Like everyone else who was born in the 90s, Pokemon was a small box that let me escape from boring family dinners after I had stolen all of the good food. It attracted not only children my age, but adults who found a sense of fun in the simplistic genius of the game. It was repetition, but with purpose, and to gloat about your achievements in the game, of course. I remember telling my mother that I was going to be a Pokemon master, and she laughed it off as a childhood delusion. Well, he who laughs last laughs loudest mother. That dream has been nurtured by millions of people, and now we get to see what that reality looks like with the recent release of Pokemon Go.
As a preface to the actual game mechanics, it’s important to outline the reason for the success of Pokemon Go; the social aspect of the game. It evolves (pun definitely intended) from a physical cartridge to something which creates an organic bond with people who are clearly wandering around for the same purpose. The game presents the opportunity to just stop and chat to other trainers (from university students to businessmen in suits on a lunchbreak) and share information about your Pokemon. Pokemon Go naturally presents the opportunity to tell others where Pokemon are in real locations, as well as your level, your Gyms and your Pokedex. The easy transition from game to reality is something unique, and it’s revolutionary.
The Gym mechanics, while deviating from Pokemon canon, fosters friendly rivalry. Once you reach a certain level, you select from one of three teams. You can decide with friends if you want to join the same team or become opponents, and either option is fun. Most gyms are scattered in key locations, and function as a tug-of-war with the other teams. You gain prestige by battling your own team’s Gym which levels it up, allowing you to select a Pokemon to stay there and help defend it against inevitable rivals. When facing an opposing team’s Gym, you choose six Pokemon and fight the existing Pokemon already stacked by opposing teams. The Gym battles themselves are definitely the most surprising aspect of Pokemon Go to people who have knowledge of Pokemon already. There are only two moves available and the player has to tap to attack or swipe to dodge. Holding your finger on the Pokemon uses the second move, which always needs a certain amount of charge which you gain through using the basic attack. I honestly don’t know why they didn’t stick to the original turn-based battle system, and it’s a little irritating that they needlessly changed it. Regardless, the Gym battles are fun and the incentive for holding Gyms is extra items. Not to mention, monopolizing your neighbourhood is a thrill in itself.
It’s not all gold and silver however. The augmented reality feature is riddled with bugs, and when fighting Gyms it’s often impossible to beat the other Pokemon due to a consistent glitch which leaves your opponent on one health until the app decides to freeze. The game crashes enough outside of Gyms that the app reset method comes almost intuitively while out catching Pokemon. As far as I’m aware, developers have labelled this a “known issue” and so will hopefully be able to solve it soon. The battery drainage and data usage varies depending on the device, but is a genuine problem. In light of the criticisms, I’m giving Pokemon Go the benefit of the doubt because it had an explosion in popularity, and so I expect the game developers are frantically working to rectify many of these concerns soon. As a side note – those goddamn Zubats that inhabit every nook and cranny of every street building are beyond the threshold of a joke.
Gameplay took a very long time to grasp, as there was no introduction. Some of it is simple to grasp – like how Pokestops are iconic locations that produce items for you. Some are not so easy to understand, such as how lures work. This initial frustration is made worse by the new “geocatching” mechanism – you don’t fight wild Pokemon with your own captured ones, and you can’t directly fight other trainers. My first reaction was confusion, and that’s never a good sign for a Pokemon game. It grew to disappointment after I realised PvP is not available. I assume PvP combat is only an update away, and I give leniency because the game was only released a few days ago. After playing Pokemon Go I can imagine it would be difficult to implement a working PvP system.
Catching wild Pokemon is a strange sensation, as it’s only the Pokemon and your Pokeball. Berries are introduced in later levels, but effectively it’s your aim and the level of the Pokemon that matters. I understand the reasoning behind this (as training captured Pokemon with wild ones would mean people can cap Gyms very easily) and I’ll forgive the sacrilege of changing a fundamental part of Pokemon because “geocatching” is genuinely enjoyable. It involves a small element of skill along with timing and putting spin on the Pokeball for “good” or “excellent” shots to get bonus XP. This is the part of Pokemon Go that defies traditional Pokemon the most, but it’s also necessary. What Pokemon Go fails to explain is how to curve the Pokeball, or how the pulsing ring that appears around the Pokemon when you attempt to catch it actually helps or hinders you. It appears trainers have to learn the hard way of how to sync the two for the most beneficial catch, but it is easy to see how it would annoy new trainers who don’t have the nostalgia of Gameboy Pokemon to keep them hooked.
One fun part of Pokemon Go is how Pokemon appearances are seemingly influenced by location. Water bodies equal water type, parks equal grass types etc. It’s a basic system, but Pokemon Go again fails to make this clear at all. It really throws you in the deep end, which is a little frustrating. The appearance of all types of Pokemon in all kinds of locations throws strategic positioning and initial thoughts of Pokemon patterns a little out of place, but keeps the excitement alive wherever you are. To add an extra reason for traversing around your neighbourhood, the way Pokemon eggs are hatched is based on how many kilometers you’ve walked, and so has that classic Nintendo push for games combined with exercise.
All in all, Pokemon Go looks to be huge and definitely worth a free download. It’s yet to be streamlined, and many of the bugs can be attributed to its embryonic stage and the unexpected burst of popularity. It’s an ambitious project, but don’t let the glitched launch put you off. Once developers can manage the influx of keen Pokemon trainers it’ll hopefully become the smooth, truly immersive pseudo-MMO Pokemon game we’ve all wanted for many years. One day, I’ll return to my small hometown as a champion, and be able to tell my stunned mother that I caught them all.