Pokemon GO feels like more than a game – rather the secret insertion of a digital layer to reality, one in which there are cute little cartoon animals and monsters hiding everywhere from your kitchen, under bridges, beneath your pregnant wife’s hospital bed, and just about anywhere on the map. It has quickly become an all consuming, pop culture global phenomenon that has lured the pale and poke-starved into the light with a figurative steaming steak.
It’s a simple GPS based, augmented reality game that mainly consists of you walking around tracking and catching pokemon, collecting pokeballs and potions from Pokestops (points of interest), conquering and defending gyms, leveling up your pokemon, and hatching pokemon eggs by moving certain distances.
Pokemon Go has plenty of unique and interesting ideas to give you a one of a kind experience. The gyms are fun because you can tackle them with a few friends in real time and then leave pokemon to defend it once it’s captured, creating this “king of the hill” dynamic. Although it does not use the typical pokemon turn-based combat and instead uses a much duller button mashing system that sort of takes away from it.
The three step tracking is simple and builds excitement in serendipitous discovery of new pokemon. There are three footprints underneath the pokemon in your area and they are removed one by one as you get closer – like a game of hot and cold. Unfortunately, this was recently removed as a bug related decision, but has not been replaced with anything comparable, meaning your search for pokemon is done essentially blind, which often creates more frustration than excitement in finding nearby pokemon. It will most likely come back at some point but this is just one of a number of issues the game has been experiencing since launch. Namely the developers underestimation of the user base that has caused constant crashing from overloaded servers.
It can be enormously fun to track and collect pokemon as you explore and uncover every little crevice in the area you live – most likely seeing things you should have come across at some point but still have never seen before. When you actually encounter a pokemon you engage in a simple mini game similar to the smartphone game “Paper Toss” where you flick the pokeball at specific times to maximize the potential of catching a pokemon. It is an interesting mechanic, but ultimately it doesn’t have the nuance and excitement you would expect.
The use of items that are essentially currency to level your pokemon such as lucky eggs, dust, and rare candies contribute to this deep strategy involved in efficiently leveling and evolving your pokemon. Unfortunately, the starter pokemon and early pokemon you catch are doomed to be replaced with much better ones that you catch along the way. This takes away from the connection you would have in a typical pokemon game where you name and raise them over a long period of time. Even if you spend all your dust and rare candies it just doesn’t let you keep up – there is only so much leveling potential for each pokemon.
Many of the mechanics feel mediocre at best or have some sort of caveat, but where Pokemon Go shines is in situations the game creates outside of its own existence with interaction, activity, and real-world exploration.
The game beckons you to experience the world outside with incubators, which are used to hatch pokemon eggs after you’ve traveled certain distance, by placing pokemon in a variety of areas that correspond with their elemental type, and making it socially interactive with other players. The game itself is nothing truly innovative, but what it harvests in social interaction and offers in variability of experiences make it unique and unavoidable.
The social interaction and crossover with the real world drives the game, but the catching and leveling of pokemon is why you do it in the first place. At the pace that many people play the game, there will soon be nothing left for them to do. The gameplay is finite and there will soon be no reason to come back to it, therefore to keep it relevant developer Niantic Games will need updates with new mechanics and generations of pokemon moving forward. Niantic Games giving the game proper attention will dictate its relevance and whether or not it will be a temporary fad or a spice to life’s routine.
In summation, there seems to be a caveat to many of the good things Pokemon Go offers, but the issues the game has are superficial and not entirely deep within the premise. The game is quite enjoyable despite its flaws and shows real promise if Niantic Games listens to players concerns and issues.