When Pokémon Let's Go Pikachu and Let's Go Eevee were revealed at E3 2018, Nintendo, Niantic, and Game Freak made no secret out of the game's status as "My First Pokémon Adventure." Pokémon Let's Go is a vehicle engineered to let older players introduce youngsters to the bright colors and fantastic monsters of Kanto. It's also a good "Pokémon 101" course for Pokémon Go players who need to get a handle on Pokémon's deeper mechanics.
That's why I'm a little surprised Pokémon Let's Go challenged me when I played it. No, it's not Dark Souls (and before you break out the glass-studded Cat-O-Nine Tails for invoking Souls, please be assured I'm joking), but I didn't necessarily run over young trainers like an out-of-control Rapidash, either. I enjoyed a mild challenge through most of my initial playthrough, and Game Freak kept me on my toes by adding mechanics that weren't part of Pokémon Red, Blue, or Yellow (curse Bruno's Stealth Rock forever).
The good times don't end when your Pokémon are inscribed in the Hall of Fame, though. Pokémon Let's Go's post-game cranks up the challenge and might even make hardcore veteran trainers break out in a mild sweat. The good times really start when you put the kids to bed, to use an unnecessarily lurid-sounding metaphor.
You probably already know about the Master Trainers littered around Pokémon Let's Go; dedicated trainers who specialize in breeding a single high-level Pokémon for battle. The only way to best a Master Trainer is to challenge them with a matching Pokémon of your own. No items are allowed, so these high-stakes fights are real nail-biters. My level-65 Arcanine almost triumphed over the Arcanine Master's level-75 pooch because he loved me so much, he kept hanging on with a single hit point, even after taking three consecutive Hyper Beams to the face. Oh! Oh, my puppy!
There are 151 Pokémon Masters to topple from power, so training up your contenders is one way to pass time after your first run through Pokémon Let's Go is done. But before you do anything else, you'll probably visit Cerulean Cave and catch Mewtwo. Right? That's Pokémon Red / Blue / Yellow tradition, and the oldest post-game activity in the series' history. Sure, give it a try. You have the Master Ball SilphCo awarded you with after you saved its president from Team Rocket, correct? Great. Mewtwo is probably going to kill you anyway.
See, the fights against Pokémon Let's Go's Legendary Birds and Mewtwo work much like a Pokémon Go raid, except with a single person. You have to whittle down the Legendries to 0 HP, and then you're allowed to throw a PokéBall at them. In other words, you can't lob your Master Ball at Mewtwo and capture him instantly. You need to beat him first. Still feeling good after beating up the Elite Four with your level-40ish team? You won't feel so good after Mewtwo leaves them as a pile of broken rainbow-colored Pokémon bits on the icy floor of Cerulean Cave.
Don't bother blowing your League Champion winnings on Hyper Potions while thinking "I'll just power through this," either. Guess who's not stingy about using their "Recover" ability if you chip a flake off their HP bar.
All right, so "Train up to kick Mewtwo's weird-looking ass" gets filed alongside "Train up to beat the Master Trainers." You can level up by lobbing PokéBalls at wild Pokémon (even if the Mewtwo showdown turned Pokémon Let's Go's whole "No fighting wild Pokémon" rule upside-down), or you can partake in another cool addition o Pokémon Let's Go: The ability to challenge strengthened Gym Leaders once a day. Everyone from Misty to Sabrina command a full roster of beefed-up Pokémon, including Alolan forms that throw a wrench in your strategy if you're not careful ("Blane is bringing out Ninetails, huh? Guess I'll keep my Nidoking in play—OH GOD, IT'S ALOLAN"). The Elite Four also get a booster shot, and Lance standing beside his Alolan Exeggutor while refusing to look its butt-bud in the eyes is wonderful.
I feel like there's a small danger in saying "Hey, Pokémon Let's Go has a fun post-game that's actually challenging!" The comments section of an average YouTube playthrough of Let's Go yields a lot of snarling about how the game is for dunces and babies, and how Nintendo, Game Freak, and Niantic should all be cast to the bottom of the ocean for daring to make such an insultingly easy game.
Well, go ahead. Tie Beldums to my ankles and sink me off the shores of Cinnabar Island. Thrust my bare neck under a Scyther's claw. Tie my arms and legs to four Mudsdales and force them to plod off in different directions. I'm still having a surprisingly good time with Pokémon Let's Go, and if that makes me a PokéCriminal, I'm prepared to wear that scarlet letter to my grave.