When Pokemon: Let's Go was first announced, I thought: great. I can choose to either have Let's Go: Pikachu or Let's Go: Eevee. Neither of these choices are the correct one, so I've been forging ahead with my own version of the game: Pokemon: Let's Go Psyduck!.
But despite being a supposedly easier Pokemon game, Let's Go! Psyduck has been ... a little challenging.
Out of all of the first-gen Pokemon, and the entirety of the series, Psyduck remains one of the most lovable designs Game Freak has ever made. Psyduck is perhaps the most relatable character: its not overpowered and infinitely scalable the way Pikachu or the original starters are; it's often berated, derided and looked down upon by Misty in the original anime; and Psyduck can't even swim, despite being a water-type Pokemon.
Psyduck was, and remains, Pokemon's ongoing comic relief. And yet despite the constant haze that Sugimori's portly platypus constantly lives in, tending to a never-ending compound headache and its seeming incompetence in battle, the little duck ends up saving the day more often than not. (Fun fact: Psyduck took the longest of any Pokemon to master a move, needing 942 episodes before it nailed Water Gun.)
So, it seemed only right that Psyduck should get their time in the sun. So I set about my Pokemon: Let's Go! playthrough with precisely that objective: to ensure Psyduck was the very best Pokemon, never to be derided again.
Of course, there's only one way to accomplish such a feat.
While you can technically pick up Psyduck after leaving Pallet Town - there's about a 20% chance of getting a low level Psyduck in Route 2 - but the best chance for getting the Duck Squad together is north of Cerulean City, in the long grass to the left of Route 24's Nugget Bridge.
Determined that only the Full Psyduck Squad would do, I immediately set about booting Pikachu off the roster. In its place, a star-studded lineup of heroes, led by the University of Wollongong's legendary sandwich-stealing monster and his evil mistress.
(For those who don't get the joke, the Evil Duck is a legitimate legend among University of Wollongong students. The muscovy duck was fabled and beloved for its attacks on students, so much so that a sculpture was erected to commemorate the avian devil after its passing.)
I'd already beaten Brock to make my way to Cerulean City - a little brat wouldn't let me through Route 3 until I'd gotten the badge - so I didn't have the satisfaction of drowning Geodude and Onix in a heartbeat. Battling Misty was substantially more difficult: Starmie, Misty's long-running final Pokemon, had a natural speed and stat advantage over my team of paunchy ducks. But the purple starfish was no match for my team of underlevelled champions.
Or the 20 potions I'd stocked up prior to the fight.
This is good, I thought. The Duck Army is growing in size and confidence. It wasn't the smoothest of battles, but it was a straightforward win. Soon, the Pokemon League would be mine.
A colleague asked, "What are you going to do when you hit Surge?" It was a reasonable question: the electric specialist was bound to be a problem. It'd crop up again in the Elite Four too: the Agatha, Bruno and Lorelei matchups are just fine, but Lance's Dragon-types present a natural problem for my stout crew. Blizzard is a good answer, and fortunately that's available just before I hit the Final Four.
But that was a problem for the future. Before I could even start thinking about that, I had to work out how to get past Surge.
The overarching goal for my team was that each of the little ducks would, eventually, have one speciality or another. Let's Go is incredibly generous with candies, and seeing as you're collecting Pokemon as the primary source of levelling, it offers the chance to build a bunch of ducks that aren't different just through RNG or moveset, but on a statistical level as well.
And I knew I'd need this to get past Surge. Most of the Vermilion City trainers weren't an issue - you get Dig and Sesimic Toss TMs fairly early on, which are helpful for grinding through the Pikachu's, Voltorb's and Magnemite's.
Surge's class of Pokemon are higher level, and tougher, but I had a plan for that. UOW Duck was a specialist in taking a beating, as evidenced by the many students that failed to repel its direct assaults. UOW Duck required no such specialities in special attacks or defence. The tears of humans running scared into libraries would do.
But a strong offence doesn't work when you can't even get a shot in. So I also specialised a couple of my feathered squad into speed. The Evil Mistress - the female friend that would sometimes accompany UOW Duck back in the day - was a master of speed. She wouldn't have the HP to withstand a full Thunderbolt, but if she was buried underground, she wouldn't need to.
And for Surge's first set of Pokemon, that worked. The Evil Mistress would dig into the earth with its little beak, dodge any incoming attacks, and slam Surge's team unawares.
But candy can only take you so far. Eventually, you're going to run into someone who's just simply better.
Because I'd made the decision to get a squad of Psyducks as soon as possible, I came into the Surge fight underlevelled. By the time Raichu rolled out, I was four levels behind. The type disadvantage was bad enough: a critical hit could knock out a Psyduck even if it was a level higher than Raichu.
I stocked up on plenty of Super Potions beforehand. The catching mechanics meant I'd had a little reserve of X Defence and other battle items, items I'd traditionally ignored completely in every other Pokemon game.
It didn't work. Voltorb and Magnemite dropped like flies, but I'd run into Raichu, Raichu would fire off a Thunderbolt, and Duck Squad would fall over on its arse, one by one, without fail.
I persevered for two days straight. I was getting about 350 XP (from memory) from winning those two fights. But I'd hit Raichu, get ported back to the Pokemon Centre. I was in for a long fight, so I took my squad east, towards Slowpoke, and started sending Drowzee and Spearow back to Professor Oak en masse. Sure, the candies were nice, but I needed to get six Pokemon up to speed, and that was going to take time.
So grind candies and levels I did, burning through train rides and episodes of Naruto Shippuden before hitting the sack each night. Surge would fall eventually. I just wasn't sure how long.
After about 20 hours of playtime - way, way more than what it should reasonably take to knock off the third gym in what is supposedly the easiest Pokemon game - Raichu's Thunderbolt was disabled. Restricted to vastly inferior Quick Attacks, and unable to insta-kill my roster for a short period (or the rest of my roster - poor Ad still got struck into the ground), Surge's stocky resistance finally came to an end.
Something that doesn't really become apparent until you push through it: Pokemon Let's Go! is a hell of a lot harder without the starter Eevee or Pikachu. Those two little critters are truly overpowered for what they are, which makes me wonder how much of a cakewalk the game would have been if your starter Eevee could evolve at all.
I'll work my way through, regardless. In an interview before Let's Go! launched, Pokemon developer Junichi Masuda explained that while he was personally a huge fan of Psyduck, the little duck was too similar to Pikachu visually to warrant selection as a second mascot.
But that's OK. I'll play out Let's Go: Psyduck on my own. The most relatable Pokemon, the one who continues to struggle and fight despite constant admonishment and mental torment, will get its day in the sun. I'll see you in the Final Four, you adorable little duck.