In 2016, so many of us got up and got moving in order to hatch Pokemon eggs and capture monsters to add to our collections in Pokemon Go. By 2017, the game’s popularity had waned, and some of us had moved on to the next big craze.
Given that where I live, the weather has improved enough to make being outside pleasant, I recently picked Pokemon Go up for the second time in several years, and while it’s far, far from perfect, I’m finding almost as much joy in it now as I did in 2016, despite the amount of allergy medication I’m having to take.
If you’ve somehow missed the Pokemon franchise, I’m not entirely certain what you’re doing reading this column. However, the idea is that you’re a trainer who goes out into a world populated by adorable pocket monsters—hence Pokemon—in order to capture them in little balls and then deploy them to battle other trainers’ Pokemon.
To be fair, the concept is a touch disturbing, which is no doubt why Pokemon Go spends so much time trying to convince us that being captured by a kind trainer is an aggregate good for the little creatures. Niantic has deployed in the game a number of special research tasks ostensibly targeted at caring for or getting to know the Pokemon better, and while some of the tasks are repetitive and cheesy—more on that below—the general wholesome feel of it more than makes up for that.
In Pokemon Go, you have the option of choosing one of three possible teams with which to align your trainer. In terms of gameplay, your choice doesn’t particularly matter as team-specific special researches are available to all players. Basically, pick your favorite color of the red, yellow, and blue options and go for it. If you read my other column, you might have an idea as to why that color scheme appealed to me. Then, take your supply of Pokeballs and go out and walk. As you explore your actual, physical environs, you’ll encounter both gyms in which you can either do battle or deposit a Pokemon defender or Pokestops. If you spin the photo disc, you’ll acquire new goodies that you can use in your never-ending quest to “catch’em all.” Then, you’re pretty much off to the proverbial races. You take your Pokeballs and toss them at Pokemon that spawn, and you can capture them either in the game’s virtual world or take advantage of Niantic’s adaptation of augmented reality to capture them in your actual physical setting.
Pokemon Go also features a strong emphasis on research, which takes the form of quests that you can complete either at your leisure or that can be timed.
It divides the research into one of three categories: “Today,” “Field,” or “Special.” “Today” researches are timed and often relate to whatever event is currently ongoing. “Field” research usually comes to you via spinning a Pokestop and involves tasks more specific to Pokemon and how you catch them, and lastly, “Special” research tends to involve longer questlines that can culminate in specific Pokemon encounters. I have to admit, I don’t actually remember whether Pokemon Go originally involved these research categories, but I can certainly promise that I’ve enjoyed almost all of them. The special research tasks add a story aspect to it that I’ve really quite enjoyed.
I’ve had the opportunity over the last couple of months to spend more time battling other Pokemon in gyms, and while the fights are mostly a function of button-mashing, it’s still incredibly satisfying to oust members of Team Valor from a gym in order to claim it for Team Mystic. In theory, Niantic has expanded the combat mechanic beyond PvE content into PvP, giving you the opportunity to battle other trainers in person. However, given the strange times during which I play, I have yet to test out that functionality.
Niantic also offers the opportunity in Pokemon Go to trade gifts with friends, and this should not be as much fun as it is. Yes, the goodies that come inside the gifts are great; it’s been a wonderful way for me to replenish my stash of Pokeballs without paying for them. However, I can honestly say that my absolute favorite part has been seeing the postcards of the Pokestops where my friends acquired these gift boxes. I get to see snapshots of where my friends have been, and y’all, I’ve got to say, we’ve got some neat stuff floating around our cities.
None of this should imply that Pokemon Go is flawless, unfortunately. Niantic has made some pretty questionable decisions. I still don’t think the GPS on which the game relies is entirely accurate, which can be incredibly frustrating as hatching eggs relies on distance traversed rather than number of steps. Moreover, I’ve got some real questions about Niantic’s security, but the real sticking point with respect to the game happens to be how Niantic has nerfed the remote raiding system.
Pokemon Go is all about asking people to get out and walk in their neighborhoods and communities, which is great. I’ve really loved having a reason to take a good, long walk during my lunch breaks. However, raiding is a key component of Pokemon Go, and both because the game itself has declined in popularity and because of the timeframe during which I generally play, I almost never encounter a raiding party in the wild. Facebook groups and subreddits can only do so much, and initially, Niantic recognized the problem and created the remote raid pass. With that remote pass, you didn’t have to be within a set physical distance of a raid to join. However, by increasing the pricing among other things, the remote passes just aren’t nearly as practical for most players, meaning that they’ll find themselves stymied if they want to complete some pretty major questlines unless they happen to know people who play in person and who play more or less on the same schedule.
Please note that when I mention pricing, I do mean that you’ll have to a pay a cost in actual currency. Pokemon Go is free on the various app stores, but it does monetize in-game purchases.
Most items sell for Pokecoins, which you can purchase in various amounts on the store, but there are specific items that require cash only. Niantic does offer a way to play without paying. If you place your pokemon in a gym, your pokemon will earn extra coins the longer they remain a defender up to a maximum of 50 coins per day. However, let me assure you that you can and will run through those coins very, very quickly.
Still, despite this admittedly major problem, Pokemon Go is one of those games that really is what you make of it. If you want to raid, you can make that happen, albeit with a fair amount of legwork. If you just want to capture pokemon, that’s an entirely valid play strategy, as is playing entirely PvE. The biggest requirement—that you get out and move around—is its only real deal-breaker. Even then, with the dodgy GPS, it’s not even that difficult to rack up kilometers.
While not perfect by any means, Pokemon Go is a great concept. It’s given me not only the motivation to walk three to five miles every day but also offers entirely wholesome entertainment for kids. Parents and families can play together with some pretty minimal investment, and for that alone, Pokemon Go is worth some investigation.
Stray Thoughts From Behind the Keyboard
- I’m so in love with all the available Eeveelutions.
- I don’t actually miss raiding, but I really am enjoying the gym battles.
- Team Rocket does appear as the primary antagonists in Pokemon Go, and I’ve got to say, some of the encounters have been pretty challenging. As a result, I really feel like I’ve won that shadow Pokemon.