Even before Detective Pikachu released in Japan, English-speaking fans were clamoring for Danny Devito to voice the 3DS game’s star. The Pokemon spinoff adventure features a Pikachu that’s more old man than cute mascot, with a rough Japanese voice and a penchant for black coffee. While the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia actor isn’t providing the English voice (unfortunately), Detective Pikachu might as well be Danny Devito: a small, funny middle-aged man with short legs who often yells indistinctly.
Detective Pikachu first launched for 3DS in Japan in February 2016, but the upcoming global release on March 23, 2018 is around three times the length of the original Japanese version. We recently went to Nintendo’s California, US office to play 30 minutes of the game, which ended up being Chapters 1 and 3 (of nine total). That was just enough time to get a vague sense of how solving mysteries works in the game, as well as a very good feel for what Detective Pikachu himself is like.
You play as a kid named Tim Goodman, which sounds suspiciously like a pseudonym. Even more suspiciously, Tim is the only human who can understand Detective Pikachu, so the two resolve to work together and solve mysterious happenings–with Pikachu translating other Pokemon’s accounts of what’s going on. Your job is to talk to people and Pokemon, look for evidence in the environment, and use the information you gain to ask follow-up questions and deduce what happened.
Detective Pikachu will periodically yell at you (as in, shouting “hey” or other general attention-getting phrases) to provide tips and important information you need to proceed with the case. Surprisingly, it’s not annoying; the adorable animation of Pikachu jumping up and down for attention and the jaded-sounding man’s voice that accompanies it is such a weird experience that I never got tired of letting it happen. At one point, Detective Pikachu called for me and, instead of giving me a hint, sneezed a human’s sneeze, and I still don’t know how to reconcile the cuteness I saw with the gruff sound I heard.
The city itself matches Detective Pikachu’s streetwise persona. It seems a lot like New York–or at least the gritty version of New York you see in ’80s and ’90s movies. The entrance to the subway is littered with Trubbish; two Aipom mug a little girl (basically); there are hot dog stands and construction sites. It’s closer to what a real-life city would be like if Pokemon were real than it is to the cities in the main games, and this only enhances the buddy-cop drama feel of everything.
My favorite thing so far, though, is how comically slow Detective Pikachu is. When you run ahead of him, he’ll end up trailing behind you, waddling all the way, which is what I imagine happened a lot on the set of Twins.
Detective Pikachu launches on March 23 for 3DS. The worldwide release consists of nine chapters; those with the three-chapter Japanese release from 2016 will be able to pay just to unlock the final six and retain their saves (on Japan-region 3DSes), though the details aren’t clear. There’s also a live-action movie based on Detective Pikachu in the works, though it too doesn’t star Danny Devito. It’s set for a May 10, 2019 release and stars Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu.