I have a real issue with Pokémon GO.
It’s cool, it’s only one incy-wincy, tiny, little, massive, super-sized problem. In some ways, the game is absolutely perfect: The sheer escapism of a fantasy world bleeding into reality, thanks to those little black boxes everyone carries in their pocket, is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before (uh, except all the other AR games out there – without the 90s pop culture nostalgia and mainstream appeal).
TL;DR: Where the hell’s the gameplay and that PokéBond which made the originals so special?
But that whole pissing about, forcing wild creatures into tiny balls in order to engage in the modern-day equivalent of cock fighting was only part of the fun.
Knowing that you, you beautiful savage, starved Mankee to death by removing him from his natural habitat barely constituted 23% of the game’s enjoyment.
Pokémon GO, where the hell is your gameplay?
Seriously, what happened to it? It’s like you’ve taken everything that’s awesome about the game, and implemented precisely half of it. Fucking. Half. You nailed the adventure, excitement, all the shit a Jedi craves not. But you know what a game isn’t? A game isn’t flicking up on a touchscreen. And unless you’re at a gym, your Pokémon can do the sum-total of 0%. No battles, no training, no gaming.
Look, I get it. Mamma raised a smart boy. It’s a mobile game, so your options are limited to about three different game mechanics. And if anyone really wants to play the originals, they can just pay stupid money for the Game Boy cartridges (and absolutely not download it using a GB emulator). That’s still no excuse though, because you’ve absolutely zero thought into entertaining an audience beyond the ‘Oh snap, that’s a mother-loving Squirtle on my spam sandwich’ moment. Also, who gives a shit about Squirtle?
The closest any Poké-player gets to anything approaching a video game is when they follow a coy Pikachu into Electronic Boutique. Sure, you can have a pop at the Pokémon knocking about at the gym, which results in… swiping left. And right. And left. And right. And…
If I want to scroll on my phone for fun, I’ll play ‘fuck you’ roulette with my phonebook again, thank-you very much – at least that has consequences.
Compare that to, y’know, absolutely any Pokémon game ever. There wasn’t just a strong gameplay, but actual strategy involved, as we considered what Pokémon would be best for the battle; Hey, you know what all of this can be called: Choice.
Choice. That’s the one thing no other form of art, or whatever the hell you want to call video games, that offers that. Except maybe ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books (if you liked that reference, go to page 34).
If you were generous, maybe you could argue that Pokémon GO is an example of a truly interactive narrative in which the player crafts their own open-ended story. ‘There’s your stinkin’ choice,’ you’d say, slapping my head with your $20 replica Pokédex – if you’re fucking stoned. Are you stoned? Don’t answer, I don’t even care, just roll me one. We’ll go twos.
In the original game, you train with your Pokémon, growing with them as much as they grow under your steady hand. That 6-mon line-up, honed to deadly precision. My starting Pokémon, a lvl 100 Charizard was like a pistol on my hip in the wild west of Kanto; now that was a game-changing team.
And don’t forget about the strategy-lite musings – seriously, don’t you bloody dare. Do we play offensive or defensive? Do we risk bringing out a healer that may wilt in an intensive fight, just to raise your premier Pokémon’s HP? Do we use the thunder stone to evolve that rare Pikachu? Those are intense moments.
Pokémon GO – where’s all of that? Or some of that. I’m not greedy, I’ve had breakfast. And it’s cool, Pokémon games evolve like… Pokémon Stadium. But that was still a game, damn it.
There are a couple of things needed to be considered a good game, right? You know this, I know this. We’re on the same page (of a website). Good mechanics, meaningful choices, maybe the hint of a story. PokéGo, as no-one calls it, has been reduced to an AR Pokédex Hunter. Just keep collecting Rattatas to trade in for candy to force an evolution (just like the real Pokémon!!). Flick-flick-flick. Congratulations, you’ve caught another Pidgey that appeared on the rim of your coffee cup. Walk. Flick. Flick… Those mechanics you learn in the first gameplay don’t change; they just grind. In the end, all I feel like we’re left with a joyless scavenger hunt.
That matters because it’s the gameplay that keeps people coming back – and not just while it’s trending and all your mates are playing it. True addicts notwithstanding, the jolt of excitement from spying and catching a Meowth can only last so long. Consider the guy who caught them all – what does he do now? Fuck about placing all his Pokémon at every gym in the land? Start over and pretend he’s playing New Game Plus? Hell, it’s like playing The Division once you’ve beat the end-game, only there’s no-one to vent your frustrations on by shooting them in the face and stealing their shit. Or capturing their Pokémon.
Pokémon GO is such a grade-A awesome idea, a fix I can’t get anywhere else. Apparently the whole world agrees, if the rioting and dead bodies and all that fun shit is anything to go by. But unless developer Niantic Labs sprinkles some actual gameplay variety to the proceeding, and increases the social/community element of the ‘game’, it risks being a fun mobile app Polygon dissects in 10 years’ time, saying, Remember when we cared?