Pokémon Go

A Strange Experience, yet Fulfilling Nonetheless

It has been some time since my last review, so I thought I would kick up ‘ye ol’ web-log’ again with this ‘Special Pick’. Film, TV, theatre, and the odd ballet never fail to conjure some interesting discussions, but here, on the birth of a new millennium (and a bit before then) the human race have found another form of media for entertainment… but mostly for procrastination.

Yes, I am talking about video games, and I’m surprised I’ve lasted this long without posting a game review, especially since I consider myself ‘a player of the game’, or gamer I suppose. Sometimes, I love exploring solo campaigns, following an elaborate storyline to overcome some sort of big bad boss, and possibly learn something along the way. Other times, I just want to switch off from the world and shoot/build/drive/jump on/fight things. Despite the latter, I like an objective, which is why I hate mobile gaming. The market seems awash with pay-to-play Clash of Candy Crush look-a-likes – the platform that would best release the beauty of video games to the mainstream is stifled with casual games. But what is that upon the horizon, shining a beacon of light to push back such travesties as Bejewelled copies and Game of War: Fire Age? Could we be seeing a new hope arise from the app store?

Pokéballs are way too mainstream
Out of Pokéballs again

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, you would have heard about the latest craze of 2016. Pokémon Go is gripping the UK (and the world) by storm, allowing kids of the nineties to relive their childhood, and kids of the noughties have a childhood (at least one that gets them off those damn iPad-thingies). The hype, sadly, isn’t all positive, as controversy has arisen from breaches of privacy and property to overall risk to personal safety, and, perhaps worst of all, from not actually being that good.

So I want to throw in my ‘tuppence worth’ into the growing pile of… tuppences(?) sweeping the internet. As I’ve already said, this ‘Pick’ is my first time reviewing a game, let alone an app, but I’m going to try and focus mostly on the game itself rather than the notoriety and news it’s garnered. Can Pokémon Go‘s nostalgic charm live up to the worldwide phenomenon it’s created, or is this just another fad that will fade away in time?

Starting your adventure

PLOT: You’re walking along one day, enjoying the beautiful outdoors, phone in one hand (and frappe in the other if you’re feeling particularly cheeky) when Professor Willow comes along and tells you that there are Pokémon in the world with your name on them! You gotta go catch ’em all! Choose a team (not Instinct) and get out there! That’s all I can really say about plot.

Upon finishing up with Professor Willow and capturing your starter Pokémon (Charmander), you’re going to notice two things:

  1. You live in the middle of nowhere, and you can’t catch anything.
  2. You walk/drive/fly to your local town, your phone crashes ten times, and you can’t catch anything.
Such a tease
Such a tease

It takes time for your phone to adjust to the huge amount of battery the app is taking and for the servers to pick up your phone. Even when your phone starts to play ball (get it?), the game still suffers from interruptions to your gameplay, your pokéballs bouncing off the furry critters like they’re made of red cheese.

Despite these bumps in the road, they don’t overshadow the sheer joy of going on your very own Pokémon adventure. The game actively encourages you to explore your surroundings, with the inclusion of Pokéstops and Gyms to collect items and battle. Eggs also play a significant role in getting you moving around, unless you’re lazy and do this, this, or this.

Catching them ‘Z’s

There are some really nice touches to the game: the time of day affects the look of your map and what Pokémon are more likely to spawn. Pokémon are also different depending on where you are. If you’re next to water, you’ll find water Pokémon; and if you’re in a city, there will be lots and lots of Pokémon; and if you live in the countryside, then you might as well uninstall the game.

Anything else?
Anything else?

In all honesty, there’s not much to Pokémon Go: you walk around and catch Pokémon. Battles are reduced to madly tapping the screen like you’re trying to buy early-bird Drake concert tickets, and trading still hasn’t been implemented. Training Pokémon is limited too, especially for beginners.

In IGN’s review, they mention these features need to be put in the game fast if we are to keep interested for long; I mostly agree. However, let’s not forget what this game is bringing us. Virtual reality systems have gained increased attention over the past couple of years, but Pokémon Go is in a whole different field.

Augmented reality allows the player to interact with the world around them; its aim is not to be escapism. The game cements itself in our world and therefore encourages us to interact with reality by enhancing it, which is pretty amazing when considering video games are stigmatised as causing antisocial adolescents. If anything, Pokémon Go gives players the opportunity to meet people in the outside world – face-to-face – rather than a faceless persona through a screen. This is a totally radical step in the gaming industry.

Time for action!

This little revolutionary app: the nostalgia; the friendly competition; adventuring outside; the funny little pictures you can take; all of it adds to a bizarre yet fun, addicting, and exciting experience of running around to catch virtual creatures with your mates. Yes, it seems childish, crazy, dangerous, even annoying to some, but I think it’s worth riding this strange spectacle for however long it lasts. Hype fades, but you might as well give it a chance while people are still playing. Why not? Go outside and have a laugh; you may surprise yourself.

I could go on and on about what Pokémon Go could mean for not only mobile-gaming but gaming in general. I could also list the many flaws you still have to battle with, but right now I’m sitting in a café, phone plugged in the wall, and a wild Haunter’s appeared! In the words of Bilbo Baggins: “I’m going on an adventure!”. Catch you later (pun intended), because Team Vinci’s blasting off again!

VERDICT: 4/7 – A ‘Like’ Button

Yeah, I’m rating things in ‘sevens’ now. Did I also mention that I think I was the first person in the world to use Pokémon Go in an academic paper? Let me know if you want to know a bit more in the comments below!

Special thanks to Chris, Jack, Jess, Sophie, Jono, and Molly for the pictures.