5 Things Pokemon Go Got Wrong
This past weekend saw a major update to Pokemon Go; the ‘Three Footsteps’ bug was ‘fixed’ by the removal of distance tracking altogether. To further exacerbate such a bizarre and quite frankly fucking stupid change to the game, Niantic and Nintendo have crippled third party apps and websites such as PokeVision, making it altogether more difficult to ‘catch em all’. Which is nice.
This dramatic update got me thinking about how many things Niantic and Nintendo have gotten wrong with Pokemon Go since its release. To give some context, I have enjoyed playing it as much as the next guy; I have suffered through many a frozen Pokeball, and that fucking spinning white pokeball insignia taunting me as my app fails to connect to the servers. I really bought heavily into the initial hype surrounding the resurgence of one of my favourite game series and its new found position at the forefront of popular culture once again. I was vocal in defending it against the idiotic elder-trolls and their desire to meme-ify their hatred of anyone else actually having fun.
However, being a Pokemon fan myself meant that some of the choices in the implementation and design of Pokemon Go were extremely frustrating. So here we have it, the five things Pokemon Go got very, very, very wrong.
Not being a finished product.
We all saw it. The complaints, the bitching and the moaning whenever the server wasn’t accessible or was the least bit unstable. I for one enjoyed being the obnoxious arsehole pointing out that the game was essentially free, and that these sorts of issues were to be expected when the game gathers more users than Twitter in its first seven days. But those were the early days.
However, as the game rolled out to more and more countries, we were plagued with more and more instability. There are only so many times you can be taunted with an image of a rarity like a Gyarados on a load screen before the your patience wears thin with being unable to actually venture out and find one for yourself.
The ‘three step bugs’ and freezing pokeball issues would be a lot easier to swallow if we knew it wasn’t always going to be like this. One friend even told me to go easier on it considering it was essentially an early access title. It was only after I pointed out that this wasn’t actually the case that it dawned on us both; this might have been an instance where ‘early access’ or ‘work in progress’ might have been a forgivable term slapped over the product. Pokemon Go is not a finished product. Not even close.
One of the key parts of all core Pokemon games is the need to choose a starter to take on your adventure. They grow and develop with you, often becoming the leading member of your Pokemon party when it comes to taking down gyms and fighting battles. You initial choice of starter will often dictate the pace with which you can progress through early gym battles, and what other pokemon you will actively seek out to capture and train.
In Pokemon Go it is a token gesture that they allow you to even chose a starter. A nostalgic nod to a popular franchise that will allow the game to tug on the heart strings of a large user base of Millennials with disposable income.
Your starter in Pokemon Go is completely useless – an arbitrary decision with no weight. It will not grow, and will play no role in your journey as a ‘Pokemon trainer’. In time, due to their poor stats and low CP value, you will discard that starter. Or worse still, you will grind them up and feed their protein rich pulp-ified corpses to stronger versions of the same Pokemon. Survival of the fucking fittest, baby.
This larger, more powerful version of Squirtle you are feeding was caught down the local park on the walk home from work, as you absent-mindedly flicked balls at passing pocket monsters out of habit and repetition more than fun or engagement. There is no story here, no connection. You are no longer a Pokemon trainer – you are a grinder who cares little for those creatures within those crimson balls. You are the monster, with pockets full of protein rich candy.
Training and Catching
Traditionally, you train Pokemon. That is why you are a ‘Pokemon trainer’. In Pokemon Go you don’t train them at all. In fact, other than catching multiples of the same Pokemon and grinding them into tasty evolutionary supplement, there is no way to develop the Pokemon you already have. They don’t gain experience or power from fighting and will eventually become obsolete as you find stronger wild Pokemon due to your trainer level being higher.
Growth, development and evolution is more of a grind than it has ever been before. Instead of roaming areas of tall grass and Fireblasting poor unsuspecting Pidgeys with your Charmeleon, you are left to catch and hundreds of the same type in order to grind out evolutionary candies and experience points for your trainer. But there is an end goal, I hear you cry? The Gyms right? Yeah… about that…
The ‘end game’ of this pseudo-MMO is two fold – to “collect ’em all” and to take part in turf wars between the game’s teams. As you know, Gyms are dotted around at points of interest… like the local Bus Shelter… or a Gate at the end of Basingstoke’s upper high street.
You can battle for these, attacking the Pokemon garrisoned in them in order to weaken them, with the goal of eventually storing your own teams Pokemon in it and painting your local town the appropriate colour. And territorial battling on a real world map is pretty cool, and rather unique for those of us no lame enough to play Ingress previously. (that last sentence is steeped in heavy irony, I am a huge Magic: The Gathering nerd, so who is really the lame one?)
The problem lies in the fact that the battling system is fucking terrible. The deep and strategic turn-based gameplay the Pokemon series is renowned for has been stripped out in favour of a simpler and rather shallow “tap-off”. You can tap to basic attack, swipe to dodge and of course, hold the screen to fire off one special attack. And that is it. The game still has statistics in the background (a lot of which is hidden for no apparent reason) and makes use of Pokemon’s intricate strengths and weaknesses system. But the combat is so dull, shallow and outright boring that after a couple of Gym battles I couldn’t help but take a step back and ask myself “Is this really it?”
And for the record, Team Valor is the correct choice. For honor. For strength. For Valor.
A Complete Lack of Real Depth
So I cheated with this list – I said it would be five things Pokemon Go got wrong, and this final fifth point is a summary of sorts. But perhaps that was my plan all along!
From training, to catching, to battling, the game is shallow. I still think it can be fun, with its strengths lying in its ability to piggyback off of social outing with friends and other activities. It is a distraction to play whilst walking to the shops, or home from work. But in its current state, the end-game is borderline non-existent and the battle system is absolute trash. I am personally finding it hard to motivate myself to bother playing at all.
Without the Pokemon skin over the top of this Ingress re-hash, it would have gone largely un-noticed by the masses, popular culture and the media. But a franchise like Pokemon is a way to guarantee at least a minor nostalgic investment. It will be interesting to see if it can keep even a fraction of this current momentum once the Millennials stop being able to recognise the Pokemon they can catch. Time will tell.