Pokémon Go is without a doubt the biggest game launch in the history of the franchise and probably mobile games ever. Not even Nintendo could have expected the tremendous response to this new free phone game, or the weird stock market roller coaster it set the company off on. Right now, people are swarming cities and their own backyards in order to find their favorite fighting critters in real life and it’s honestly pretty amazing. It’s not often that a mobile game captivates both young and old alike, but Nintendo and Niantic have found the perfect way to get people outdoors and interacting with their beloved franchise.
As fun as tracking down Pokémon and using them to battle can be, the game’s far from perfect. Part of that comes down to the sheer volume of people trying to get on—even though it’s been out for a few weeks, the technology still can’t quite handle the demand yet. Crashing games, server issues, glitches, you name it—Pokémon Go is having a hard time keeping up. But despite those issues, players are still hitting the streets hard and enjoying it when they can. If you’re already playing it, these pros and cons will probably be familiar. If you’re about to start, here’s what you have to look forward to.
My downtown area is currently overwhelmed with people from their 50s down to little children, all playing and talking about Pokémon Go. There are kids sitting under historical statues smack talking about how they are ruling that gym with their respective team, and other teams playfully mocking them back as they try to overtake them. Random people who would never speak to each other are now engaged in conversation about what Pokémon are showing up where and what their strongest one is. There are even people reporting that they met someone new and started dating them because of Pokémon Go. Typical “nerds,” stereotypical “jocks,” old and young, everyone including my own mother is playing this game. There are no boundaries, just people playing on their cell phones and sharing information. It’s refreshing to see the interaction and really inspiring to see little kids teaching grown adults and the other way around how to play the game that a lot of us grew up with.
Nintendo and Niantic have given us the perfect excuse to get out of the house and into the wide world. It turns out people like exercising when they don’t know they are doing it. I know I’ve walked well over my normal exercise routines in just the time that the game has been out and many others are online reporting they’ve already lost weight from it. Right now, everyone is either focused on hatching their eggs, which requires a certain amount of walking, or they are trying to track down rare Pokémon. Certain ones may be nearby, but not close enough to appear in your home, and though they give you incense to lure them to you, sometimes you still have to get up and get a little closer for them to bite. It may sound silly to some, but finding that super-rare Pokémon is exciting and fun no matter how far away it may be. 2AM Butterfree outside on my street? You better believe I got out of bed and went to catch it.
One of the coolest features of Pokemon Go is the inclusion of Poké-Stops, which are landmarks of some kind in an area that give you items when you are near them. On top of that, they can also be Gyms where you can place your Pokémon for everyone to see and battle with. Gyms are a big challenge and most players want their respective teams to hold as many gyms as they can. This means that people are leaving their homes and getting out into their cities to discover all the possible historical landmarks nearby that maybe they didn’t notice before. I’ve already learned so much about my own city’s history that I didn’t even know existed. Landmarks I never noticed and places of historical significance are now on my radar, and it’s really neat to think that you’re sharing it with your whole town as they play too.
There’s really not much to argue about a free game. There are micro-transactions that you can use real money for in order to enhance your experience, but it’s not necessary to enjoy the game. Later on, when they release all 700 plus Pokémon, it may become necessary to upgrade how many Pokémon you can hold at one time, but for now you can enjoy it with ease. Personally, I’d say that a game that has brought this many people together, has them outside, and has them exercising with smiles on their faces is worth way more than free. We’ve been gifted something pretty amazing.
One of the biggest and best selling points of Pokémon Go is that it’s easy to understand and easy to play. There are no complicated controls or menus that need much explanation—just you, a map and the Pokémon that appear on it. I watched a 6 year old girl teaching a man probably close to his 60s how to play this game on his phone. Within a few moments he had caught his first Pokémon and was celebrating with the little girl. At first it seemed surreal like a staged commercial, but it’s really just a testament to the game’s brilliant simplicity. The game itself offers little explanation or guides but it’s so easy to understand that anyone could figure it out. It’s a rare thing in game design that we see greatness that’s so accessible, but then again that’s what Nintendo strives for. Let’s hope they continue to keep it that way.
Pokémon Go is a playable game…most of the time. For a lot of people there have been long periods of frustration over the fact that they can’t even log in to play the game to begin with. Then, once they are in, the game isn’t as reliable as they’d hoped. Often the game will drop a player completely and leave them staring at that horrible little loading pokéball in the corner. It sometimes won’t register the steps you’ve walked for your egg hatching and worst of all it will freeze in the middle of battling or catching a Pokémon. And just to rub salt in the wound, you’ll have wasted all your items that you used before that glitch and you can never get them back. Some have even reported errors of purchasing things with real money, but never receiving their items. If Nintendo and Niantic want to keep this game popular, those glitches and server issues have got to go before frustrated players completely walk away.
There’s a really unique and interesting battle system introduced in Pokémon Go that’s not quite like all the other Pokémon games. You can actually dodge attacks and your Pokémon only have 2 moves at a time, to name a few changes. But as cool as it is, you can only battle at a gym, and that’s disappointing when you look at how much community involvement there has been. The game series was founded on the ideas of catching, trading and battling these little monsters, but when you remove the battling you end up creating an isolated experience. Sure, taking down that gym as a team is awesome, but what if you don’t live near the city or you just want to play with friends? Pokémon Go has been described by Nintendo and Niantic as a game that will be growing and evolving based on the players, so here’s hoping they hear us on battling.
One feature that’s introduced in this game is the curving pokéballs mechanic. By spinning the pokéball before you throw it to capture a Pokémon, you can curve it, and if you catch them with it then you can earn more experience. It’s clearly a way to expand on the touchscreen/ mobile device gameplay functions, but honestly it just gets in the way. Sometimes you’ll throw a pokéball straight and for some reason it will curve. The sensitivity of it is brutal and often it happens at the most inopportune times. And some higher level Pokémon will seemingly dispel your throws in the same way with no explanation as to why. Tightening up these controls and possibly even removing that curve feature completely may be the best way to go gameplay-wise in order to reduce some more of that frustration.
If the real world were to suddenly have all the Pokémon that exist on this game map, we’d all be buried in Rattatas and Pidgeys. I understand that we’re only dealing with the original 150 Pokémon and it’s really fun to see people excited about a lot of the most basic ones, but jeez there are really just too many damn Rattatas and Pidgeys! It takes forever to find something unique and most of the time you have to go out into a really populated area and try to lure them in with incense and lure modules, but even then you’re not guaranteed anything spectacular. What’s a guy got to do to run into a Vulpix or a Mankey around here? Eggs seem to work pretty well for finding some exotic things, but there just aren’t enough eggs or enough time in the day for all that! We can only travel and walk so far each day, Nintendo! Throw us something good already!
The biggest selling point to any Pokémon game is that you can share your Pokémon with other people in order to fill each other’s collections and gain the ones you really wanted. In my house, I chose a Squirtle, Girlfriend chose a Charmander, and Roomie got a Bulbasaur. So far, I’ve gotten two Squirtles , 2 Bulbasaurs, and NO CHARMANDERS. My housemates would love to have one of my starters, but I’m stuck with the extras. This problem could easily be solved if we could just trade, but so far it’s not something the game allows. Some people have better luck than others, and it helps if you’re able to travel to areas outside your home town. If these people find multiples of something rare, then it would be better if they could trade it to someone else who may want to raise it. Until then, we’ll have to keep getting rid of them for candies in order to upgrade the ones we have even if we don’t plan on using them at all. It just seems like a waste and honestly a slap in the face to one of the staples the series was founded on.
Alex Tisdale is a writer and illustrator who runs on coffee and pop culture. You can find him covered in ink and rambling on his website or on Twitter.