I don’t think I’ve ever put more time into a game that has frustrated me as much as Pokemon GO has. It seems awfully unlikely, I feel as though I’d remember. In a lot of ways this game has been a fantasy for me. Seeing the Pokemon that I love all over the real world is literally something I dreamt of in elementary school.
I couldn’t tell you what was going on during that assembly. I just remember sitting there daydreaming as I stared at the wall. The only thought in my mind “I wish Pokemon walked around among us.”
This passion is a double edged sword as I play the game. Because on the one hand it means that the highs I get from it are extra high, but the lows I get from it are extra frustrating. And if you are looking for something to frustrate you then look no further. I’ve found it in Pokemon GO.
What is it?
The main focus of the game is simple enough. You are given a number of items, potions, pokeballs, lucky eggs, incense, so on. Each has a pretty basic operation that speaks to the user regardless of their understanding of Pokemon. All of these items can be purchased and for the most part you’ll get a fair amount of them while leveling.
Alongside leveling there are also nodes all over the world. These are called Pokestops and they can provide you with some randomized loot every 5 minutes or so. You are also able to place incense on the stops to bring Pokemon to you as opposed to going out and finding them. This is a great way to meet other people who are playing.
And boy oh boy, are there people playing. Even now as the news seems to move to other topics I can still find a lot of people playing Pokemon GO. Part of this goes part and parcel with living in LA. If you are someone that lives in a big city you are likely to have more fun playing this than someone in a more rural location.
I’d say that’s actually where this game starts to get its weakest. Pokemon spawns are based on population density and geographic location. Because of this you’ll not see much variation, week over week. If I see another Rhyhorn it’ll be too soon. Even as cute as those buggards are.
The real surprises come from eggs which are opened via incubators. These are available in increments of 2km, 5km, and 10km. Which are all units of measurement I can only assume were created for the game. Clearly not real.
In this way you can accrue the Pokemon that otherwise will not be showing up where you live or work.
There are also gyms that you can control or contest. It’s a pretty rudimentary system that can actually be gamed if you aren’t lagging. With one (or multiple) people working to whittle away at a gym to earn a dime a day in credits. Those credits being usable in the cash shop.
That’s a pretty basic covering of the game. And now I suppose we should talk about how well it works. When it works, the game can make any walk a fair bit more fun. Those random breaks in your walk to see what made your phone buzz are great. I already enjoyed walking but this has taken it to a whole new level.
The act of catching Pokemon is simple. You can bribe the little monsters with berries. Doing so will make them more easier to catch with Pokeballs. And basically you start reliving those carnival games from the county fair.
Much like a county fair the further along you get the more rigged the system feels against you.
How is it?
It’s alright? I try my best to not judge games based on all the things that I wish they were. My reasoning is that if I listen to a grunge band I shouldn’t be surprised they aren’t also doing blues music. Sometimes a game has a singular goal it sets out to be and I try my best to respect that goal. Because if the game is great then perhaps other developers will expand upon it with a new release. I’d rather a game be tight and functional than bloated and aimless.
Unfortunately I’d say that Pokemon GO is both light on content and light on quality control.
Firstly the game freezes constantly. Anytime data packets are lost the game will not recover. Opening menus, swiping pokestop points, touching pokemon, just about anything you can imagine can lock up the game. The GPS can be shockingly inaccurate at times with my character running a few blocks away and coming back (seen this on multiple types of phone). Items still decay when you are out of the game which means that if you can’t login (an issue still occurring but less frequent) you will have lost the entirety of them without any benefit. If you try to catch a Pokemon the camera will zoom in on the Pokeball, a nice touch, but if it breaks out the camera doesn’t return to the proper point. This leaves you slightly further away than you were before requiring you to relearn how to throw to hit this particular pokemon.
These issues aside, and likely more I’ve forgotten, the actual experience of catching can be an exercise in frustration. The Pokemon thrash about and jump at random intervals. Sometimes the RNG for this will leave them uncatchable for many seconds at a time. That might not sound like a long time but imagine a 2-3 second interval between every attempt in a game. Now imagine those kind of delays across 500 or more catches. It’ll start to wear on you. These RNG mechanics get only more aggressive as you level. I am now level 20 and the Pokemon will occasionally thrash about like they are listening to heavy metal. Feeding them the berry item will occasionally stop this fit but it is hardly certain.
Tracking websites were recently removed from the mix. Admittedly they were hammering the service but this was because the service was (and still is) broken. In the bottom right corner of the game it lists out pokemon according to how close they are to you relative to other pokemon on the list. Unfortunately because they never fixed this system you don’t know if the nearest pokemon is a hundred meters away or three hundred. That’s a pretty impressive guessing game.
The cash shop is also very expensive. Just about anything you’d want to do in the game will cost you a dollar or more. I do feel like the “micro” in microtransactions has been taken to pasture. We are now in the world of macrotransactions (conveniently we tend to just call these transactions). A whopping two items on the cash shop list are permanent. Seeing as I have my phone with me let us take a stroll through the cash shop. I’ll note that upon opening the shop I locked up my game.
20 Pokeballs – $1
100 Pokeballs – $4.50
200 Pokeballs – $8
Incense or Lucky Egg (30 Minutes) – $0.80
8 Incense or Lucky Eggs (30 Minutes) – $5
25 Incense or Lucky Eggs (30 Minutes) – $12.50
Lure Module (30 Minutes) – $1.00
8 Lure Modules (30 Minutes) – $6.80
Egg Incubator (3 Uses) – $1.50
Bag Upgrade or Pokemon Storage Upgrade (+50 QTY) – $2.00
While I don’t generally mind permanent upgrades to games (like the final item on this list) I have a considerable problem accepting temporary item purchases. That said, this model has clearly worked as Pokemon GO has earned $200 Million in its first month. I’m happy for them and I hope that this will translate into actual game improvements. Unfortunately for now it looks like most of their effort has been in releasing the game in new regions rather than actually adding content or improving the experience.
Now even with all of this in mind I don’t hate the game. I also don’t dislike it. I find myself disappointed in it more than anything. Pokemon GO is probably the most frustrating experience I’ve had in a long time because it feels like Niantic is fumbling it badly. However I can only hope that someday in my life I’ll get to fumble my way to $200 million.
Should you get it?
Why not? It’s free to play. In it’s current state I would never suggest you spend money on it. They’ve now got a small fortune so don’t feel bad about holding back your cash. If you are someone like me that loves walking then this’ll only enrich the experience. If you don’t like walking then perhaps this game will do to you what it has done for many of my friends. People who at one time spent almost no time active in their entire day out for hours at a time. It’s a wonderful thing and I am genuinely glad it happened. Pokemon GO has been something of a phenomenon that at times might not be deserved but the end result I believe is positive.
For the purposes of this review and all my future reviews I’ll mention how much I played the game I’m reviewing. This helps give people a sense of how informed my opinion is. In the case of Pokemon GO I’ve put at least 50 hours into it (1 hour a day minimum on weekdays, 2 hours a day minimum on weekends). I’m level 20 and am fairly certain I’ve seen all there is to see.