Pokémon Go is a social phenomenon. That much cannot be denied, whether you’re a fan of the game or not. It doesn’t matter where you go these days, you’ll probably walk past at least a few individuals glued to their phones hoping to catch a Pikachu. That being said, just because a game has a profound amount of popularity doesn’t exactly make it great. Throughout this review we’ll be taking an in-depth look at what makes Pokémon Go so popular, what it does right, and its shortcomings.
In popular opinion, nostalgia is one of the biggest draws of Pokémon Go. Naturally, this would make sense due to the fact that the largest gaming demographic grew up with the Pokémon games, show, and CCG. There was a span of about five years where Pokémon was everywhere, from movie theaters to our pockets. Eventually the craze died down quite significantly, but Pokémon games continue to be made and card sets are surprisingly still be made.
All in all, Pokémon had a major effect on the generation that grew up through the digital age. Regardless of whether Nintendo had been planning something like this for 20 years, it was a very smart move. Those kids that grew up playing the card game and watching the show are now the most profitable sector for the videogame market. Those in their mid-20’s to early 30’s have recently graduated from college and have established themselves in the world but still cling to their favorite pastimes, which for many happens to be videogames.
So now we have a generation with a large disposable income, a vibrant childhood memory, and a competent grasp on everything technology. Furthermore, the mobile game market is still in its prime growth period. Nintendo has essentially created, or stumbled upon, the perfect storm. However, they didn’t do it alone and it was recently revealed that Niantic will likely benefit more from the profits than Nintendo itself, but the name is still there.
Despite all of this evidence pointing towards the nostalgia grab of Pokémon Go, it’s not the only deciding factor. Head over to a popular park or pedestrian landmark and you won’t just see dozens of 20-something men walking around. It’s children, the elderly, male and female, and everything in-between. My friends in their mid-30’s were too old to experience the initial Pokémon craze and many had never been involved with it in any aspect until picking up Pokémon Go, and then they were hooked. There’s something more here.
Real World Interactions
From what I’ve observed, Pokémon Go isn’t about Pokémon, or at least not entirely. What makes Pokémon Go so popular is the push for social interaction. In our era of technology, we spend more time behind computer screens than talking to people face-to-face. Even though this makes life way easier, I believe there’s a craving for true social interaction. This is especially true among gamers who generally have difficulties socializing outside of their core groups (although this has somewhat changed recently with the proliferation of people who play videogames).
Very rarely do I come across a single person playing Pokémon Go. Friends get together to catch Pokémon or take down gyms together. It’s entire families, social circles, significant others or even complete strangers. Drop a lure in a high-traffic area and see what happens. Check out Reddit or any other popular public forums. There are people advertising all kinds of meet ups in almost every major city in the world. Walk around downtown; even bars and restaurants are getting in on the action. A few of my local bars offer free Wi-Fi to Pokémon Go players, and in this heat a little air conditioning (as well as less data usage) should never be passed up.
Although Pokémon Go is a massive success at bringing people together, it absolutely falls flat with its gameplay. Walking around spinning Poke Stops and swiping your finger to throw Poke Balls is not the most exciting thing in the world. Possibly discovering new local landmarks, restaurants, and making friends it, but those aren’t game mechanics.
As far as gameplay goes, Pokémon Go is one of the weakest games in the franchise. The only real excitement ever comes from attempting to catch an incredibly rare Pokémon and possible a tense gym battle. But even the gym battles are a complete letdown.
Currently, Pokémon only have three possible actions: normal attack, dodges, and special attacks. Unlike the standard games, you only get one special attack and it’s determined at random upon catching or evolving a Pokémon. The normal attacks consist of tapping on the screen, dodging can be accomplishing by swiping sideways, and a special attack can be performed after the meter is charged. Moreover, gyms are the only place battles can take place, but there are intentions to add friend battles eventually.
Basically, this turns fighting in Pokémon Go into the same mindless tapping that most other mobile games rely on. This is why most players seem more intent on walking around capturing and leveling their Pokémon than actually fighting at gyms.
Pokémon Go isn’t the first game to attempt to create a truly social, mobile game. Niantic’s Ingress is essentially the same game but without the cute creatures. However, Pokémon is a relatable franchise while the hacking simulator has a much more niche audience. Additionally, Pokémon Go is simple and streamlined, whereas Ingress is incredibly complex.
It’s also much easier to level up in Pokémon Go and catch up to the higher level players. There’s a max amount of CP that any of the virtual creatures can have, which means that if you constantly play it can be a quick process to maxing out that Pidgeot or Vaporeon. Even very casual players can have a few fully-evolved Pokémon in a couple of weeks.
On a basic level, though, Pokémon Go is essentially a re-skinned Ingress. It uses the same locations and basic principles that Ingress does. Walk around, grab items from key locations, and then use your assets to capture strategic points. There’s nothing about the concept, or the gameplay in general, that is unique to Pokémon Go. Instead, it wraps everything in a nice little package that makes it accessible to anyone with a compatible smartphone.
Pokémon Go is 100% about community. Even if you don’t want to play the game with anyone else, it still requires you to get up and travel around the world. Whether that’s just to your corner gas station or a 10-mile hike through a park, it gets your moving and interacting with the world.
So far, there hasn’t been a single game that is as ubiquitous as Pokémon Go. It’s true that Ingress does the exact same thing and has all of the same locations as Pokémon Go, but it’s not on the same scale. According to Google Play, there have been 50 million downloads on Android alone in less than a month, which places it in the number one free Android application spot at the time of this review.
It’s not just the amount of downloads the game has, or even the fact that it makes players go outside. People are actually interacting with each other and in a mostly friendly manner. Yes, there have been terrible stories about players getting robbed or breaking into houses for that rare Scyther, but for the most part people are sharing positive stories and starting new relationships. With the toxic reputations that many game communities have earned, it amazing to finally see one that is mostly positive.
Many aspects of Pokémon Go use sounds from the original Game Boy titles. From the Pokémon cries to the background music, almost everything is reminiscent of that 8-bit era. While this is great for nostalgia, an update from 20 years ago would have been appreciate. Many of the Pokémon sounds are harsh and relatively indistinguishable from one another (as they were in the original games). Some of these sounds might be close to the hearts of true fans, but anyone who didn’t grow up with the games won’t be able to relate. Moreover, what happens when they eventually add the rest of the Pokémon that have higher quality soundbites from more recent titles?
I personally don’t mind the old sound files that much, and generally play the game with the volume down, but the graphics are a completely mixed bag. On one hand, you have fairly detailed, 3D Pokémon. Definitely a major improvement from the Red/Blue games, and although they’re not a technological marvel, the 3D sprites are pretty decent quality.
Then you’ve got the map overlay, which is literally just flat green boxes with the occasional protruding Poke Stop or gym. Furthermore, the static backgrounds for battles (when AR isn’t turned on) are incredibly basic and don’t really seem to change, with the exception of day/night. So there are colorful Pokémon, customizable trainers, and a really bland environment. Although, this likely matters less as the game is less about playing it and more about walking around and catching new creatures.
Out of the extensive list of free-to-play mobile games I’ve tried, Pokémon Go is possibly the least offensive when it comes to monetization. Let’s look at the list of things you can buy: Poke Balls, Incense, Lucky Eggs, Lures, Egg Incubators, Bag Upgrades, and Pokémon Storage Upgrades. By default, you can hold 250 Pokémon and 350 items. Space should not be an issue until they release more than 151 Pokémon, unless you can’t bring yourself to transfer extras to Professor Willow (we have no idea what he does with them and would prefer not to ask questions).
As far as Poke Balls go, you should never run out unless Poke Stops are rare in your area. There are about 10 in a one-block radius around my home, which nets me more Poke Balls than I generally use while walking to them. They replenish every five minutes, so if you run out just wait and you’ll get more. The Lucky Eggs, Egg Incubators, incense and Lures are the only areas where the game becomes “pay to level faster.” Lucky Eggs increase your trainer experience growth while lures guarantee a chance to catch more Pokémon. The more incubators you have, the faster you can hatch Pokémon eggs.
On occasion, you will receive lures, incubators (with charges), Lucky Eggs, and incense while leveling in the game. However, you only get a handful and spending a chunk of cash to have a steady supply will make catching Pokémon and leveling your trainer significantly easier. For the average player this probably won’t make a huge difference, but for the trainers who “wanna be the very best” they might be slightly more essential.
What is Pokémon Go? From the outside, it simply looks like a game about catching virtual creatures and battling other players at gyms. But in reality, it’s more of a social experiment that happens to have a game attached to it. As far as Pokémon games are concerned, Pokémon Go has incredibly weak gameplay mechanics and lackluster visuals.
On the social side of things, Pokémon Go is bringing together more gamers, and previously non-gamers, than ever before. There’s just something about catching Pikachus that brings everyone together. Just because the standard elements of Pokémon Go aren’t that well designed, or complex, doesn’t mean people can’t enjoy it.
The truth is, however, there is more being said about what people are doing while playing Pokémon Go than the actual game itself. Whether that’s a museum telling visitors not to play inside its grounds or romantic relationships forming between players. There’s a lot going on with Pokémon Go, but most of it isn’t inside the smartphone.
As far as depth goes, it can’t compete even with Pokémon Red/Blue let alone newer games like Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire. This makes Pokémon Go more suited for gamers on the go looking for new experiences than die-hard Pokémon fans.
+ Positive social atmosphere
+ Nostalgic 8-bit sounds
+ Very reasonable free-to-play pricing
-Uninspired gameplay mechanics
-Poor background/overlay visuals
-Limited in-game interactionRelated: Android, iOS, Mobile, Niantic Labs, Pokemon, Pokemon GO, Review