If you can say nothing else about Pokémon Go, at the very least you must admit that it’s a phenomenon to a degree that’s rarely seen in gaming.In a matter of a week, this new mobile take on Nintendo’s long-running role-playing game series has grown astoundingly popular. It has consumed social media conversation, flooded into mainstream news reports and had an impact on the everyday life of many players, in a physical, outside-the-game way. So … is it any good?
POKÉMON GO DOESN’T EXACTLY HAVE A LOT OF GAMEPLAY
I think we need to address the elephant in the room, the thing that makes this one of the weirdest reviews we’ve ever had to write: Pokémon Go doesn’t exactly have a lot of gameplay, in any sense of the word.
The mechanics of Pokémon Go, insofar as they exist, consist of tapping on Pokémon on your phone’s screen and then flicking a ball at them to capture them. Likewise, you will tap on PokéStops — special locations scattered around the world — to collect items. If you’re getting really serious, you can tap on gyms and engage in a mostly automated battle for control of these important landmarks.
Longtime fans of the Pokémon series expecting more of the same in mobile form may find themselves disappointed at first. Yes, the Pokémon games have always been about exploring the world and collecting cute creatures, but they’ve also always featured a surprisingly deep combat system with tactical choices to be made as you grind.
The closest Pokémon Go comes to offering this is giving you the chance to overtake much stronger enemies at gyms if you pick Pokémon of the right types (e.g., using water Pokémon to attack fire Pokémon). Pokémon Go‘s super-lite approach feels like a role-playing game with the “game” part removed, or a walking simulator minus the simulator.
The social experience is everything in Pokémon Go. It’s the reason the game has blown up, and it’s the reason I’m interested in sticking with it.
Obviously I’ve played games that have forced me to interact with real people before. I love massively multiplayer games, for example; I met people in my time with World of Warcraft whom I’m still friends with today. But I’ve never played a game where I’ve been compelled to interact with other people in the real world.
Almost every time I’ve gone for a walk to play Pokémon Go, I’ve ended up bumping into at least a couple of other people playing the game, and we’ve had pleasant conversations, sharing tips about where to catch a powerful Onix or complaining about how Team Blue took over a nearby gym again. And this is coming from someone who’s fairly introverted — it’s not normal for me to talk to total strangers for an extended period of time, multiple times a week.
While you complained (rightly so!) about the lack of direction and explanation Pokémon Go provides, that also feeds into this sense of community. At least once every couple of days, I’ve been told about a new method to guarantee a tough capture, or ways to optimize how many Pokémon I’m collecting. Pokémon Go‘s vagueness is a weakness, but it has (purposefully or not) strengthened the community.
THE LACK OF DIRECTION IN POKÉMON GO FEEDS INTO THIS SENSE OF COMMUNITY
Of course, so much of this social experience is thanks to us living in big urban areas. If you’re in a rural location, I can’t imagine it’s easy to get much out of Pokémon Go.
Has the social experience affected you as strongly as it has me? Is it enough to make up for what Pokémon Go is lacking elsewhere?
POKÉMON GO IS AN EXCITING SOCIAL EXPERIENCE, THOUGH WE’RE NOT SURE HOW LONG IT WILL LAST
Since the game is based so strongly in real-world interactions, it’s hard to tell where Pokémon Goheads from here. If Niantic keeps it frequently updated with new features and added depth, there’s potential for it to be a game we’re still talking about years down the road. Or it could end up as a passing fad, a brush fire craze that the whole gaming world is talking about for a few weeks and then is forgotten.
Wherever it goes, though, right now Pokémon Go is in a fascinating position, a cultural artifact whose power and pervasiveness is impossible to ignore, even if you’re not playing it. Is it good? That’s a complicated question that’s going to change depending on how much you value a game’s mechanical depth versus the unique social experience it provides. But in a week of playing it, we’ve been all smiles while doing so. For now, that’s enough. When the servers are up, anyway.