One editor talks about major concerns he has for the mobile game Pokemon GO – based on the footage and information about the title that has found its way onto the web thus far.
As of this writing, I’ve been a follower of the Pokemon franchise for roughly 18 years. In that time, I’ve seen many core iterations release, spin-offs materialize, and brand new Pocket Monsters come into existence, and for the most part, they’ve all provided me with an entertaining way to kick back and relax. So, naturally, once word got out that a new game called Pokemon GO would be arriving on mobile devices – allowing players to catch beasts crawling around a real-world environment in the process – I was understandably intrigued.
The thought of being able to encounter actual Pokemon as I went about my day, capturing them, and battling friends felt like a dream come true. This is truly the concept that the franchise has always felt like it was building towards, and one that landed it on the top ten list of Google-searched video games in 2015 for a reason. After footage of the game in action got out, however, that initial interest has begun to die down, and I’m not sure that the final product will live up to its full potential when Pokemon GO arrives later this year.
Now, I realise that the off-screen footage that appears to have been leaked is of an early build of the final game, but the accompanying details don’t make it sound like an all too engaging experience either. This stems largely from the Pokemon GO Plus peripheral and the description of gym encounters, the latter of which is a trademark feature of the core Pokemon franchise. Based on the newly released details on those particular aspects, it sounds like the battle mechanics that have become so adored within the core games are nowhere to be found – leaving the game to more or less play itself.
According to an official press release, the aforementioned Pokemon GO Plus will allow players to interact with events happening within the app itself without needing to bring out their phone. This accessory interacts with the game through a Bluetooth connection to the mobile device, and will vibrate and light up whenever a wild Pokemon is encountered or an in-game event is happening. In these instances, the one button on the device is pushed and the game automatically addresses the situation for the player. Meanwhile, gym battles sound like they can be occupied and taken from others that aren’t even present at the time. These loose elaborations on the title are where Nintendo begins to lose me, as they make Pokemon GO feel automatic rather than anything in-depth.
As someone that’s intimately familiar with the experience that accompanies a traditional entry in the series, one aspect I was looking forward to was the strategy behind each and every encounter. In that sense, Pokemon GO would have felt like a legitimate extension of the core philosophy of the franchise. Finding monsters, powering them up, evolving them, and utilizing their typing to your advantage during battles – all of these elements come together to create the real appeal of Pokemon. At this point in time it sounds like none of them will be present in the first build of the game, which immediately diminishes the appeal of the final title.
Evolution won’t play out the same as longtime fans have come to expect either, as The Pokemon Company has confirmed that monsters will evolve once the same one has been captured enough times. This is, admittedly, an understandable change of pace. In order to keep players engaged in the long term, there needs to be a significant end game to build towards. If capturing the same Pokemon over and over again ensures the ability to evolve it, then people will do just that. The question, then, becomes just how many monsters will need to be obtained in order to have this evolution take place. With that grind already taking form, the structure for micro transactions seems to be firmly in place.
Now it all comes down to just how these will be implemented, but putting a cool down on Pokemon encounters, blocking certain brackets of monsters behind a paywall, or charging for Pokeballs seem like obvious options for the companies involved. It’s highly unlikely that never-fail Master Balls will be given en masse and for free, which means they’ll likely be picked up through random encounters or be made available for purchase. If the latter is true for these necessary and digital capsules, then fans may end up sinking a lot of money into the game if and when a rare Pocket Monster rears its head and they happen to be out of Pokeballs.
This is dangerous territory, as it appears that fans can completely miss any given monster with these fictitious devices. That means that the two real-world dollars you potentially spent on the likes of a Great Ball were wasted on the dirt rather than something that added to your Pokedex, and that’s a scary concept. Paying for the possibility of catching a Pokemon is a lot like gambling in this particular layout, and if it does end up being like this then dedicated fans may be placed in a financially tough situation.
This is all speculation, so The Pokemon Company may have other plans for monetizing the Pokemon experience on mobile. Even then, the experience doesn’t sound all that familiar for fans, with Pokemon generically smacking each other without guidance being an unappealing premise. Even then, the magic of the franchise will quickly deteriorate if fans are required to buy ’em all, rather than catch ’em all.