With mobile sensation Pokemon GO seemingly going from strength to strength, one Game Rant writer takes a look at exactly how important nostalgia is for the success of the game.
In a year full of huge releases such as The Division and Dark Souls III, at the moment there’s a strong argument to be made that the most important video game of the year is Pokemon GO. The title has managed to drum up a huge amount of users, crossing seemingly separate demographics with ease, and the results are clear for all to see. Already, Pokemon GO has shot up the app charts, overtaking Tinder in the process.
After all, people only need to take a look outside to see how popular the game has been. Pokemon GO has made gaming a very public thing, with mobs of Pokemon GO players descending on Central Park after the appearance of a Vaporeon. Players have travelled far and wide in the real world hunting after Pokemon, even going as far as Area 51.
Even though the game is free at entry level, Pokemon GO has already made Nintendo a lot of money. Shortly after the game was released, Nintendo’s shares rose dramatically, seemingly making investors forget about the failings of the Wii U because of this moment of mobile ingenuity. It’s almost certain that Pokemon GO can be counted as a success, and it’s not even been live for a month.
This may come as a bit of a surprise for some, particularly given that many think that Pokemon GO is actually a bad game. The title’s problems are fairly numerous, particularly when it comes to bugs and issues with network maintenance – although this is a little understandable given that the game is available across multiple countries, including the recent addition of Canada. However, some long-term Pokemon fans have also been a little disappointed in the game, with some pointing towards the lack of any Pokemon other than those from the first generation.
Rather than an oversight, however, this is no doubt a deliberate choice from Nintendo. Pokemon GO may miss out on any Pokemon that are not native to the Kanto region (at least for now), but it’s likely that this only makes the game a more enticing prospect for some gamers. The reason for this is the sheer pop culture impact of those original 150 Pokemon – or to put it more plainly, the nostalgic power of those first Pokemon games.
In fact, there’s a strong argument to be made that nostalgia is what drives the game. Plenty of Pokemon GO players haven’t played a game in the main series since the first and second generations of the franchise, yet are still more than willing to go hunting after a Pikachu. There has to be a reason why these players have come back to Pokemon after all these years, and it’s doubtful that the reason is to play a title where the gameplay itself is more than a little niche.
When the framing of Pokemon is stripped away, the actual gameplay of Pokemon GO is quite strange. Players are tasked with walking around in the real world, based around the random chance of coming across a creature that they then add to their collection. Without the context of the likes of Kanto and Johto, and the worlds and stories created therein, the gameplay boils down to app users wandering around on their phones with very little end product to show for it.
Instead, the most exciting aspect of Pokemon GO’s gameplay is the title’s focus on augmented reality. Walking the real streets and seeing Pokemon through the lens of a phone camera is a fun experience, but this kind of AR gaming has never really seen wide success. An interesting-looking Indiegogo project named Night Terrors, which mapped out a user’s house to build a horror game, only received partial funding from backers, while Niantic's own Ingress never truly jumped beyond cult status.
Augmented reality has sometimes failed to attract the attention of gamers, and it’s easy to see why. The technology requires users to take a big step from immersive experiences found in home gaming, and often the potential for this to be found outside is never quite enough. It’s hardly outrageous to state that video gaming is an indoor hobby most of the time – even with handheld consoles – and the ideals of AR do not often align with those of AAA gaming.
Meanwhile, the mobile gaming market is not exactly known for going after such extravagant ideas as a GPS-based title where time, patience, and effort is required. Casual gamers aren’t expecting to need to use these virtues when choosing a quick game to play, and the most popular traditional mobile titles back this up. After all, the likes of Candy Crush and Angry Birds don’t exactly require anything more than a spare couple of minutes and a few flicks of the hand.
So, how exactly has Pokemon GO managed to grab the attention of so many? Quite simply, the title taps into the shared love of Pokemon. This love is still more than apparent in younger generations of gamers, and the memory of Pokemon is something that has lain dormant in older generations for many years. Gamers or not, lots of twenty-somethings will have held a candle for Pokemon at some point or another.
When Pokemon Red and Blue were released in 1996, the games were immediately made part of video game royalty, earning a place in popular culture overall. It’s hard to find someone who was a youngster during this time who couldn’t name at least one Pokemon, and there are plenty who can no doubt still recite the Pokerap with little effort. The Pokemon franchise has stuck around with other icons of the time, such as Sonic and The Simpsons – the latter of which making its own homage to Pokemon GO in the form of a short video.
Pokemon GO, then, may not be a good game, but it unlocks something rather important – the notion of being a Pokemon trainer. Children of the 1990s, whose imaginations ran wild with the prospect of taking on the Elite Four and catching them all, now are able to experience that thrill again. What’s more, the game itself is readily available on smartphones - and nearly every twenty-something who played Pokemon during their childhood will easily, and freely, be able to give Pokemon GO a chance.
Succinctly, Pokemon GO is playtime for both adults and children. Kids have fallen in love with the ability to run around and pick up Pokemon in the real world, while adults have discovered a sense of childish fun and nostalgia, and that is exactly why the game has captured the imaginations of so many. It may not be the perfect game, but Pokemon GO has managed to tap into something that few other titles manage.