More like Pokemon NO, ha ha ha ha.
Ha ha ha ha.
Format: Android, iOS (reviewed)
Released: July 6, 2016
Free-to-play, microtransactions purchased
The central premise behind Pokemon Go is genius, something I think most of us can agree on whether we like the actual product or not.
Using GPS tracking to litter the real world with pocket monsters and inviting players to go hunting for them is perhaps the perfect way to bring Pokemon to phones. It not only simulates the series’ themes of adventure and travel, but it exemplifies its meta ambition get people off their arses and be part of a colorful community.
Undoubtedly, Pokemon Go has been a success in every single way. Financially it’s raked in over $1.6 million during its first day, and the press coverage has rivaled that of the Pokemon series’ original launch in the 1990s. Nintendo’s stock has risen dramatically, and it’s primed to make a killing off a renewed cultural obsession with the franchise that once owned the world and could very well do so again.
More than that, this mobile spin-off has achieved phenomenal influence over the behavior of others and created something human beings are genuinely bonding over. Stories abound of people having hilarious encounters with total strangers while hunting for rare Pokemon, it’s taking over schools and workplaces, and hot Pokemon gathering spots are drawing crowds.
This isn’t just something you see on the news or social media, either. It can be encountered just by going outside yourself. Yesterday I went to the park and was able to witness the huge crowd gathered around a small statue of a man with his dog.
This statue, designated a Pokemon Gym and surrounded by Pokestops, had drawn in people of all ages and genders. They all had their phones out, and they were all having fun.
At my local bar – itself a popular Pokestop – you can find plenty of adults merrily playing it. My server was boasting about catching a Pikachu just before she got my drink. Last night, a man stepped into the beer garden for a cigarette, and within seconds of appearing we heard his phone blast out the app’s signature tune.
Even here, in the humdrum realm of America’s deep south, you can’t move for budding Pokemon trainers. Whatever else I may think of this thing as a product, I cannot honestly claim to be unimpressed by its achievements.
All that said, the app itself is far from impressive.
Those looking for depth and meaning in this cultural phenomenon will be disappointed, as Pokemon Go is a threadbare nucleus of an app that does only the bare minimum in order to be considered a game. In fact, it’s honestly quite boring.
As noted, Go uses GPS tracking to pinpoint its users in the world. Players create their own avatar using basic customization tools before walking outside to look for creatures. Go builds a stylized map of the local surroundings and populates it with Pokemon that become visible once they’re within a trainer’s radius.
To catch a Pokemon, players tap its likeness on the screen to enter a minigame that plays out like a slightly more nuanced Paper Toss while the monster in question uses the phone’s camera to appear as if it’s prancing about “in real life.”
Capturing it is as simple as flicking Pokeballs from the bottom of the screen and hoping to hit the target, though there are some extra challenges to be mindful of. Colored rings circling the Pokemon indicate how easy it is to catch – the smaller the better – and an orange ring means the creature may need calming with a berry item before it’ll be ensnared reliably.
One can also “spin” the ball by rotating a finger before flicking it. This will toss a curve ball that’s difficult to land, but success will result in more EXP should the ‘Mon get got. Experience is good, since leveling up gets you free rewards.
Pokemon can be evolved by collecting candy and feeding enough of it to a valid candidate. Candy is found every time you catch a Pokemon, and if you have more than one of the same creature, you can trade it to Professor Willow (Go‘s virtual instructor) for a single piece of extra candy.
It can take a heck of a lot of candy to evolve a Pokemon, and the candy isn’t generic – you’ll specifically need Bulbasaur candy if you want to evolve a Bulbasaur or Ivysaur – so players are encouraged to capture dozens of the same type of monster.
Various real-world locations are designated as Pokestops or Pokemon Gyms. Stops are landmarks that give out free stuff including Pokeballs, berries, battle items, and eggs every five minutes. All you have to do is tap a stop once it’s in range, and spin its logo to produce rewards.
Gyms are a bit more involved and tend to be found in popular areas like parks or malls.
Once a trainer reaches level five, they can join one of three teams – Mystic, Valor, or Instinct – and battle to control each Pokemon Gym. Players leave Pokemon behind to “defend” a Gym, and any nearby players can fight these defenders in a bid for dominance.
The battle system itself is… not particularly good. In fact, it’s terrible.
You basically just swipe left and right to dodge incoming attacks while tapping on the opponent to deal damage. Aside from being able to unleash a secondary attack once a meter has been filled, there’s nothing much to think about. Just swipe and tap.
Each Pokemon is assigned a Combat Power number that denotes how effective they are in battle, and that’s what a fight really comes down to. Whoever brings the highest CP rating gets to run the Gym. Simple as that.
Aforementioned eggs can be stored in incubators and will hatch into (hopefully) rare Pokemon once players travel a certain distance. Unlike other phone games, Go only registers progress when it’s open onscreen, insidiously ensuring nobody dares put the thing down.
My descriptions may make the game sound more elaborate than it is. Despite any attempts at complexity, Pokemon Go is an incredibly shallow game by design. Very little of one’s time is intended to be spent fighting, with the main focus being on walking about and intermittently tapping on pictures of fictional animals.
For those wondering if there’s a “point” to any of it – there isn’t.
What really holds the game back is the fact that it’s quite a poorly made game. In addition to having very little meat on its bones, Pokemon Go is an unstable piece of software, prone to freezing and crashing, regularly making players log in over and over even if it’s been set to remember one’s credentials.
It’s laggy as hell, often struggling to track one’s movements in real time or registering the touchscreen’s input. Many is the time I’ve had to repeatedly hammer a Pokemon with my finger to initiate a capture sequence. This is to say nothing of the game’s ability to stay online – server downtime is frequent and never convenient, and it’s not uncommon to have the game stuck in perpetual loading phases until it’s closed down and freshly rebooted.
Every single facet of the game can fail to perform. Whether you’re battling, capturing, opening the store page, or trying to use a Pokestop, any one feature is prone to locking up and staying locked up. Spending any significant amount of time with the game will see a lot of rebooting and more than a little frustration.
Though all essential items can be found from Pokestops, there are microtransactions for the impatient or immobile. Pokecoins can be bought with hard cash and exchanged for Pokeballs, as well as extra incubators, incense that attracts Pokemon, or lures that affix to Pokestops and turn them into veritable monster magnets.
Surprisingly, Pokemon Go has yet to use microtransactions as a way to create significant shortcuts. You can’t yet buy Pokemon candy or speed up egg incubation. You have to keep going out there and catching things to progress the game in any meaningful way – though we’re stretching the definition of words like “progress” and “meaningful” when we say this.
I don’t particularly like Pokemon Go. Nope, don’t like it. I’m not even sure I “get” it. I am, however, playing it like so many other people. There’s a compulsion to play, and it’s not actually a compelling game.
Thus we return to the notion of Pokemon Go‘s undeniable success. Despite being a pedestrian and uninspiring experience, it’s still conquered the hearts and minds of millions, and while I don’t know why, I’m still firing the thing up every time my dog goes out to take a shit, because there could be an Ekans out there.
So anyway, here’s a score I guess. One that is truthful despite not reflecting the time I’m putting into this damnable product.