Format: Android (reviewed on Samsung Galaxy Note 3), iOS
Released: July 6, 2016
Price: Free-to-play with microtransactions
There’s no denying the global phenomenon Pokémon Go has created. The game has topped daily Twitter users and sees more engagement than Facebook as well as created hundreds of headlines both good and bad. Everywhere I go, I see groups of people playing the game together, joking and smiling as they go.
But while I am grateful for how much the game has brought people together, especially in light of recent tragedies, the game isn’t that big of a deal. Behind the glamour of living out the dream as a Pokémon trainer, traveling across the land searching far and wide, lies a surprisingly shallow Pokémon game that barely runs.
Pokémon Go is a mobile game where you walk around in the real world while the game tracks your location via GPS. When you find a Pokémon on the map, you attempt to catch it and add it to your collection. You can also visit Pokéstops at real-world landmarks to stock up on Pokéballs and other items as well as visit Gyms to battle other Pokémon and claim the leadership of the gym for your own. And you can even join one of three teams and see who takes over the most gyms.
There’s very little plot to bog down the experience. It’s just you and an entire world of Pokémon.
While the in-game map and music are pretty basic, the Pokémon are rather convincingly superimposed onto the real world thanks to the impressive AR functionality. Developer Niantic are so proud of the AR functionality, in fact, that you can also take pictures of the Pokémon.
It can be very fun and addicting to walk around and see what kinds of Pokémon you can catch. You’re bound to find Pokémon you didn’t expect to find. And the trails of Pokémon and Pokéstops can take you to unexpected places. I ended up exploring a part of my neighborhood that I never explored before, and I lived there my entire life. Though it can be frustrating if Pokémon don’t turn up for a while.
But something that can be even more frustrating than not finding Pokémon is trying to catch Pokémon. To catch a Pokémon, you have to flick your finger up to lob a Pokéball at it. It’s hard to judge how hard and at what angle to throw Pokéballs thanks to the perspective of how Pokémon are displayed, so you’ll miss pretty often. While there are a few mechanics to add some depth such as throwing curveballs, catching Pokémon is still about as fun as those terrible funfair games where you toss ping pong balls into fishbowls.
Throwing Pokéballs was deliberately designed to waste your Pokéballs so you have to buy more with real money via microtransactions. If it wasn’t, they you could catch them more efficiently. Thankfully Pokéstops and leveling up give out generous amounts of Pokéballs, so it’s not completely deplorable.
But the most frustrating thing about the game is when the servers don’t work. Plenty of times I had the game refuse to sign me in or crash after I catch a Pokémon. You could argue that Niantic couldn’t have expected the servers to be clogged up with this many users, but… it’s a free-to-play Pokémon game. How did they not expect to have all those users? The game is more stable now, but it still feels laggy.
As noted, you can battle Pokémon at gyms to take over the space for your team. Battles eschew the traditional turn-based battle system of past Pokémon games for a real-time battle system where you tap the screen to attack and swipe left and right to dodge the opponent’s attacks. While anticipating attacks to dodge a la Dark Souls is fun, the tactical nature of the original battle system is all but lost. Matches come down to whoever has the type-advantage or the highest Combat Power number. End of story.
And because most Pokémon at gyms have around 500-1,500 Combat Power, your Pokémon can’t even begin to compete unless you boost your Pokémon’s Combat Power. You do so by feeding it candies and stardust you collect from catching the same kind of Pokémon, which can take some time especially if the Pokémon you want to level up is rare.
And despite being a Pokémon game, which always encourages connecting with other players, there’s no way to directly interact with other users. The Pokémon you fight at gyms are controlled by computer players and trading Pokémon with other users won’t come until a future update. It’s hard to believe that the game is so effective at getting people to catch Pokémon together when the experience feels so isolated.
I’m thankful for Pokémon Go for engaging so many players together, but the game itself is surprisingly flawed. In simplifying the process of catching and battling Pokémon even further than it already was, it alienates longtime fans such as myself. And the game feels naked as a Pokémon game without a way to directly connect with other players.
But despite all that, it’s still fun to explore and collect Pokémon, especially in groups. I’ll continue to play Pokémon Go for that reason alone. The game captures the feelings of adventure and mystery in Pokémon games. It’s just too bad that collecting Pokémon is the only compelling thing about this game. Everything else is shallow and broken.
Rating: 4.0/10 (Subpar)