Nintendo and Niantic have the smash hit both companies were looking for, and one writer feels like Pokemon GO is great in spite of being a very flawed mobile game.
If anyone even remotely interested in the world of video games hasn’t heard of Pokemon GO at this point, it might be more surprising than the actual success of Nintendo and Niantic’s ARG title itself. While many people had Pokemon GO pegged as a likely candidate for some mainstream popularity when it was first announced, it’s unlikely very many gamers believed the simple mobile title would completely envelop the industry the way it has in the past week. For those wondering just how staggering the success of the game has been, Pokemon GO topped the iOS app store on launch day despite a limited release in select regions of the globe. Even more impressively, Pokemon GO also usurped mobile gaming giants like Candy Crush and Clash of Clans as the top grossing title on the app store.
To say that Pokemon GO has been a triumph, then, is one of the rare occasions where such a lauded description doesn’t do its subject justice. Pokemon GO isn’t just an isolated winner, either – Nintendo shares soared after Pokemon GO‘s release, and Nintendo and Niantic are likely wondering why both companies didn’t develop the project sooner. The world was ready for an alternate reality game version of Pokemon, and it appears that everyone involved will be reaping the benefits for the months to come.
There’s just one thing, though. In my experience playing Pokemon GO, which has spanned two different road trips already and a number of late-night excursions in search of a a rare Pokemon, the game itself is actually pretty bad.
To begin with, playing Pokemon GO on its current servers is akin to trying to coax a dog who knows it needs to go to the vet out from under a large piece of furniture. The servers are there – I can see them, whirring away behind the scenes on my phone as the loading screen locks up and eventually boots me out of the game – but they don’t really want to come out to play at my convenience. That in itself is fine, because the game’s massive popularity has surely taxed Pokemon GO‘s servers well beyond what even the most optimistic projections of the title’s launch could have planned for.
Unfortunately, though, the playing experience once I’m actually using Pokemon GO is just as troubling as its wonky servers. A lot of what Pokemon GO offers is an incredibly stripped-down port of what gamers typically expect from each handheld title in the Pokemon series, as locating and capturing Pokemon is reduced to wandering around and throwing Pokeballs at them without weakening them first and Pokemon GO battles are equally confusing and overly simplistic. Fighting another trainer at a gym might require a couple of dodges here and there, but ultimately I’ve found spamming super effective attacks by just tapping my Pokemon over and over works just as well if not better.
Oh, and Pokemon GO kills phone batteries as though the poor mobile devices were pagers attempting to emulate Fallout 4. Even on newer phones, the Pokemon GO‘s requirement that gamers leave the app running and actively on-screen in order to reap the benefits of walking to hatch eggs or being alerted to the appearance of a new Pokemon ensures that batteries will be slain in short order.
Provided readers are still with me rather than sharpening Pinsir-shaped pitchforks, here’s the rub – none of those negatives seems to matter at all. Despite overly simplistic gameplay, an incredibly glitchy launch, and having an irrational hatred for my ability to have my phone on for longer than a few hours, Pokemon GO has been the only game I’ve played in the past few days, and is likely to remain a contender for my time for the foreseeable future.
The reason? Pokemon GO isn’t a very good game – it might even be a bad one – but it has been the biggest beacon for a positive video game community experience I’ve seen in a long time. There’s something universal about the journey through unfamiliar areas of our own hometowns that has united gamers everywhere in attempting to locate rare Pokemon or sharing tips on where the best gyms or Pokestops in the area are.
It’s not just the arbitrarily sorted color-based teams in Pokemon GO that are building this loyalty and excitement within gamers, though. People just seem to like adventuring out into the real world and sharing their experience with others, and that simple, unifying thought has made Pokemon GO an unbridled success. It’s not that people are simply ignoring the very real flaws in Pokemon GO, including a trading system that will be implemented much later than fans would have hoped – it’s that those flaws are easier to deal with because they are being experienced and dealt with by so many other gamers in public all over the world.
At its core, Pokemon GO disproves one of the most fundamental theories in video games, that a title lives or dies by how well it is made. There have been exceptions before, of course, but those games were smaller and impacted far fewer people. To my mind, Pokemon GO represents the first time in modern gaming that a title has had a number of noticeable shortcomings, had those flaws acknowledged and discussed by the many people playing it, and then remained the most positively talked about game during its launch week.
That’s because, despite everything Pokemon GO does wrong, what it does right is infinitely more important. People are rekindling old, forgotten friendships because they posted on a social media website about their newest catch and a past acquaintance offered their support or their own Pokemon GO story. Teams of people who have never met are banding together to hold influence over various gyms in each city rather than acting as trolls and trying to actively sabotage those around them. Gamers are sharing pictures of beautiful outdoor environments inhabited by small 3D creatures on their phone, and even if catching them is a frustrating exercise at times, it’s keeping us active and engaged with our surroundings.
Sure, people are going to abuse the sudden amount of trust being exhibited by gamers worldwide, like the Pokemon GO robbers that made headlines recently. More and more, however, fans of Pokemon GO are sharing really inspiring stories of personal journeys or social gatherings spun entirely out of the magical fabric of Nintendo and Niantic’s mobile game, and that’s something worth celebrating.
Sometimes, games aren’t very good. Sometimes, though – when we’re particularly lucky, or we’re surrounded by friends and supporters – it doesn’t matter at all.
Pokemon GO is available now in select regions for iOS and Android devices.