It’s been just over a year since Pokemon Go granted the long enduring dreams of every adolescent, promoting the idea that you too can be the very best. We scoured across our suburban locals seeking every Rattata that wandered by. What a time to be alive! There were of course fears concerning public safety due to the games use of “Augmented Reality”, which enabled your location to be tracked, creating a navigable world that required the novel idea of physical activity to locate these creatures. Critics were concerned that the games AR promoted some stupid individuals to engage in invasive conduct in private properties to attain these virtual creatures or facilitated criminals to take advantage of stray trainers, most notably children to steal phones, money or for other salacious purposes. Thankfully most deliberate or accidental instances have been conducted by the colossally ignorant and the immensely stupid. It turns out that Pokemon Go’s most prominent issue was rather more systemic.
When the game was announced I was excited. Wait, let me clarify that accurately; I was ecstatic! Catching Pokemon in our world, even via a virtual proxy is something many of us have dreamt of since we slotted Pokemon Red/Blue into our monochromatic GameBoy. Its an inspired notion that resonates with such exultant vigour, that you just can’t help but embrace. The trouble with Go was that it failed to retain user retention for any significant period. The best description I’ve heard was that it’s a great experience, just not a great game. Gym battles for instance though competitive required repetitious tapping and a Pokemon with slightly higher numerical value. The gyms themselves became so heavily fortified that a players perpetual residency made it almost impossible to breach, with the huge disparity between Team Instinct and Mystic/Valour only exacerbating things. The battles themselves could have benefited from the more traditional turn based combat, permitting some strategical balance that was severely absent from the routinely static combat.
What attracted me to the original colour orientated series was the ability to capture and train. The perfunctory exchange I always found rather riveting, as you steadily accumulate and train a varied team capable of defeating whatever specialist gym you come up against. In GO training is reduced to an arbitrary numbers game that promotes the repeated acquisition of the same Pokemon to increase their power, providing a negligible immersion that made the traditional series so captivating. You just capture the same ubiquitous creatures over and over again until you realise you’ve trekked halfway across town with enough Pidgeys to cover Leicester Square! And to what end? To gain experience points that have no real bearing on your ability to ensnare Pokemon? Embarking on regular excursions resulted in similar encounters. Whether you turned left, right or drive to another city entirely, deviations are seldom rewarded and explorable fields or woodlands are bereft of any creatures that you’d naturally expect to find there. And here amongst all these churlish and bland expansions to an otherwise brilliant concept lies Pokemon Go’s most inherent problem: it’s boring.
You walk, ramble, stroll and saunter, filling your lungs with polluted air and trying to forget about that growth that beginning to pulsate on the soul of your foot, until it finally dawns on you that there’s no point. No real incentive. And it doesn’t matter how far you travel or how many times you tell yourself that today will be the day that you’ll find a Lapras, the monotony is only exacerbated by the lack of an adventure. Instead players were penalised for using third party sites to identify the precise location of a rare Pokemon, a feature that should’ve existed in the primary game. The absence of a functioning tracking system, let alone a serviceable one for much of its inauguration was an egregious failure, and a concession that ultimately deterred many a prospective customer. How do Niantic expect trainers to find Pokemon when they can’t actually track them?
It’s funny. Until a couple of months a go I was a firm advocate for this game, taking regular deviations on my way to work to stock up on items and catch any unsuspecting Pokemon that wandered into view. But an enforced absence, due to a broken phone gave me something 9 months of continued interaction with this app didn’t teach me: perspective. I didn’t miss playing nor could I conceive of an incentive to go back to it. On the face of it there’s very little to enjoy despite numerous supplementary contributions added over the course of the year that attempted to improve it. In fact I’d argue very little has been done to ensure a fluid optimisation of the service let alone updates to improve content. Niantic were granted the honour of adapting one of Nintendo’s most enduring series into a mobile market clustered with already established powerhouses, knowing that regardless of what they did the Pokemon affiliation alone would be enough to make its software a commercial success. The potential this game had to be something truly remarkable is something I don’t think Niantic really respected.
What have you guys made of Pokemon Go over the past year? Let me know in the comments below. Cheers.