“Nobody anticipated the success!”

Pokemon Go! ... right?
Pokemon Go! … right?

Unless your home lies in Mariana Trench, you are aware that Pokémon Go! has been destroying smartphone batteries worldwide with wanton vociferation, and that it is truly everywhere. Just one week after its official launch, hordes of frantic users are frolicking around city and countryside alike to experience the nostalgic thrill of the ‘revitalised and modernised’ franchise.

Nintendo’s market value catapaulted from $20 billion to $39 billion in one week, and the gamemakers, Niantic and The Pokémon Company, are now vacuuming in more than $1.6 million a day from the title.

Now, I’m not going to dance around the issue, so let’s get to it. I hate Pokémon Go!. It’s a mix of disbelief and frustration that lead to this decision, and here are the two main reasons why: it’s not a Pokémon game, and it represents basically everything that’s wrong with the mobile gaming industry right now.

As well as hurting my brain, many wallets, and the gaming industry though, it’s also hurting the Pokémon brand.

Niantic is a Google incubator startup. These guys have been dealing with AR (Augmented Reality) and map data since 2010 1. They’ve already created a mobile title which is designed for massive co-op action utilising GPS and simultaneous users, and yet, Pokémon Go!, despite the ultra-simplistic goal of ‘walk around, catch pokemon’ felt so shaky it barely ran in the first few weeks. The game stuttered constantly, and now a rumour has come out that it may not just have been because of high-demand on the servers from logins and walking around – that would have been too simple. Apparently Niantic were so keen on forking over user data that the mere collection and sending of it caused these outages. Yikes.

Of course, there’s also the fact that the game is ridiculously sloppily programmed and seems simply rushed.

The surprise at its success for me is because I’m in disbelief that a game like this can become so popular – unline for everyone else, who seemed to be surprised that a new Pokémon game would be successful at all … which makes no sense.

Surely the developers could have known that the game would be massive. I mean, you’re giving a Pokémon game to every modern smartphone user for free, and offering a new way of interacting with the Pokémon world!

The dopey media seemed to have tuned their collective opinion fork to ‘surprise’ and ‘unexpectedness’ in the beginning regardless, and they’d generated even more buzz for the game before they’d even played it, and in many cases before they had no idea what it was like. Solid.

In any case, I can’t say much good about the title at all. Indeed, there are some tiny, seemingly well thought out aspects to the game (you can touch and drag on the pokéball icon to quickly navigate the UI, for example, and you can double-tap the screen in map mode to zoom with just one finger), but in general, it’s maddening. There is zero innovation, zero drive to create a truly great Pokémon game, and the glaring oddities which all point to ‘rush this thing out the door’ are unforgivable. It all just makes me face-palm in disillusionment.

The distance tracker initially didn't work. Then it did. Then it got stripped down. Then it was gone.
The distance tracker initially didn’t work. Then it did. Then it got stripped down. Then it was gone.

The distance tracker for example, utilised to locate nearby Pokémon, was one such oddity. Supposed to show you pokemon in your vicinity, the tracker could initially view nearby Pokémon organised by ‘footprints’. It worked, and it was fun. The more footprints, the further the pokémon is from you. But an update later, and it displayed the maximum distance for every pokémon regardless if you’re a kilometer away or standing on top of it. Close this tracker window and the mini-view is confusingly reversed, so the nearest is furthest from you. Try tracking one of them, and you might as well stare into a bowl of custard. It’s about that useful.

Another update removed the feature completely. I guess if you can’t fix a little problem like this, there’s no hope for the game. I mean, the point of the game is to walk around and find Pokémon, and the one feature that facilitates this doesn’t work.

The truly maddening aspect however, isn’t even the fact that they blew a sink-hole in the side of a brilliant franchise. It’s the blatant transparency in their greedy little business model. A symptom of the modern-day mobile gaming landscape and attention spans shorter than the word ‘zip’. Create that game as quick and dirty as possible – don’t worry if it doesn’t even work – and then monetise the absolute crap out of it.

That $1.6 million a day (and rising)? That’s from the less than money-savvy kids with parent’s credit cards and older, more savvy kids with disposable incomes buying pokéballs, incense, and a bigger backpack from the in-game store, from which you buy “Poké Coins” with real cash.  Forget about the fact that Niantic didn’t really create a true Pokémon game. Just add the name ‘Pokémon’ to a lazily cobbled patchwork quilt, put a few 3D models in and voila! A hit.

Oh, and for more insult to injury, Niantic didn’t even create the Pokémon models themselves. Which should come as no surprise. They bought them from Game Freak, who toiled laboriously over creating them a few years ago – they’re the same models as from Pokémon X and Y 2.

Game Freak's 3D models were bought by Niantic for use in Pokémon Go!
Game Freak’s 3D models were bought by Niantic for use in Pokémon Go!

“SO … slowdown, ‘zip”, you say, backing slowly away, “why do you keep saying it’s not a real Pokémon game”?

Well, let’s consider that there’s no actual battling, levelling, trading, or evolving Pokémon properly (via experience, or trading, or elemental stones) in Pokémon Go!

The developers have stated they’re working on bringing ‘trading’ to the game, but come on. Trading? Will I have to pay for that as well? $5 to send a Rattata, $20 to send a Blastoise … *cue evil laugh* IT’S GENIUSSS!!

But ok, all of this aside, let’s try and be lenient. Niantic are developing a game in today’s gaming world. Things are different now. Instead of producing and shipping a finished product, it’s considered fine form to throw things out the door without shoes on, and clothe them on flights of fancy until your game, app or whatever is somewhat (if ever) complete.

Well. No. I don’t feel like being lenient. How about the other crucial components which actually make a Pokémon game a Pokémon game.

The reason Pokémon was such an amazing experience is because you could catch these monsters, train them, trade them, and evolve them. All you can do in Pokémon Go! is flick the screen a couple of different ways and watch a pokéball sail into the low-resolution fucking background. Most of the time that CP 10 pidgey will break out and run away anyhow. This is the very thing you couldn’t do in the original games! Entering a battle without a Pokémon was impossible, and all the fun came from using your own Pokémon to battle, weaken and finally capture wild ones!

The whole candy thing to train your beasties is also just plain dumb. Where’s the strategy? More candy? Send a weak Pokémon to be blended into candy and feed them to the strongest? That’s PERVERSE!

Then, when it finally does come to battling (at a ‘gym’ – don’t get me started – the only place you can battle), there’s another disappointment to behold. Battling goes thus: tap as fast as you can on the screen, and every now and then tap longer.

Ge. ni. us.

That’s a battle. I mean, I know lots of folks don’t have the attention spans to think of which foot they need to place after the preceding one nowdays. But crapcakes. Can’t I choose which move my Poké-pal uses? Can’t I stop and think about which move might help me win? Can’t the enemy be programmed to use actual moves or does it just stand there spasming idiotically until my health bar is extinguished? Wasn’t that the point of the original games? To use strategy? To battle with your Pokémon and gain experience, and make them more powerful and useful?

Nope. Not here. Here you can catch ridiculously rare Pokémon (A WILD GOD-DAMNED FREAKING VAPOREON WITH A POKéBALL? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?) with just a pokéball and not even know what level it is. And the saddest thing? Now, a whole generation of kids who never knew the original games are going to think this is what Pokémon is.

To hell with the epic next chapter of the Pokémon series, innovation, inspiration and satisfaction. I could have farted out a better Pokémon game than this.

The official commercial, which made it look like dreams were actually coming true:

The release of this game to me was just too soon. It should have been released never.

Well, they only had $35 million to develop it, after all.


Also from my brain:

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