Release: July 6, 2016
Genre: Augmented Reality
Platform: iOS, Android (reviewed)
For those of you who live under a rock in an internet free land, Pokemon GO is the latest “big thing,” not too long ago that being Overwatch (which is still big, and still fantastic,) in where you can download a free app on your phone, go outside, and catch gen one Pokemon monsters. Sounds great right? Well, not entirely.
Pokemon GO is the brainchild of Niantic, an ex-Google subsidiary that recently became independent, developers of the popular AR game Ingress and pitched to The Pokemon Company as an augmented reality game where you go outside and actually catch Pokemon, and with The Pokemon Company being The Pokemon Company, a company trying to get gamers to go outside since the start, loved the idea. However, Pokemon GO was poorly hyped in the mainstream to where only those balls deep in the industry knew when this game was coming out, and that was only thanks to the game stealth releasing in the AU region with some US players being able to download it at what seemed like random. Eventually, people could just download it. Nintendo said nothing. The Pokemon Company said nothing. Niantic said nothing. It just released, it was a mess.
Which is why Pokemon GO‘s incredible mainstream success is incredible. It just kind of released, but people still got their hands on it. Nintendo’s stocks jumped and people love it, even though it isn’t even really that good of a game.
In GO you play it by taking your phone, actually going outside, and searching for 136 of the original 150 Pokemon, but this is about where the similarities to Pokemon end and the similarities to Ingress begin. The leveling is different, the evolution is different, the gyms are different, catching Pokemon is different, getting items is different, but hey you still hatch eggs by walking around, but you have to use a special incubator so you can’t hatch them all at once because mobile games.
Pokemon GO survives off of wish fulfillment and nostalgia near alone. Sure it’s decently fun, but it wouldn’t survive if it wasn’t Pokemon themed. And that’s all it feels like, a Pokemon themed Ingress. You use candy for each specific base Pokemon to evolve and level up your Pokemon, which you get by catching the Pokemon or sending them back to this game’s professor, Professor Willow, to, I don’t know. Throw them in a grinder to make the candy I guess?
The other thing you use for leveling is Stardust which is not even remotely Pokemon related. Candy? Sure, Pokemon ate candy in the games, but stardust? What the fuck is Stardust?
The other thing you do in GO is capture gyms. This is where things get weird for Pokemon. Once you level up your trainer to level five, you can join a team. Team Instinct; yellow, Team Mystic; blue, or Team Valor; red, and you can begin to compete for control of various gyms around the world. Each team has their own philosophies and motivations, but it’s really negligible, as its really just an excuse of who you roll with to capture turf.
“Hey wait, this sounds kind of like a gang war!”
Well it is. The core multiplayer aspect is about groups of people in cardinal colors capturing points and establishing territories, while spitting bile at other gangs.
Its incredibly bizarre just how much resemblance these teams have to do with street gangs. I even had a squad of Instinct roll up on me and my buddy in a fucking van while we were taking a gym and we talked actual shit. We had real Pokemon beef. Its actually a really fun and exciting feeling.
Too bad actually taking a gym plays like a broken Infinity Blade clone where you just tap at the enemy Pokemon until they die, or until the game glitches out and you have to restart it losing all of your progress besides your Pokemon being injured. The only way to win at a gym, because of how stilted the actual game play is, is to just have a much stronger monster (measured in CP or combat power and not level, because that’s Pokemon right,) that isn’t weak to whatever Pokemon are guarding a gym and just tap it out in a WWI style battle of attrition. Its not very fun.
There is an incentive to capture gyms in stardust and premium currency, but the 22 hour cool down is too long to even hope to keep the gym held. Its akin to holding the Alamo. There’s so many more more powerful and more numerous enemy forces around, your gym will undoubtedly fall in a matter of hours if not minutes.
Also, at a technical level, this game is a fucking mess. It constantly freezes and bugs out, looses connection regularly, and just doesn’t register your inputs sometimes. There were various occasions where I had to close my game because:
- Game froze when I hit a Pokemon with a Pokeball
- Game wouldn’t drop enemy Pokemon below 1hp
- Game wouldn’t register my touch inputs
- Game wouldn’t register me walking for my eggs
- Game wouldn’t reconnect to the servers
- Game wouldn’t refresh nearby Pokemon
And many other smaller glitches. In its current state Pokemon GO is a broken mess, and it puts a damper on the whole experience. There also are zero social features to look at friend’s Pokemon or see if they’re nearby, and no way to trade or battle with individuals. It feels so bare bones in its current state.
And that’s my consensus on GO. It has potential. It could be something so legendary, but in its current form it has less core game play than Tomagotchi, and less in common with Pokemon than Niantic’s other cult hit, which is arguably a better game despite having less popularity.
Pokemon GO has had a ton of initial momentum, but unless it fleshes itself out more it won’t keep anyone but the most hardcore fans entertained for more than a few weeks, including myself. I can already feel myself giving less and less of a shit about the game as time goes on and the less “new” I see and the more glitches I have to bear. They’ve already announced trading between players, and if they flesh it out to feel more like a Pokemon game, I would have more fun and more reason to keep playing it.
I do enjoy Pokemon GO a fair bit, it plays on that wish every kid had, but until it reaches that point of feeling like a Pokemon game, I can only see it becoming another short mobile fad.