There's no beating around the bush here. Pokémon GO is a huge hit. The augmented reality game from Niantic and Nintendo has released with such popularity that Niantic has had trouble keeping the servers up to run the game, much to gamers' chagrin.
However, I'm not writing to talk about that. I'm also not writing to channel my inner old man to yell at the metaphorical Pokémon cloud. I can't deny the fact that not only is Pokémon GO an incredible success, but it is also providing joy and satisfaction to millions of players despite the issues that have cropped up and the negative attention it has garnered.
So without further adieu, these are my thoughts on one of the most successful mobile games ever. Be gentle, please...
Pokémon GO encourages activity
There's something to be said about a game that gets people up and about. Nintendo has previously attempted to tap into that idea in the past for their Wii console and was met with some measure of success. I doubt there were many households that didn't have a Wii hooked up to the living room television at some point. I personally remember playing hours of Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort, flailing myself around while narrowly missing sticking my hands into the ceiling fan. It was fun because it got me involved physically instead of just mentally.
Pokémon GO appears to follow in that vein and even though I don't play it, I love that it exists. I have friends that have struggled to find ways to get healthy and in shape (something that I admittedly struggle with a little too) and they've been out playing the game at our local university. I've heard them remark many times that they've been more active in the time that the game has been out than ever before.
What's the kicker there? They're loving every second of it. I want that same fervor in my own gaming habits as well, but sadly I find myself both unable and unwilling to participate (something that I will explain in a bit).
There seriously needs to be more games like this on the market. No, we don't need Pokémon GO clones on the market. We need games that make people active in their game playing, and enjoy it in the process.
Pokémon GO encourages socialization
Now before I continue on this particular point, I want to point something out. Gamers as a whole are not antisocial, despite how popular culture has portrayed us previously. There are simply gamers of all stripes; some gamers are very social and some aren't.
However, Niantic's new game does quite a bit to not only get people outside playing but it also puts them in physical proximity to other players. Outside of couch co-op games, there really aren't any games that do what Pokémon GO does. I've heard from many both in person and online stating that they're talking to others who are also playing the game.
What's best to keep in mind as well is that this isn't just anecdotal evidence of people being brought together through the game. A cursory glance online to almost any news website will likely turn up a story about people gathering to play together. Something interesting to note about this too is that this is all taking part without any form of formal multiplayer. An equivalent to this would be if Call of Duty or Super Smash Bros. players were all playing a single player mode of their games and simply sharing the experience with others around them.
One would hope that Niantic expands on the game to include some formal multiplayer or trading at some point.
Pokémon GO is showing some serious stretch marks
One particular sticky issue lately is that Pokémon GO is suffering some serious growing pains. The launch has been marred with reports of outages under heavy server loads and even threats of direct denial of service (DDOS) attacks and there doesn't seem to be any end in sight.
What everyone needs to consider however is that these sorts of things tend to be relieved once server loads drop to normal levels. I think that currently Niantic is still dealing with the side effects of the launch and things will stabilize once the initial hype wears off and the game is officially launched in all potential territories. Only time will tell and patience is key.
Pokémon GO is far too simple
There really isn't a pretty way to put this; Pokémon GO is just too simple considering the source material. The fact of the matter is, Niantic took a turn-based tactical RPG and boiled it down into a reskinned paper toss game. Granted there are other elements to the gameplay, but they aren't exactly much of an improvement. Gym battles in Pokémon GO consist of swiping to dodge, or tapping or holding your finger down on the Pokémon you are fighting... That's pretty much it. That's far from the complexity and involvement of previous Pokémon titles.
I can't speak for Niantic, but I get the feeling that they were doing what they could with the team they had and what they know. Niantic's other game, Ingress, isn't exactly the pinnacle of mobile gaming in terms of gameplay but it hosts a number of improved gameplay mechanics that hopefully find their way into Pokémon GO.
Pokémon GO is broken
Let me clarify. Pokémon GO works most of the time and having experience using a Windows phone has taught me to deal with crash happy apps. What I wouldn't be able to deal with is the developer themselves intentionally breaking the game or refusing to allow improvements. Coincidentally, this appears to be what Niantic is doing.
I'm sure many of you readers will have heard by now of the shutdown of Pokévision and the like, as well as the complete removal of the albeit broken three-step tracker. Niantic's CEO John Hanke has come off as either smug or dismissive of any attempt to improve the user experience. To quote directly from Forbes on the matter:
F: How do you feel about Poké Radar and things that tap into the code and show where Pokémon are spawning?
JH: Yeah, I don’t really like that. Not a fan.
We have priorities right now but they might find in the future that those things may not work. People are only hurting themselves because it takes some fun out of the game. People are hacking around trying to take data out of our system and that’s against our terms of service.
To be fair though, I can understand Hanke's perspective to some extent. However, Poké Radar and Pokévision were created to alleviate the symptoms of a broken portion of Pokémon GO and Niantic has shown little interest in attempting to fix the problem.
What you may not have heard of is that Niantic has been openly closed off to third-party companion apps for some time. Ingress has apparently seen the same level of hostility towards third party mods on the behalf of Niantic, but hopefully Niantic will right the ship before things go too far.
So why don't I play?
Honestly, the only reason I don't play Pokémon GO is because I don't have a compatible device. I use a Microsoft 950 XL, which is an excellent phone that does exactly what I want it to do. The unfortunate side effect is that many mobile apps and games simply aren't available on my phone. I'd happily take any opportunity to play a new game, even one based on a franchise that I'm not much of a fan of the series (please note that I'm just not a fan. I don't actively hate Pokémon).
I think that I'd likely enjoy my time with the game playing with my friends at the college and getting some much needed exercise. I'd even overlook the negative aspects of the game: the bugs, the developer angst, and incredible simplicity.
The fact is that even though I seem really negative about Pokémon GO, I'm a tad bit jealous that I don't get to play it. But don't tell anyone, okay?
What would you like to see in Pokémon GO? What's your stance? How many Pokémon do you have? Feel free to comment below!