Maybe you haven’t checked Twitter recently, but you’ve probably noticed an influx of new Pokemon trainers taking to the streets, all with the mission of catching them all. After only a couple of days since the app’s release, Pokemon Go has literally taken the world by storm. The game is developed by Niantic Labs, the minds behind the augmented-reality game Ingress, which was essentially a game about territory wars. Just like its predecessor, Pokemon Go used augmented-reality technology to allow people to catch Pokemon in “real-life.” Players wonder around their streets finding Pokemon along the way. It’s a cool concept, but just like any other big app that hits the marketplaces, the level of staying power comes into question. Is this game going to be around for a while? Probably. However, there’s some aspects of the game that need to be fixed in order to cement its longevity.
Let’s start with what the game gets right, because there’s a lot of potential to be had. Perhaps the biggest reason the app is resonating with so many people is the fact that “Pokemon” is in the name. Who doesn’t love Pokemon? But…seriously, who doesn’t love them? If you were a kid growing up in the 90’s, there’s a strong chance that you watched a Pokemon episode or two. Not to mention the popularity of the trading card game as well as the video games that went along with it. Pokemon was an integral part of a lot of our childhood’s, which explains why so many people have become instantly attached to the app. Currently, the only Pokemon available to catch in the wild are the original 151, which might also explain the number of teens and adults playing the game, rather than younger kids who are probably more familiar with the newer types. I’m sure there’s a bunch of kids playing the game, but in my experience I have noticed a surplus of older folks running around.
Pokemon Go’s social aspect is something I haven’t seen in a while. The game encourages you to leave the house and go out into the world. The game uses the equivalent of Google Maps to tag locations of interest as either Poke Stops or Pokemon Gyms. Checking in at Poke Stops grants you items like Poke Balls, Potions, and Revives. There’s also the chance for rarer items like Eggs, Incubators (used to hatch the eggs), and Incense. As you walk around, you will eventually find Pokemon hanging out in your area. When you click on them in the app’s map-like interface, it brings up an AR interface with the Pokemon. You can catch these Pokemon by throwing Poke Balls at them, which can prove tough if they are more aggravated. It’s a pretty simple premise that becomes second-nature as you find more Pokemon. When you catch a Pokemon, it gets added to the Pokedex (if you haven’t caught one of its type) and you get to see it’s stats. You can name your Pokemon, to give them a more personal touch, as well as level up their CP (Combat Power) by giving them Stardust and Pokemon-specific candy (items you obtain when you catch these Pokemon). Like I’ve said before, that’s pretty much all there is to it, but there’s some deeper strategy that you can employ as you level up and evolve your Pokemon. Finally, once you level up your trainer level to five, you can participate in Gym battles around your area. First, you pick a team to side with. You can choose between either Team Valor, Mystic, or Instinct. The main goal with Gym fights is to capture them for your team. If you take down a Gym’s prestige level, you can then claim that Gym for your team. If your team has already laid claim to the Gym, you can offer up your Pokemon to bolster its defense. This seems to be Pokemon Go’s endgame. Trainer vs. trainer battles are expected in the future, but right now Gyms seem to be the main goal for your stronger Pokemon.
Never have I seen more people get into a game like they have Pokemon Go. Alright, that’s probably a bold statement considering games like Clash of Clans exist in this world, but there’s been a lot of talk surrounding the game. My Twitter feed has literally been taken over by Pokemon Go posts. I have literally had conversations with friends and random strangers in the street who were also playing Pokemon Go. Maybe it’s just a phenomenon that’s going to blow by in the coming days, but the game’s social meta game is what makes it so special. It’s inspiring people to get out and have social interactions with completely random people. People are literally treating their teams like their gangs, hassling people who aren’t apart of their team’s ranks. (If you’re not Team Mystic, I don’t know what you’re doing.) It’s these aspects of the game that convince me this game’s going to be around for a while, especially as more social features get added to the game.
Finally, the game gets you an excuse to get off your butt an exercise. These Pokemon aren’t going to catch themselves. Sure, you can use Insence to attract Pokemon to your location for a span of thirty minutes, but the real fun comes when you get out and take a walk. Your almost guaranteed to find more Pokemon that way and you’ll burn some calories at the same time. You can also hatch eggs as you walk, given that they are in incubators. Eggs either take two, five, or ten kilometers to hatch, so you better start grinding away. Over the course of the past couple of days I have walked a total of seven miles. I got lost in my neighborhood trying to find a rare Machop, but I didn’t mind. It’s an excuse to get in shape, which is perfect for the coming Summer months.
Now at this point I have rattled off a lot about what makes this game great, but there are some fundamental features of the game that either need fixed or added. It’s in no means a perfect game. It’s still young which means there’s a lot of room for improvement.
Let’s first talk about the actual game…because there isn’t much too it. Catching Pokemon by throwing Poke Balls at them yields some strategy, but at the end of the day it just amounts to swiping a Poke Ball in the Pokemon’s direction. The battles? Well, there not so hot. Each Pokemon has a total of two moves that they can use when you fight other Pokemon. The combat consists of tapping the opposing Pokemon to attack and swiping left or right to dodge incoming attacks. That’s all there is to it. Remember that turn-based battle system that you were probably used to in the original Pokemon games? Now it’s been relegated to an inaccurate touch-and-swipe minigame that essentially comes down to which Pokemon has the higher CP level. You’re not battling human players when you are fighting at Gyms, which means a turn-based system would be tricky to implement when the opposing Pokemon isn’t being controlled by its trainer. However, some sort of change needs to be made in order to make the battles more enticing. It might not be the app’s biggest problem, but I would love to see a more strategic focus in the battle systems.
Right now, the biggest problem plaguing the app is its technical issues. Oh boy there’s a lot of them. Whether it’s server troubles or hard crashes, you are going to run into a fair share of issues as you walk around. The game is fairly new and it’s received an overload of players pinging the servers, so this is a problem that should be expected. I don’t think the guys and girls at Niantic Labs were expecting such a response to the app. However, the amount of server issues and crashes indicate that the problem might be a bit tougher to fix. Either that or the game will need some time to work itself out. I’m fairly confident that these issues will be worked out over time, but their presence makes the game a touchy experience in the present.
Battery life is the other technical aspect that needs to be fixed. The game will shred even the finest of phone batteries. This stems from the fact that you have to keep the app open in order to register distance and catch Pokemon. You can have it open in the background, but that’s not going to do you any good. If you want to interact with the game, it has to be open at all times, which is bad news for your battery. Pro tip: you can make your battery last longer by lowering your brightness. It’s not much but it will help you, especially if you plan on going on a long endeavor through the wild. Maybe even pack a portable battery to charge up your phone in times of need. This problem can be fixed by allowing for background processes. As I’m walking around, I would love to receive notifications if there is a Pokemon nearby or a Poke Stop to take advantage of. Simple push notifications don’t seem like they would be tough to implement, but who knows. Tracking your distance walked should also be handled in the background. I shouldn’t have to have the app open in order to register that I’m walking. If these aspects of the game could be handled in the background, it could go a long way to improving the app’s battery usage.
Pokemon Go is currently in beta, so there’s a good chance that the game’s going to improve in the coming weeks and months. As it stands, the game is a lot of fun, partly because the fact that it’s Pokemon. Right now the gameplay isn’t much, but it’s the thrill of catching them all that is going to keep players grinding away. Is the app going to have staying power? Probably, but only if Niantic bolsters the gameplay and improves the technical experience. The fixes I mentioned above could go a long way in ensuring players stick around for the long run. More Pokemon are presumably going to be added in the future, so the fun has only just begun. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a wild Rhydon somewhere in my neighborhood. Good luck out there fellow Pokemon trainers.