Like a lot of people this past weekend, I grabbed a copy of Pokémon Go for my iPhone. At first I was beyond excitement. I’ve waited for a massively multiplayer version of Pokémon since I played Red. Then I was confused. How do I use PokéStops? Then excited again (flick it, duh). Then…. Really really really small. A 1,000 Combat Power Snorlax?! HOW? And also WHERE? I mean, how am I supposed to play in order to keep up with that kind of power player? Okay, I have a lot to unpack here.
First off, seriously—where did you find that Snorlax? There’s a gym within a block of me (held by the honorable Team Valor) that has three separate 1,000+ CP Snorlaxs sitting on it. I know rare and powerful Pokémon appear in weird places but I feel like I’ve done a lot of walking around only to find nothing. Sometimes the game feels a little unbalanced with how it decides where rares will appear. I know a lot of that is procedurally generated and that part of the fun is figuring it out, but I wish I had a better understanding of why things work the way they do. The footprints system of finding is a neat concept but I’d prefer something with a little more hot-cold where I could actually track down where to go. I’m not saying hand me Jinx on a silver platter, but I’d like to have a better understanding about where one might appear. I mean, an Ivysaur just walked across my keyboard one day. Is that normal? Is my office a Bulbasaur hunting ground?
Secondly, the whole interface is great. I love how it uses Google Maps. I thought Ingress had a great idea using this system but the way they change it up with Pokémon Go is really great. Some places are gyms, some stops, some are just good places to catch monsters. The little changes in how I think about where to go are really nice. In my small town there are a lot of churches and nearly all of them are PokéStops. This means I have destinations for my late night walks and I can change it up for either battle or errands. It also looks super polish. I can navigate the menus without getting lost or disoriented. Each screen had a lot of thought put into the look and feel. This is all great.
The tutorial system could use some help. At first I didn’t think you could rerun the tutorial. While trying to figure out gyms and Stops, I was stumped. I know it ran through one as I was getting started but I kind of flipped through it cause I just wanted dat Charmander. It wasn’t till after I looked a few things up online that I saw the help button buried in the settings. I think it would have been better to stagger the help windows as things came up. Kind of like… oh, I don’t know, Pokémon games do. You start off, get a quick introduction, get a starter monster, and then as you set off random people stop to tell you what to do next. As it is, yes, the tutorial is there and tells everything it has to tell. It just doesn’t feel like it was implemented the way impatient users may need. Just adding a pop-up in game during the first 5 levels or so would be super help.
Next up, what’s up with the progression system? I mean, in the old games you caught Pokémon, trained the ones you had, and then battled/traded with friends. Go on the other hand feels clinical or sterilized in that you catch stronger monsters, throw away old monsters, and then evolve duplicates for the experience points before throwing them away. The whole trade monsters for candy transaction feels forced and monetarily centered. I like the idea of making stronger bonds with my little monsters (*cough cough, go Team Valor cough*) but how am I supposed to do that if I just toss out weak monsters. Why even have special starters if you are just tossing them out anyway? Since I found out that your level helps determine the strength of the monsters you find, I’ve stopped using Star Dust altogether. Why use a scare resource on creatures you’re tossing out anyway? This kind of destroys some of the bonds between trainer and Pokémon that the handheld games nurtured.
This also shows some of the weaknesses of the game overall. Why can’t I trade or battle other people (without a gym)? This game is a phenomenon. No other mobile game has seen this penetration (even Fallout Shelter and it was amazing!). However, it feels weird. Like, you meet other people out catching Pokémon and that’s cool. It’s very social in that regard. However, I also feel walled off from other players. I don’t have to interact with them. I don’t have to help them. I don’t need anything from them. I feel like this is a drawback. Yes, someone could very easily take advantage of other people by offering monsters for real world cash. There would be a huge grey market if players could exchange monsters. But, it feels like something could be done in that area of the game to bring players closer together. Even just the option to make your own teams outside of the three major teams would be great. I’d join Team Rocket in a heartbeat.
Also, in the same vein, it feels a little empty. You catch Pokémon but then what? You fight in gyms but I know I can’t compete against nearly any of the people I’ve seen at gyms. To me, I’d love to see more story. Maybe Professor Willow needs fifty Ratattas for an experiment *shudders at that glue factor his office must be*. Maybe you have to find a ghost Pokémon in a hide and seek game. Or what if your town had a sort of PokéMarathon where you needed to make different Stops in a certain order and time. Something to break up the pacing of spinning Stops and catching Ratattas.
My last gripe is the trainer model. There is so little customization. I mean, I’m not even picky. I just wanted a non-hat wearing kid. Or could I change what I look like? Ever? I’d buy, with real money, shoes that match my top. It’s a small thing but why even give people the option to dress up their character if you’re going to half-ass the option so hard. I mean, Miitomo is pretty much just paper dolls but the initial setup had some great and quick options to make your character really personal. Maybe if the character models were more in the same ballpark of the Pokémon models it wouldn’t bother me as much. Right now they just look like generic anime people with a weird alethic fetish. It’d be really cool if, as you gain medals, you could switch your style to say Bug Catcher or Punk. Then I’d be really motivated to catch the ‘right’ kind of Pokémon for my fashion.
Overall, this is a fantastic game. I think this is a game I’ll be playing for weeks or years to come. Honestly though, I think there is a lot missing before it’ll feel perfect. I kind of thought Yokai would have jumped on this kind of gaming model first but I won’t complain. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I know where a Tangela is and I want to smash it’s face with balls. Thanks for reading!