The world seems to be flipping out over Pokemon Go. I have to admit I was at first extremely excited. The trailers seemed to give the illusion that Nintendo was finally going to unleash the massively multiplayer Pokemon MMO my heart had always desired. When I finally got my hands on the app though, I was horribly disappointed to see that none of it lived up to the dreams I’d been harboring for a true successor to Pokemon. I love Pokemon. I’ve loved it for a nearly its entire existence. Not in some kind of manchild nostalgia way either where you simply glom onto anything you remember from your youth no matter if it was any good in the first place.
The core of Pokemon has always been built around a rock solid game foundation that you could easily compare to some of the best, most enduring game designs around on par with the best board games or card games ever made. I’ve more or less dropped out of playing Magic: The Gathering because I don’t have an obscene amount of money to spend, but I can drop a few bucks on a new core Pokemon game every couple years and not want to cry myself to sleep at night just because I want to obsessively collect and compete in something. Sure there might be spin-off products like the Pokemon card game, the figurines, and plushies, but when it comes to the core game series Nintendo always puts in the time and care to continue to evolve upon the core mechanics. That’s why Pokemon is still relevant while imitators like Digimon and Monster Rancher have fallen away into obscure oblivion.
The core series has an addictive RPG component that instantly hooks you and an insanely competitive post game. Some of you might know about different Pokemon types and their rock/paper/scissors elemental types. It’s pretty well shoved in your face with every starter Pokemon set, so you’d have to be really really incompetent not to see it. But that’s just the surface. Beyond that, there's natures that give stat buffs and debuffs, there are effort values which basically give you an additional 100 or so stat points to distribute as you see fit, and there are Individual Values, the equivalent of Pokemon genes. Then there are the egg moves that can only be learned through breeding. Oh, and there are hidden abilities too. And let’s not forget mega evolutions and held items. What at first seems like a simple game for elementary school children becomes an a complex battle algorithm with each component building upon the others to form one of the most vicious competitive e-sports around.
Forget cock fighting, a championship level competitive Pokemon game goes to a level of metagaming that would make any Starcraft or League of Legends pro scream in terror. That’s what keeps me coming back again and again. The fantasy of raising my team to a level to crush all those below me as I deploy my tactical battle formation of best friends who have been formulated after hours of grueling theory crafting, generations of inbreeding, and strategizing. If you really want to see how well your childhood team of Pokemon would fare in a knock down drag out fight, go to smogon.com.
Go ahead. I’ll wait as you come to a crushing realization that your beloved Charizard is terrible in the metagame due to it’s crippling 4X weakness to rock type attacks. Meaning your beloved fire dragon stands to lose 50% of its health just by switching into stealth rock, one of the most highly utilized entry hazards in the competitive scene. That’s what I love about Pokemon, it combines my childhood fantasy of raising cool animals with my love of brutal strategic warfare. And you are never lacking for tactical options with over 700 of the critters to choose from. With the new Sun and Moon game coming soon I can feel my deep seated Pokemon love burning inside me again as I look to see what new improvements have been added to the battle system and what new critters I can look forward to adding to my dream team arsenal.
But here’s the thing: as much as I love Pokemon, the games will always never love me back. Because Nintendo and Game Freak, no matter how many steps they take the franchise forward, they always wind up regressing two steps back. If they really wanted all the world’s money we’d already be playing the Pokemon MMO on our phones and desktops and all of the other freemium bullshit games would crumble and weep upon the altar of Pikachu as he stands triumphantly laughing and licking at their tears. But like most Japanese companies, Nintendo is very slow to act upon innovation. We’re six generations in now, and we’re only just got the ability to intentionally customize effort values in a tedious mini game! And sweet baby Jesus, messing around for hours on end trying to get the correct nature for that 10% stat boost is a pain in the ass.
There are twenty five different natures and only one or two that are actually optimal. Do you have any idea how long it takes to hatch that many god damn eggs? Don’t get me wrong. I’ll do it, but I’m always amazed how much of a brick wall the games put up for a player to get their desired competitive result. I’m not asking for a hand out, but please. Please! Can we get a mini-game to change Pokemon natures rather than more Pokemon contests or those stupid activities like Pokemon dance shows? Actually, maybe you could finally make Pokemon contests mean something if it was a way to actually change the nature of your Pokemon. Because holy god, no one cares about dressing up your Gengar right now. I don’t want a bow on it. I want it to be able to murder my enemies.
I mean imagine it like this. Let's say there’s a Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter game where you have over 700 playable characters. Sounds amazing right? But if you want to try a new fighter you have to spend three hours doing tedious menu micromanagement and grinding just to try out a new character. Because that’s basically what it’s like to build a new team in Pokemon if you want any hope of being competitive. If you find out something isn’t working as much as you’d like, the game practically gives you the middle finger and laughs at you for wanting to try something different. Oh, you wanna be a Pokemon master after tasting bitter failure and defeat? Well first you must put in at least 15 hours of grinding to try out your new team before you can even think of setting foot on the digital battlefield. It’s the most painful and counter intuitive method ever, and we just endure it because Nintendo is the only dealer in town and we’ve been shooting up so much black tar heroin into our veins we can’t accept any substitute.
You’d think that someone would have figured out a way by now to replicate Nintendo’s formula in a more user friendly manner. That some greedy app developer could just copy and paste it with a few smart design changes and we could all just get our fix there. But noooo, nobody has ever managed to do it and the closest thing we have is Rick and Morty’s cheap license tie-in app Pocket Mortys. Just imagine if Nintendo and Game Freak provided a seamless online game world where you could battle and trade with people in real time instead of relying on a stupid 12 digit friend code to play with people you know. Being the Disney of video games has always made Nintendo very wary about potentially sullying their brand by giving the poor little children the means to communicate with strangers and pedophiles. But you know what? All the little 8 and 11 year-olds are already playing Call of Duty laughing their asses off as they yell curse words and racial slurs at strangers as they teabag their corpses. Adding more robust and less restrictive online support isn’t going to destroy their family friendly reputation. We want the Pokemon game we deserve, not the one Nintendo thinks we need.
- If any of our nostalgia overlords over at Nintendo is reading this, we’d love you death if you consider adding the following:
- Minigame to change natures.
- Faster leveling in the post game (NO MORE ELITE 4 RUNS!!!)
- A persistent online space that allows for interaction with strangers
- No more running with eggs to make that shit hatch. Let us throw it in an incubator or something.
- Give us a way to assign IV and EV without any kind of stupid grinding or minigame.
- More robust post-game material. You let us go to a different region like you did in Gold and Silver, let us do that again for christ sake!
- Repeatable high level trainer battles!
Holy crap, please give us a better story. Pokemon has never been about the story, but I would fucking love to see you try something different. Anything different. Just please. Not another terrible team of idiots with poor fashion sense who preach about using Pokemon for profit.
Just make these tweaks to your already rock solid formula and you’ll be on your way to conquering every other “pretender” e-sport out there and ensure that Pokemon continues to obliterate just about everything out there. I mean Pokemon has conquered the world with a shallow game where you literally just run around throwing imaginary pokeballs in kind of shitty augmented reality. Imagine if you applied the deep combat mechanics and trading to Pokemon go as well as all of the other 718 Pokemon. It would be worse than polio and the bubonic plague combined in terms of crippling an entire generation of children as well as their 30-something compatriots who grew up with the TV show and original gameboy games. Hell, people might even take the live action Detective Pikachu Pokemon movie seriously if you can transform your games into the world consuming juggernaut we know it can be. Just. Maybe ditch the Team Rocket uniforms first and the terrible grinding. Nobody likes the post game level grinding.