To sum up everything you’re about to read, Pokémon Go is a fun, exciting game that’s absolutely worth the download… When it works.
Since its launch three days prior to the writing of this review, Pokemon Go has been plagued with server issues. These issues have prevented items from appearing, caused Pokemon to disappear, battles to freeze, and mainly the entire game itself to outright prevent players from logging in. This has been a pretty frustrating past few days if you’re like me, someone who has been hotly anticipating the game’s launch, but if you can wade through the server issues – a wicked fun game lies just underneath.
For the uninitiated, Pokemon Go is the brainchild of Niantic and Nintendo that culminates in an explore-first, battle-second, story-never game that puts you in the Running Shoes, and the Pokemon right in your living room, or bathroom, or delivery room, or wherever you are. This game was made for the kids, like me, who ran around in their backyards with backpacks on pretending to catch the little monsters they watched religiously every Saturday morning on TV, and who aren’t afraid to run around their office or college dorms at a much more advanced age swiping on their iPhone screens and screaming like maniacs that they finally caught the Pokemon they’ve been looking for.
Pokemon Go’s gameplay is simple enough. Walk around with the game open, see your trainer follow along on a digital map that mimics your surroundings, and catch as many Pokemon as you can. When you tap on a creature, it’ll shift to your phone’s rear camera, displaying the Pokemon right in front of you – sometimes convincingly enough “standing” there, and sometimes just floating awkwardly above your car’s dashboard. You don’t need to whittle down a Pokemon’s health to catch it, you simply need to fling as many Pokeballs as necessary in a pulsating circle that appears over the creature, which adjusts in difficulty based on its power level, called Combat Points, or “CP”, in-game.
You can also fight for control of Gyms throughout the world, usually anchored over large landmarks like malls, monuments, and other popular areas. More common are PokeStops, which dot the landscape where minor landmarks, popular restaurants, and heavily trafficked street corners can be found. Visiting these stops gives you a chance to re-up on Pokeballs, potions, and other good shit.
One of the only real non-server issues I have with Pokemon Go is the battle system. It is simple to a fault: you tap the screen frantically to attack the defending Pokemon with your own Pokemon’s primary attack, and when your “super” meter fills, you press and hold down on the screen so your Pokemon can unleash its special move, like Flamethrower, or Thunderpunch, or Whirlwind. Unfortunately, the bulk of the combat is basically button mashing, with little to no strategy involved. You can also swipe left and right to dodge attacks (which works about 10% of the time), but you’re better off just spamming attacks until the rival Pokemon faints. I assume that each Pokemon’s type affects the ebb and flow of each battle, but as long as your Pokemon’s CP is decently higher than the opposing one’s is, you’re probably ensured a victory regardless of type. I’m really hoping the battle system is altered soon, especially if Nintendo ever hopes to implement trainer-versus-trainer battles in future updates.
The gameplay itself is simple, the UI is pretty bare-bones, and the amount of the things you can do in the game is definitely limited – but that’s for a pretty solid reason. You downloaded this app for one thing, and one thing only – and that’s to catch Pokemon. If you wanted a plot, or customization options, or any of that other extra stuff – you’d be firing up your 3DS right now, wouldn’t you? Exactly. But the beauty of Pokemon Go is its simplicity, and how it brings the characters that you spent your entire childhood chasing to life.
I’ve spent the last three days gushing to my best friend about the Pokemon that pop up near our respective houses, the oddest places we found wild creatures in, how many more steps were left for a Pokemon Egg to hatch, and we realized that we finally got what we always wanted out of one of our favorite games: immersion. Pokemon is a ridiculously colorful and absurdly strange world, one that hardly lines up with the bullshit one we live in right now. However, Pokemon Go evokes a certain joy and excitement that I haven’t experienced from any game on any platform in years. I giggled to myself when I caught a Pidgey that was sitting on a barstool right next to my girlfriend last night (she wasn’t amused). I freaked out this morning when I was walking to my car and saw a wild Nidoqueen standing in the middle of the street (pictured above), and I laughed my ass off when I saw a wild Magikarp flopping around on the beach wall just a few feet short of the shoreline. You almost made it, pal.
So, aside from the launch being an absolute shitshow, Pokemon Go is all-in-all a fun, immersive game that is sure to be one of the most popular apps of the year once it irons its server issues out. I’m going to refrain from giving Pokemon Go a rating for now, because aside from the good gameplay, its launch has been really lackluster. I will, however, say that I definitely recommend it. If you’ve ever imagined yourself chasing a Pidgey through your front lawn, or wished you had that same shock and awe as Ash Ketchum had whenever he saw a rare Pokemon in the wild, you’re sure to enjoy Pokemon Go.