Asking the hard questions.
There’s no doubt that Pokemon fever is at an all-time high these past few days, and all thanks to a new mobile game, Pokemon GO. For those of you who are unfamiliar, in Pokemon GO you are tasked with exploring the real world and catching the various Pokemon that are scattered about. The trick is that the game uses the camera on your phone to place the Pokemon into the world via your screen. Basically, we can live out our fantasies of exploring the country and catching wild Pokemon through the wonders of Augmented Reality technology. Though one has to wonder, will the game’s popularity remain in a month or two?
It’s hard to complain about a free game and not sound completely petty. However, there is no doubt that all eyes are on Nintendo and developer Niantic Inc. right now. Pokemon GO’s arrival is a serious moment for anyone who’s ever fallen in love with the pocket monster RPG and waited years for more advanced ways to experience the series. The chance to actually walk to a local train station and catch a wild Abra is exciting, but outside of collecting Pokemon, the game seems surprisingly thin on features.
See, as of writing this, we cannot traditionally battle against other trainers, and the only areas where we can test our skills are Gyms, where players will leave a Pokemon to stand guard. Even catching Pokemon in the wild boils down to nothing more, but a simple flick of your finger. No need to weaken the Pokemon, only hit it square with a Pokeball. While it’s more than possible that more intricate concepts will be implemented into the game later down the road, as of now it feels like Pokemon GO is missing some of the best aspects of the franchise.
The Pokemon games were not just about collecting Pokemon, but fighting them against one another in colorful battles. This was a strategy franchise and currently, the mobile iteration feels more like a collecting simulator than an actual game. Now it is important to note that the Gym feature is rather intriguing, as it allows players to choose a team and battle out for power across the world. It’s a new concept for the franchise in general and one that will be interesting to see develop, however having battling resigned to designated locations is a bit of a downer.
Pokemon GO very much emphasizes exploration, yet this entire idea is undermined by the lackluster battle mechanics. You will almost never organically stumble into a battle with another player on a walk or during some errands unless it’s directly by one of these gyms. If a game is going to put such a heavy emphasis and discovering Pokemon literally anywhere, it’s a shame one of the core features doesn’t echo this philosophy.
However, it’s not all doom and Gloom (get it?), as catching Pokemon is wildly addictive. More and more I seem to be compulsively checking my phone to see if a new Pokemon has arrived around me. Seeing them pop up in our own world is a delight and certainly can cause some hilarious results. The leveling mechanics for the Pokemon leave a little room to be desired, though, as it pretty much comes down to blind luck. Since the only way to reasonably evolve a Pokemon is by catching many of the same type, you’re held to the whims of chance encounters. Again, this could easily be adjusted in the coming months, but right now it’s leaning into disappointing.
Yet, one cannot help but go back to how much of delight seeing these colorful critters in our world is. It’s clear a lot of attention was given to the Pokemon themselves, as they have a variety of animations and their personalities clearly shine through. Also, the fact that Pokemon GO encourages you to go out and explore areas you might not normally venture to has to be commended. Morning walks can certainly be more exciting when a wild Onyx is on the prowl, and one has to appreciate how a variety of landmarks and structures serve as Pokestops.
Pokemon GO is a game that is going to live or die by the support it receives in the coming months. This is a title that could easily die out should the act of just catching Pokemon grow stale. If more of the mechanics that define the Pokemon games are fleshed out, this easily could be one of the grandest mobile games ever created. As it stands, Pokemon GO is an incredibly fun distraction that feels lacking in some important areas. Now if you excuse me, I have to go walk around the block to find a Venonat.