What I think of Pokémon GO after one month

I have been playing Pokémon GO for about a month now. I’ll share my thoughts about it.

Pokémon GO login screen by Flickr user edowoo

Let me start saying that I am a strong Pokémon user. I started playing the Gameboy Blue and Yellow games more than a decade ago. Then, Ruby. Then, I played some of the Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS versions. And the last official game I played was the 3DS Pokémon X. When Pokémon Sun/Moon comes out in November, I intend to play it. And I’m eager to find time to play these two fan games, Pokémon Reborn and Pokémon Uranium, which look very decent. So I’m not the casual random Pokémon GO player.

Pokémon GO is not exactly the same Pokémon I’m used to play. It differs in the way both the player and the Pokémon level up and improve. And it differs in the way the ‘trainer’ feels toward his or her virtual pets. Sergio Ferrer in this article states accurately that Pokémon GO has lost the spirit of the Pokémon saga. The player of the original Pokémon games developed a bond with their virtual pets. Most of players kept in the party the starter Pokémon and leveled it to the top. The player and the virtual pets had kind of a history together. It didn’t matter if you happen to encounter a wild Pidgey that had a higher level than the one you already had in the party. You could level yours up with little effort. In fact, this was a source of something close to pride, since it was your Pidgey that laid low another one with higher level. This event is quite difficult to happen in Pokémon GO. The game mechanic tells you that if you encounter a stronger Pidgey it is beneficial for improving inside the game to catch it and transfer the old one. Yes, you get rid of your virtual pet that easily.

In the previous games, the player could develop a sense of loyalty, a bond with the party of selected pets. I’ll share this anecdote: it is common to put in your party a legendary Pokémon as soon as you capture it. Well, I experienced a few times a difficult feeling when I had to choose which Pokémon had to be kicked out to a storage box in order to place the legendary one inside my party. This kind of feeling just doesn’t fit in Pokémon Go. It can never take place with the game as is. Individual Pokémon are much expendable, more easily forgotten. And the cap for Pokémon that the player can carry in his ‘Pokémon tab’ is 250 (if you buy the upgrade, it’s even bigger). Compare that to the original six Pokémon party.

In older games, the point wasn’t to capture 30 Oddish in order to get a Vileplume and transfer (get rid of) the exceeding ones. On the contrary, the funny thing was to level the same Oddish up all the way to its final form. It was seen as rather unnecessary to catch multiple Pokémon of the same breed.

A meme found at 9gag

I can’t help bringing animal ethics to a game with this new Pokémon approach. Don’t get me wrong. I’m perfectly aware that children kidnapping wild animals from their natural habitat, locking them inside a ball, just for the sake of seeing them battling, or slaving them with tasks (remember that Machoke that helped some guy building his house?) is insanely wrong. But this game mechanic adds a new and unprecedented level of animal abuse to the saga. Careful, I never liked the twisted statement that says that ‘if you play videogames, you’ll become wicked’, and I don’t think people will treat animals worse if they play Pokémon. I just see necessary to say that in Pokémon GO there is no more petting your virtual pets.

Let us talk more about game mechanics. The whole point of Pokémon games is to battle. It was in old Pokémon games, but not in Pokémon GO (at least with the last updated version). The battling system is very undeveloped. Tactics are pretty basic: just know the advantages of certain Pokémon types (water vs fire, for example) and quickly tap the screen. The advanced user will know to keep, power up and evolve Pokémon with higher attack power of the primary and secondary attacks. That’s all. There’s no choosing between 4 attacks, no power-ups… nothing. The battling system is lame.

Another broken game mechanic is the interaction among trainers. It is not possible to fight other trainers. It is not possible to trade a Pokémon. A good thing, though, is that people meet at PokéStops or meet with the purpose of sweeping the area looking for Pokémon. Another social aspect of Pokémon GO is that you can see the nickname of the player owning a gym. And you can battle him or her in order to get his or her name removed and place your name in that gym. Anyway, this is the strong point of the game: people are actually going out together to play it.

And now we get to the difficulty. It is the reason for me to have ragequit the game for a week span or so. It has been confirmed through accessing the code of the app that capturing wild Pokémon becomes more difficult as the player levels up. I can’t understand this logic. But the issue doesn’t end here. After some update the capture rate went crazy. It was very difficult to catch Pokémon with low combat power. Even with great balls. Some people over the Internet were accusing developers that the reason was for players to buy Pokéballs with real money. I can understand that, if you encounter a wild Pokémon with, say, 800 CP, you have some problems catching it. But it doesn’t make sense to need about 10 great balls and 4 Pokéballs to catch a Charmander with a CP around 140 (my case here).

Despite all I said, and even though the app has tons of bugs, it’s laggy, drains battery at tremendous speed and many other problems, it is a commercial success and it is very addictive, for the time being. It is going to be interesting to watch the evolution of both the game and all the fuss and hype around it.