If I could choose any fictional world to live in, it would without a doubt be the world of Pokémon. For the past two weeks, I’ve been able to live out my childhood fantasy thanks to Pokémon Go, the latest mobile game from developer and publisher Niantic. I chose my starter, caught monsters in the wild, and even took over a gym. However, the more I played of the game, the less I enjoyed it, and I felt conflicted. Was this not the closest I would get to being able to live out every kid’s fantasy? As I considered my changing opinion on the game, it lead me to realize one inescapable truth: Pokémon Go just isn’t a very good video game.
When I first heard about the game, I was thrilled, and my initial reactions to it were equally positive. Over time, this feeling was replaced by a sensation that I should really like the game more than I did, being the Pokémon fan that I am. Eventually, I was forced to admit that I didn’t care for it at all. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when this change took place, but after some reflection, it’s not as hard to identify why. This game is not a true reflection of the best parts of the Pokémon series. When I think about Pokémon, I envision a grand adventure with myself and my partners as we travel and fight other trainers and gym leaders on our journey to be the very best. The game attempts to replicate this sense of adventure by populating the player’s environment with all types of Pokémon. For the most part, this is a decent representation of catching Pokémon, and it’s fun to have encounters while in real world environments. As for the other adventure staples, the game falls woefully flat.
The biggest knock is the lack of a PvP battle system, which is actually something that was promised in the pre-launch trailers. This is by far the best part of the main game series, and in Pokémon Go, it is reduced to a series of taps and swipes on a touch screen.
I won’t call the main game’s battle system deep, but there is charm to managing favorable matchups and choosing the right move for the situation, something that Pokémon Go has none of. The lack of battle system also effects the leveling mechanics in kind. Normally, levels would be gained through battle XP. Instead, experience is gained through catching Pokémon. This leads to the catching experience being woefully repetitive, and not very fun. Furthermore, the evolution system is also tied to catching multiples of Pokémon you already own in order to transfer them for candy, which is spent to evolve your Pokémon. With catching already being the least fun aspect of the main game series, to double down on it here seems like a misstep. It tended to give me flashbacks to Animal Crossing Happy Home Designer, where the worst aspect of that game series was spun off into something that no longer resembled anything close to the original. This repetition is made worse by the sheer number of candy that it takes to evolve some Pokémon, namely Magikarp into Gyarados.
The dilemma points to a flaw in the game mechanics, which is also a recurring theme in the game. Instead of the traditional level, Pokémon Go measures a monster’s strength by their Combat Power, or CP. A Pokémon gains CP by use of stardust to “power up.” In the end though, a Pokémon’s combat power is all but irrelevant. In particular, evolutions of the Pokémon Eevee are extremely overpowered, and often able to take over a rival gym that contains a Pokémon nearly 1000 CP stronger than it is. The gym system itself is strange; a leader leaves their Pokémon to defend the gym, but they are able to be challenged by more than one Pokémon at once, making it possible for a group of extremely lower powered Pokémon to overtake a monstrously strong gym leader. Overall, the balance and combat mechanics in the game do not resemble the original series at all, and that’s a shame.
It’s important to note that although I don’t think the game is good, that doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s successful. It has people who have never played a Pokémon game before downloading and playing now. It has encouraged people to get outside and be active, while also meeting other like-minded individuals. Furthermore, there is room for improvement. The first step would be the addition of a PvP system, and perhaps it could level similar to the main game series: PvP and Combat Power levels would be separate; PvP levels earned from beating other trainers in the one on one traditional battle style, while CP would earned as it is now through the stardust and candy systems. I understand that from a developer’s perspective, some changes were necessary in order to be able to monetize the game; currently, candy and other items can be bought for coins, which can in turn be obtained by spending real world money. However, I find it disappointing that in order to make their profit, they had to cannibalize the best parts of a Pokémon game. In the end, my personal journey to catch them all is on hold, hopefully to be resumed in the future!