel this award’s continued existence is justified.

So without further explanation, here is my favorite handheld game of 2018.

 

Winner: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

First, let me give credit where it’s due: If I were going with the “traditional” handheld route, this award would go to WarioWare Gold. So let’s award that as the “Runner-up” in this category, and give it some additional brownie points as well. Because WarioWare is an awesome series, and Gold was just so much fun.

With that said, I can’t deny the sheer joy of playing Super Smash Bros. on the go. Sure, Super Smash Bros. on 3DS did it first, but it also felt like it made some compromises in the transition, and was kind of the ‘lesser’ version of its Wii U counterpart. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, on the other hand, is Super Smash Bros. at its best whether your playing on your TV or on the go.

Ultimate is one of the best examples of the appeal of the Switch itself. It’s top tier gaming no matter how you choose to play it. And Ultimate gives you one of the best multiplayer series of all time, whether you choose to go the home console or the handheld route.

 

Runner-up: WarioWare Gold

 

Past Winners

2014: Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS

2015: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

2016: Kirby Planet Robobot

2017: Super Mario Odyssey*

 

*Retroactively awarded now that I’m qualifying Switch titles for this award.

Video Game Awards 2019: Best Gameplay

Gameplay is the heart and soul of any game. No matter how good your story is, no matter how big your budget and production values, no matter how much hype you have, if the gameplay doesn’t deliver, your game has failed.

There were plenty of games that provided excellent gameplay in 2018. Whether it was refinements of tested mechanics, innovative concepts, or immersive interactivity, 2018 gave us some gameplay greats. But one in particular stood out for me…

 

Winner: Marvel’s Spider-Man

There were admittedly a few top contenders for this award. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate represents one of the greatest multiplayer franchises at its very best. Red Dead Redemption 2 gave us a world with an unrivaled amount of ways to play. God of War delivered the series’ trademark action, while delving further into exploration elements. And Celeste was a testament to how simple gameplay can create deep games.

But in the end, I had to go with Marvel’s Spider-Man. Why? For the very simple reason that Spider-Man controls just as you’d always hoped he would. From running up walls to swinging across buildings, Marvel’s Spider-Man really made you feel like the friendly neighborhood web-slinger.

Granted, some of the combat sections drag on a bit, but they’re still fun. Spider-Man’s constantly expanding moveset, repertoire of gadgets, and unique costumes all add to the experience, making for quite the varied combat variety.

Yes, Spider-Man walks away with this award because it made me feel like Spider-Man as much as I think a game could at this point. The simple act of controlling a character has rarely been so satisfying.

 

Runner-up: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

 

Past Winners

2014: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

2015: Bloodborne*

2016: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

2017: Super Mario Odyssey

 

*Retroactively awarded after further consideration

Video Game Awards 2019: Best Indie Game

Remember like a decade ago, when it seemed like indie games weren’t indie games unless they were self-indulgent tripe “unique experiences” that employed shallow “minimalistic” gameplay and shoehorned pretentious cliches into their freshmen-level storylines “expressed the artistic visions of their auteur creators in their groundbreaking narratives?”

Thank merciful heavens those days are (mostly) behind us. It seems as of the last couple of years, indie games have realized the novel concept that video games should have some sense of fun about them. Lo and behold, indie games have been all the better for it. Shocker, I know.

Yes, it seems like once indie games removed that giant stick out of their collective ass and stopped looking down their nose at other games, they actually started to deserve the praise that was thrown their way. The pompous self-insistence of the likes of Jonathan Blow and Phil Fish are now but a bad memory. Long live the Shovel Knights of the world.

In short, indie games are pretty great these days. 2018 was no exception, and saw some excellent indie titles. Which one was best?

 

Winner: Celeste

I struggled between choosing Celeste or Deltarune: Chapter 1 as my best indie game of 2018. Deltarune is certainly shaping up to be a great follow-up to Undertale, but seeing as what we have of the game so far is just the first part of a game that may or may not be finished in the next few years, I decided to go with Celeste.

Celeste is a truly clever puzzle-platoformer that makes use of a few simple key mechanics: jump, dash, wall jump. It sounds simple, but like the best platformers, Celeste has so many creative ideas up its sleeve that these simplistic elements end up being the only tools it needs to build a great game.

Much like a certain plumber’s classic adventures, Celeste features some remarkably clever level design, with new ideas, twists and gimmicks added into the mix at every turn, which showcases the true depth of its seemingly simple design.

True, the storyline – though emotional – does feel a little disconnected from the game itself, both Celeste’s gameplay and narrative halves prove memorable. And the things this game has to say (mainly focused on anxiety disorders) are certainly more meaningful than the forced commentaries of the indie scene of yesteryear.

In a time when indie gaming has produced some all-time greats, Celeste proves to be one of the best of the lot.

 

Runner-up: Deltarune: Chapter 1

 

Past Winners

2014: Shovel Knight

2015: Undertale

2016: Stardew Valley

2017: Cuphead