“We all know interspecies romance is weird.”
― Tim Burton
*Note: this is a review for the original game, which has since changed as new features were added and older ones removed.
Forget all the click-bait vids and articles about Pokémon GO. Forget those thumbnails with candy-colored arrows pointing at nothing. Here’s a legit review with some handy, practical tips we refuse to label as “hacks”. No, I won’t tell you how to catch Mewtwo. And the benefit of this being a blog and not a vlog is you don’t have to stare up at my face while I say things like “Uh, hey guys…”
Just in case you’ve been living under a rock, or in case you’re a snooty old person who’s bitter about other people having fun, let me tell you about this new thing that’s quickly risen to become one of the most popular games of all time. Developed by Niantic, Pokémon GO is a highly addictive but flawed augmented reality mobile game. Based on the successful Nintendo franchise Pokémon, the game is a dream come true for many a gamer. That is, when it works.
See while Pokémon GO has had over 100 million downloads in a few short weeks, those weeks were largely plagued by regular server crashes, gameplay bugs (and we’re not talking about Caterpie), missing animations, freezing apps, sign-in issues, and numerous other glitches galore. I began playing after the end of the first week and it was all I could do to even get the game to run for an hour or so.
Niantic has largely addressed many of the issues, especially with the lousy servers. It’s a smoother experience now, though Pokémon GO’s launch may go down as one of the least good launches in history. Right next to Apollo 1. But instead of fixing all the problems with their game, like the ruined “Nearby” system, an intoxicated Niantic, drunk on power, has turned its attention to shutting down helpful mapping services like:
Add to all that the legions of controversial experiences some have had with the game: anything from finding corpses to walking off a precipice to being hit by a car. Fortunately, nobody has died playing the game (so far as I know as of this writing). If you’re thinking of that kid that was supposedly shot while trespassing in search of digital creatures, here you go. You can thank me later.
These controversies deserve to be addressed in another post. So that’s what I’ll do. For now, let it be said that the real problem with kids trespassing or not paying attention and running into hazards isn’t Pokémon GO. It’s their lack of common sense. I don’t know if their parents failed to give it to them but there have been accidents for as long as people thought it was a good idea to text and drive. Pokémon GO hasn’t changed anything about human stupidity.
And now back to lighter fare.
Pokémon GO takes everything you loved about Pokémon since Red and Blue and throws all that in the dumpster so that you’re stuck with just the part where you’re catching Pidgeys and Rattatas outside Pallet Town. And you’ll catch them. You gotta catch ’em all. You’ll reconcile it by saying you just need to farm them for candies. I mean I like Farmville just as much as the next Pokémon master, but I think I’ve caught and evolved Pidgeys more times than my father ever looked at me.
“Augmented Reality” means the game makes use of your mobile phone camera to superimpose Pokémon into the real world and you can catch them with a skillful flick of the finger. This is the selling point for Pokémon GO: going out and exploring, socializing and adventuring, finding whatever creatures you can find. Just don’t expect this:
It’s novel, but the novelty wears thinner the further you progress into the game, capturing common and uncommon creatures and waiting, hoping for the rare spawns. The decision by Niantic to mix around locality specific spawns in “nests” at the end of GO’s first month went a little way to stave off this issue, though at the same time it undermines the point of the game in hunting Pokémon in the appropriate habitat (just don’t expect to find Gastly at your local cemetery).
I live in arid Southern California and there’s not much but ground, rock and fire-types out here with water-types being exceptionally rare, but after the “nest switch” the Magmars at our city park changed into Jynxes. Okay. Don’t look a gift-horse in its dirty, lying mouth.
The game begins with an introduction by Professor Willow, the original Poké-Professor Oak having passed away long ago from a freak Voltorb accident. It’s alright, though. The highly sensible internet fan-base says Prof. Willow is “hot”.
Professor Willow introduces you to the world of Pokémon Go, which is your world, because the world map happens to be based off of Google maps. The display shows streets, city blocks, parks, topographical features like lakes and ponds, and landmarks. You’ll be able to select your starter from the original three Generation 1 starters: Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle. Walking away from them for a duration will eventually enable you to encounter Pikachu and secure him as your starter.
From there, equipped with your first Pokémon and some pokéballs, you can begin your hunt. Originally the “Nearby” menu was a reliable means of tracking down nearby creatures but Niantic has taken it down to tinker with. Pokémon will spawn next to your character as you walk around the world and clicking on them takes you to the capturing screen, where all you have to do is hit them with a pokéball to attempt to capture them. There are trick shots like curveballs or shots rated “great” or “excellent” but there’s no more having to battle Pokémon to weaken them before capture. Later types of pokéballs have better catch-rates and the Razz Berry item also increases a creature’s susceptibility to your trappings.
It is really exhilarating when a rare Pokémon suddenly spawns next to you. Depending upon the Pokémon’s level (known as CP in Pokémon Go), they can be pretty difficult to catch or they can even run away if you can’t capture them. New Pokémon fill up your Pokédex and give you an additional boost of experience.
Captured Pokémon also come with a bit of Stardust and candies particular to their species. A combination of Stardust and candies must be spent in order to raise the CP of your captured Pokémon and make them stronger for battle. The exact amount of Stardust and candies ramps up along with their CP. High CP Pokémon can require as much as 3500 bits of Stardust to boost up, which is the Stardust equivalent of catching 35 individual Pokémon.
In the game, landmarks are called pokéstops in the game and they are where trainers go to get new items. Get near enough to a pokéstop and you can interact with its thumbnail image to get more pokéballs and healing potions or even eggs which must be hatched by walking distances. After a few minutes, you can come back for more. The landmarks turned pokéstops are typically going to be houses of worship (churches) and local places of interest such as plaques, parks, libraries, businesses, monuments, etc. Pokéstops appear as light blue cubes (circles when you’re close to them) on the map and they turn purple after being activated until their loot resets.
Lure Modules are unique items that trainers can opt to attach to a pokéstop. They have the effect of “luring” Pokémon to the pokéstop, increasing the spawn rate if you’re nearby. Pokéstops with lures on them appear to have pink and purple flower petals cascading around them. Neat!
Beside the pokéstops, some of the landmarks are digital gyms, glowing towers of light and metal:
This is where Pokémon battling takes place. Approach the gym to battle, tapping your screen to use your Pokémon’s basic attack and holding your finger on the screen to release your Pokémon’s secondary and strongest attack once it’s built up enough stamina. Select your team of Pokémon wisely! It’s rudimentary compared to the original games but taking over a gym for your team is still quite fun.
Oh I didn’t explain teams, did I? After you gain a few levels, you’ll be prompted to select a team. Choose between Valor, the red team, Mystic, the blue team, and Instinct, the yellow team. I won’t say which team I chose, but I think it’s safe to say that Gary Oak joined Valor (#mystic4ever).
This is where the real fun comes in: the turf war between tricolored gangs. A little rivalry never hurt anyone.
You can train individual Pokémon at gyms owned by your own team, which earns gym-experience and allows for more Pokémon to be dropped into the gym to sort of guard it against attacks.
If you want to take over another gym belonging to an opposing team then you’ve got to fight through their assortment of Pokémon fighters, much like facing gym leaders in the original games.
Why bother with training and fighting in gyms or trying to take them from the opposing team at all? Because you can claim a Stardust and Poké-coin bonus from the Shop menu (click on the shield icon in the upper right). The bonus is 500 Stardust and 10 Poké-coins for each Pokémon you have in a gym. Obviously, that can quickly add up to quite a bit of extra Stardust and coins (the premium cash of the game). This bonus can only be claimed every 21 hours, so keep your eye out for obscure gyms and reinforce gyms with a sizeable team of Pokémon at the ready!
But be warned, taking a gym isn’t always easy. There can be as few as 1 or as many as 9 Pokémon guarding a gym. Type-advantage is your key to victory, type-advantage being the basic Pokémon tenet of elemental strengths and weaknesses found in typical RPGs.
See the simple chart below:
I don’t know if I sounded unfairly harsh toward this game in all that I’ve just said. It can be an incredibly frustrating thing, sometimes. Nothing like encountering a super rare Pokémon and then having your game freeze on you right before you can catch it. But the best thing about Pokémon Go by far is that it is the best definition of “social media”. And they were a genius to make it a mobile game, since everyone has a cellphone. Unlike Twitter and Facebook, which are crowded with people who hardly talk in person sharing random videos and memes, Pokémon Go requires you to get out into the world, get some exercise, see some sights, explore, and make new friends.
I’ll never forget walking around town at night nearby our house when a random guy pulled up in his car and pointed behind him, then said: “Pikachu’s over there”. And he drove off. In my town, someone stopping next to you in their car at night usually meant panhandling or drive-by shooting, but what I’ve seen with Pokémon Go is how it brings strangers together. I’ve been able to meet new people and introduce myself on the basis of this game and really share in this experience. It kicks the pants of off any “online multiplayer” game I’ve ever played. And that’s the joy of Pokémon Go.
You’re my best friend in a world we must defend.
The 8-Bit Review
Does real life have good graphics? Augmented Reality mode in gym battles and Pokémon capturing is great and all but eventually you’ll probably turn it off and switch to straight Virtual Reality. It makes for easier catching and you won’t have to hold your phone up in front of your face the whole time.
The vivid maps and bright lights are alright but the best graphics in the game are the faithful appearances of all of the Pokémon (currently limited to Generation 1). They’re simple, three-dimensional and iconic.
Another feature you’ll probably be switching off sooner rather than later is the music. The sound effects aren’t too much better, high-pitched chirping and of course the electronic-demonic squeals and shrieks of the Pokémon themselves. The score (a handful of tracks) are just fine, optimistic and energetic, befitting the franchise this game belongs to, but they are sadly repetitive. Eventually, they may become an annoyance or distraction.
Pokémon GO makes for a lot of fun trips to the park or local hangout hotspots. As a vehicle for socializing and getting some much needed exercise, the game is radiant. Hatching eggs by walking distances (2km, 5km, or 10km) has proven as much a motivator for physical activity as anything could be. Heck, my first week of playing I injured myself falling off a curb and refusing to stop walking around. Hatching these eggs can lead to awesome candies troves and some rare Pokémon you wouldn’t normally encounter in your area. I was able to evolve my starting Bulbasaur via candies through hatching eggs.
Unfortunately, if you want to get to the higher trainer levels and start encountering stronger wild Pokémon, that largely means farming. The easiest way to gain more experience is through evolving the most common Pokémon you encounter (Ekans, Rattata, ugh… Pidgey), so expect to catch tons of those just for the candies. You’ll be plenty tired of catching the same old Pokémon over and over again. It’s counter-intuitive to the explorative and adventuring nature of the game but if you want to be the very best, that’s just what you’ve got to do.
You have the option of transferring Pokémon you don’t want to Prof. Willow, which will earn you extra candies. You should always do this. Niantic really needs to develop a button for multi-transferring as this is a common feature in the game.
Also, there are medals and the shop. The shop is where you can claim your Stardust bonus from Pokémon in gyms as well as purchase items for real life cash. Medals are there to track your progress such as how far you’ve walked or how many Pokémon of a certain type you’ve caught.
Finally, there’s the “Nearby” menu, now currently called “Sightings”. It’s supposed to inform you of Pokémon lurking nearby, hence “Sightings” doesn’t make much sense if you haven’t sighted them yet, and it used to be a pretty reliable feature. Originally, the Pokémon on the Nearby menu were organized with footprints. One or zero footprints meant they were close and three footprints meant they were further away.
Niantic eventually took away the footprints since there was a glitch that assigned three footprints to all of the Pokémon on the menu. And that’s how we got to the Sightings menu, which doesn’t inform too well about the location of nearby Pokémon and seems less accurate than it did originally. Here’s hoping they come up with something more reliable with future updates.
A recent update of the game played with some of the mechanics, nerfing certain abilities and buffing others. That sort of thing worries me about the future of this game. I’ve played many others that have tried to walk this tight-wire act of balancing things and it never seems to get beyond an endless downward spiral of nerfing and buffing. Pokémon deserve better than that.
The multiplayer aspect of Pokémon GO encapsulates all of the socializing, comparing Pokédexes, telling others about rare spawns, hanging out, and battling against rival gyms or bolstering those belonging to your own team. This is easily the best part of the game in my opinion. Though excitement for it has sort of petered off, not in small part due to Niantic’s meddling, millions of people are still playing this game. It’s a cultural explosion. It could save the American economy!
For a game with practically no tutorials, Pokémon GO is incredibly accessible. It’s easy to catch Pokémon and most of the game’s basic elements are simple and streamlined enough for a very wide audience to grab hold of. And the gameplay elements that aren’t so intuitive are still discoverable and understandable with a little bit of research and familiarity. This quality of “figuring it out” makes Pokémon GO an exciting experience without adding unnecessary frustration.
The addiction-level reminds us that Nintendo is the king of video games. In the past, they’ve come up with games that have been pretty tough to put down and have endured the test of time. What about Pokémon GO? It is pretty hard to put down. Even at 2am. Even though you know you have to work in the morning. Will it stand the test of time and become truly timeless? Probably not. But I want it to!
How can we explain the hit that Pokémon GO has become? Augmented Reality is nothing new. Neither are mobile games. Pokémon itself is an aged franchise, having recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. But the combination of these three things is indeed new and something the world was waiting for. Since I first wandered the green and white fields of Pokémon Blue twenty years ago, I’ve wanted a game like this that lets you go out into the real world and hunt these digital creatures down. Now I can. Is it the best thing ever? Yes and no.
My Personal Grade: 7/10
Attraction to local businesses and churches and the promotion of exercise, to name a few things, make Pokémon GO awesome. It might be dragged down by a lousy launch, prevailing server problems, and a developer that refuses to quit tampering, but it’s still an incredibly fun game. Accessible to millions and easy to get into, there has really never been anything quite like it, as the spread of this phenomenon has demonstrated. You can easily play it without spending any real money at all, which is something I was apprehensive of before I downloaded it. So get out there, make some friends, and catch ’em all. If you’re lucky, you can find a local coffee shop or something that offers discounts for trainers. Just watch out for Valor (not pronounced “vay-lohr”, okay?).
As massive of an impact as this game has had, it’s not without its controversy. So make sure you tell us what you think of it with a simple number score in the poll below! And look for future reviews for Pokémon GO with forthcoming major updates from Niantic.
Aggregated Score: 7.5
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