11 July, 2016

Review - Pokémon GO: The Real Life Pokémon Adventure 20 Years In The Making

Although not technically released here in the UK or Europe, through the beauty of Android and side loading, I have been able to live out my childhood dream of being a Pokémon Master, which involves a lot more 2AM walks through the rain than I thought. Developed by Niantic, Inc. of Ingress fame comes every Pokémon nerd’s dream, the ability to explore the real world and capture Pokémon.

The newly released app; available on both Android and iOS in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, as of the time of writing this review - with a worldwide release planned once the Niantic servers stop catching fire and start working. This Augmented Reality game is a fun time battery killer, but it is ultimately lacking in the depth or variety to live up to the Pokémon name.
To play the game you need a 3G/4G connection and a good phone battery. You walk around the real world, glancing down at your phone every 5 minutes avoiding traffic and trying not to fall off bridges, to find nearby Pokémon, which you throw Pokéballs at to capture.

The capturing system shows the Pokémon on screen, and a small circle highlighting the Pokémon in either green for an easy catch, yellow for a harder catch and red for very hard catch. This circle grows smaller before resetting in size and you aim to throw the Pokéball at the Pokémon when the circle is at its smallest, with a higher chance to capture it. There is an amount of skill (or luck) involved in this; I have wasted many Pokéballs missing Pokémon just a few feet away from me.

Your experience will vary depending on where you live; I have friends online who live in the middle of nowhere, who have to walk an hour just to find a PokéStop, whereas I have 3 Pokémon Gyms and numerous PokéStop’s all within walking distance of my house. PokéStop’s are real world locations that appear on your map. You walk up to these locations and collect items like Pokéballs, Potions, Revives or even Pokémon Eggs and are crucial to enjoying the game. I was certainly surprised seeing that I was able to play the game here on the Isle of Man; a small island in the middle of nowhere, expecting it to not even be mapped out in game, let alone have Pokémon, Gyms, and PokéStop’s.

Once you capture Pokémon you raise their Combat Points –or CP as it’s referred to in game. You raise this using Stardust and Candy, which rises in cost the higher its CP level - each species has it's own cap. You collect 100 Stardust each time you capture a Pokémon, or a varied amount by levelling up your Pokémon Trainer. You also earn 3 Candy for ONE specific evolution line of Pokémon, based on what you capture; for example capturing a Pikachu will earn you 3 Pikachu candy to use on ONLY Pikachu and Raichu to level up or evolve with a certain amount of Candy. You can also earn 1 candy for transferring a captured Pokémon to the games Professor; Professor Willow which is basically the games ‘Release’ function for unwanted Pokémon.

Each Pokémon has two attacks that are randomly selected and unchangeable, and battles consist of tapping the screen as fast as you can to attack, you don't choose which attack to perform. You can swipe to avoid attacks, but I've rarely done so successfully. The moves, like the Pokémon, share the types from the main series games, however the battle mechanics are so under developed and meaningless, it doesn’t seem to matter. You can spam press your screen and win most battles, depending on the CP levels of the involved Pokémon.

You are unable to battle or trade with friends, or wild Pokémon for that matter, the only battling that takes place is at Pokémon Gyms, which like PokéStop’s are randomly chosen areas in the real world. A Gym can be controlled by a team, and you can station Pokémon inside your team's Gym to defend it through AI controlled battles when another team attacks. I have three Pokémon Gyms near me that I, and a few other players on Team Mystic have managed to defend since release. Each Pokémon you store in a Pokémon Gym will earn you 10 PokéCoins, which you can collect every 21 hours, these are used to purchase items from the microtransaction store.

Of course, being a mobile game there are in-app purchases, however it seems like you don’t really need to pay for anything. Upon seeing the store the first time I rolled my eyes and sighed, seeing that you could purchase Pokéballs for real currency, thinking that the game would hard limit you in how much you could play before you had to pay. But after walking around, visiting PokéStop’s and just levelling up I’ve found that you really can play this game without purchasing anything. You collect more than enough Pokéballs that you never seem to run out and the only thing that’s worth purchasing in the store are items to help you find more Pokémon, if you are able to keep Pokémon in Gyms then you can earn PokéCoins through that, albeit slowly.

The biggest problem I have with the game, aside from no Trainer battles, limited Pokémon movesets, and broken servers, is the core function of any Pokémon game; capturing and levelling Pokémon. Pokémon GO does not use the traditional levelling system present in most Pokémon games; instead it uses this strange ‘Combat Point’ system. In order to level up and evolve Pokémon you must keep capturing the same Pokémon species over and over, making levelling uncommon Pokémon like Dratini almost impossible, while common Pokémon like Magikarp end up taking 400 Candy to evolve! This entire system is just counter intuitive and takes the fun of exploring and finding Pokémon out of the game, as you have to go out of your way to capture the same Pokémon over and over again - it begins to feel like a chore.

Finding some Pokémon is hard enough as it is; after many days of playing I have yet to find a Pikachu, that I have longed to somehow own since I was a small child playing Pokémon Blue in the dark, in bed, late at night unable to see the screen. I will say, being able to see Pokémon in the real world is fun and can make for some hilarious pictures, and since Go's release I have found myself walking more -which is great. Finding new Pokémon is always exciting, but I do wish the core functionality of the game was deeper. Only the original Generation 1 Pokémon are present in game, and so far no one knows how or where to get Legendary Pokémon.

The game is fun, but it reality it is just another mobile game, not a Pokémon game, and that is hard to come to terms with. It feels soulless, it feels unpolished, and unlike an actual Pokémon experience, you could replace all of the Pokémon with knockoff monsters and it wouldn't feel any different. This is not a true Pokémon game; it’s more like the modern day Pokémon Snap sequel people have been longing for.

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