Editorial

Pokémon Go Could Revolutionize Pokémon…Or Not

pokemon_go

So last night, I was flailing around in a hyped up tizzy. I happened to catch a tweet from Bulbagarden announcing that a new Pokémon mobile game was announced (and the minute I’d heard Nintendo was going to be developing for mobile, I’d been waiting for this announcement) and that it was called Pokémon Go.

And that it was an augmented reality game. Where you walk around the real world and catch Pokémon.

Oh man, I just got all excited and dizzy again.

Details are sparse, but the game supposedly tracks and leads you to Pokémon in the real world and it’s up to you to follow the tracks and find them. How cool would it be to find a Bulbasaur in the woods behind your house? Or a Pikachu wandering around your school? Or a Jigglypuff sitting in your chair at work when you get to the office? Insanely cool, that’s how cool it would be. It would be like the coolest guy on the planet wearing three sets of sunglasses levels of cool.

That is super cool.

From the looks of it, the game doesn’t, like, superimpose pictures of Pokémon over the real world or anything like some AR games might. But I’m still a child at heart, so I am quite capable of pretending.

The game is even being developed by Niantic, Inc., which was founded by Google Earth co-creator John Hanke, who has worked on AR games utilizing Google Earth in the past. It seems like a winning combination.

Even just based on what little we know, the game seems like it’s doing a lot of things right, namely getting people up and active in their pursuit of Pokémon. My very first thought after my hype wore off enough for me to even have thoughts was, “This might actually get me to play outside.” And that’s a good thing. Anything that incentivizes activity is good. Gamification is a very real, very powerful concept, and gamifying exercise, even simple exercise like walking and exploring, is pretty awesome.

But with so much up in the air, I have a hard time not letting my cynicism getting the best of me, and the one red flag that stuck up in my head over any of the excitement and hype was the fact that the trailer teased PvP content. Namely, in the trailer, it looked like someone was notified that their Pokémon was being attacked.

Now, my opinions of Pokémon PvP have always been relatively negative. I love the concept of challenging people with a hand-selected team of your favorite Pokémon, but it’s not like the animé. Chances are good that your favorite Pokémon aren’t on the short list that allow them entry into PvP…i.e. they’re just not viable. The game has a painfully restrictive roster of viable Pokémon and if you hope to be competitive, you damn well better stick to those tier lists or you’re going to be laughed right out of the room

Sorry Spinda.

My personal opinion aside, I ultimately have nothing wrong with including PvP in the game. It’s kind of a neat concept (though the idea of just running around attacking people’s Pokémon without an actual, official Pokémon battle being declared offends the Pokéfanatic in me…but that’s just my purist nature speaking). But any time a mobile game – particularly a F2P game like I’m choosing to assume Pokémon Go will be – announces it will have PvP, I am immediately wary…because whenever you mix PvP and microtransactions, you have a recipe for disaster.

Competition is a very powerful motivator and F2P developers have long taken advantage of that need to be the very best (like no one ever was) to bilk them out of inordinate amounts of money. I’ve been there. While I’m not the most competitive guy on the planet, I’ve sunk more than my fair share of cash into games like Defenders of Texel and Clash of Clans and Final Fantasy Record Keeper (which didn’t even have PvP thank God). Because if I’m going to play a game, I want to be good at it. Maybe not the best. But as good as I can be.

So Nintendo’s going to be walking a fine line here. While I want to believe Nintendo’s going to be reasonable with microtransactions like they have been with DLC (more than reasonable, really. Nintendo’s DLC has, thus far, blown everyone else out of the water), the temptation to make more money than a game is worth will always be there. Also, Pokémon Shuffle was also recently released on mobile and that game has one of the most aggressive, bullshitty monetization systems I’ve ever seen, so I’m not filled with a great amount of hope there.

But more than just my fears about what the bad things the game may do, ever since my hype wore off last night, I’ve been wore worried about what the game won’t do. Namely, I’m afraid Nintendo won’t be thinking outside the box to give us a new experience.

It is my opinion that there hasn’t been a new core Pokémon game since Pokémon Red/Blue/Green. While that’s not quite a fair assessment (I mostly say it for hyperbolic effect), there’s at least some truth to it. Nintendo has been markedly resilient to revolutionize the franchise by making something new out of it. There’s more than a little merit to consistency, of course (something Sonic Team could learn…sooner rather than later would be nice) and a lot of the spinoffs have been great (I personally loved Pokémon Conquest and wish the tactical battle system would be incorporated into the main series), but I would like to see them do more with the franchise than they have been.

What we have here, with Pokémon Go, is a chance for them to make something entirely new because they have an opportunity to make a Pokémon game that focuses on something other than battling. They have a chance to create a game that adds a completely new facet to the series. Because chances are in Pokémon Go we’re not going to get some attempt at a grand, epic storyline where we track Team Rocket around the real world and stop them from stealing the oil from Kuwait to finance their global terror scheme to attack the UN with Pokémon suicide bombers (that just got a little too real, sorry…but its silly enough that I think it proves my point). It’s much more likely, I think, that the game will focus largely on finding, collecting and training your Pokémon for battles with other people.

And, God willing, this means a new, increased focus on training and, perhaps, breeding.

I have been longing for a really good digital pet game on my mobile phone since I got the stupid thing. Something like the old Digivices of yore…or even some aspects of the Gameboy Digimon games (I actually super loved the idea behind Digimon World Championship, the game’s many flaws aside). But since Namco/Bandai seem resistent to going back to the series’ roots and what made it a worldwide phenomenon in the first place – or indeed with pesky notions like making an actual decent game – I thought this particular itch would have to go unscratched.

Until I heard that Nintendo was getting into mobile…and a itty, bitty, tiniest-of-tiny lights appeared in my cold, unfeeling heart.

Pokémon Go could provide the vehicle for such a digital pet game since there’s so little else going on (I assume). The idea that I can catch and store Pokémon is great, but I really hope that Nintendo allows us to train them to give them the experience, levels, and power that normally come from tracking down wild Pokémon and trainers to compete against.

Then again, Nintendo’s been all about forced socialization for a long time  and this game seems like a powerful vehicle for that, so that dampers my hopes in this regard little bit. But some sort of way to fill the gap between running around the real world in my nerdy version of an exercise regiment and challenging people to battles would be nice. And mobile games are all about time management and setting tasks to be completed…so it seems, on the surface, like a slam dunk.

Something else that Pokémon Go could give us is slightly less irritating breeding (if not revolutionary) mechanics. One of the things that has always kept me from PvPing in Pokémon (aside from the aforementioned aggressively-limited pool of viable Pokémon) is the fact that in order to be competitive, you have to sink hours upon hours into breeding, which is offensive enough, but it’s not even a time-burn that you can just set and forget.

Until now.

A mobile release could provide a great alternative to having to sit and walk your little avatar back and forth in front of the Pokémon Daycare Center for hours on end, even if it only substitutes making you walk around. But hey, more of that forced exercise, seems like a viable alternative and even then, it’s something you’re doing anyways, so you’re not burning your precious time. But even if it’s just making your match and then waiting a few hours for the egg to be laid and then a few more for it to hatch, that seems viable for a mobile release.

I would love to see more done with the breeding mechanics, making it a little more hands on and little less tedious (to make me feel like I’m earning those well-bred Pokémon rather than just putting in the necessary exorbitant amount of time needed), but I think a mobile release could take the pre-established status quo and make it a little more palatable.

So overall, Pokémon Go still has me more than a little hyped. I’m a little wary about some of the possibilities…and a little more than a little wary about the possibility of missed opportunities, but even if it only delivers exactly what the trailer has led us to expect, I think it could be a great way to bring Pokémon to the mobile market.

Pokémon Go has a slated release date TBA in 2016.

What about you, Pokéreader? Are you as hyped up for Pokémon Go as I am? Or are you skeptical? Let me know in the comments below.

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