Pokémon GO Review

If I was forced to pick just one thing Nintendo is good at, it would have to be ubiquitous gaming experiences. The proof of that came clearly enough when the Wii, following its launch in 2006, went on to ship 102 million units — eclipsing 84 million Xbox 360s and PlayStation 3s.

Yes, it’s more than safe to say that Nintendo has got the whole “transcending demographics” thing down pat. With it’s then-innovative motion controls, the Wii eliminated the pesky hurdle of learning more traditional controller schemes — something that clearly captured the interest of consumers who, until that moment, were unlikely to invest in a home console.

Developed by Niantic under the watchful gaze of The Pokémon Company, Pokémon GO is the latest example of this boundary-leaping design. Seemingly everyone is having a go of GO, even in territories where the game is yet to be released thanks to the magic of externally hosted .APK files on Android and location-fudging tactics on iOS. With a hefty dose of Nintendo’s approachable design sensibilities and the far-reaching popularity of the Pokémon franchise, interest in GO has surged. In fact, word has it that more people are firing up GO to continue their collect-athon than are logging into Twitter on the daily.

Pokémon GO’s release began in the days leading up to the one-year anniversary of the untimely death of Satoru Iwata, the previous CEO of Nintendo. The timing is hardly coincidental. Pokémon GO is suffused with the ideals that Mr. Iwata held close to heart. One of his most famous directions is one that GO has clearly heeded well:

”Above all, video games are meant to be just one thing: Fun, for everyone.”

So, Pokémon GO is wildly popular. But is it any good?

For a nascent, ancillary app primarily released with the intention of reminding gamers that Pokémon Sun and Moon are right around the corner (and reminded them it has, with Amazon pre-orders for those games booming in the wake of GO’s release), GO is surprisingly engaging. Seeing Pokémon projected onto the real world via your phone’s camera is doubtlessly the realisation of a million childhood fantasies — finally, it’s possible to set about hunting and capturing Pokémon with your friends.

While Geocaching is hardly a new idea, it’s presented here in an incredibly accessible way and boasts enough helpings of Pokémon flavour to make the idea of wandering the streets and countryside seem like an endlessly excellent idea. Encountering and subsequently capturing Pokémon is satisfying, as is building your collection and evolving your Poké-posse along the way.

The core gameplay loop is basic, but manages to feel consistently rewarding. So it is that the “game” part of GO is sensibly, appropriately simplistic. It is a phone game, after all. On their own, GO’s mechanics may not be enough to prop up the experience. Thankfully, there’s a whole other layer to GO that makes the game make sense as a whole.

It’s the communal aspect of GO that is proving to be the game’s crowning victory. From helping your friends to learn the mechanics of hatching eggs and evolving Pokémon, to the simple act of wandering around in groups, GO is reminding players that it’s actually really fun to just go for a walk with your friends. Seeing gyms packed with powerful Pokémon and catching sight of incense left by benevolent passers-by brings about a remarkable sense of community. It helps that it’s easy to spot people hunting Pokémon in public. The chances are you’ve already seen would-be Pokémon masters out on the hunt. I’ve already bumped into enthused players on the high street, exchanging advice and guidance: “There’s a krabby round the corner!” Thanks to GO, I’ve had interactions with a bunch of people I would normally never speak to. The resulting experience feels pretty special, as total strangers are brought a little bit closer together via that mutual desire to be the very best (like no one ever was).

Were it coupled with any other franchise, it’s doubtful that GO would have the appeal it currently enjoys. That’s no knock against the game, though. Rather, it’s a testament to how masterfully the game’s design is wrapped around those loveable Pokémon trappings. The concept is immediately understood, because it taps into what we already intuitively understand about Pokémon: they hide in the wild, and we go find them.

It’s early days for the game, and changes and technical improvements are already on the horizon. Hopefully Niantic and The Pokémon Company take full advantage of the semi-unprecedented success of GO. For now, though, it’s enough to simply hang out with some friends and fill up that Pokédex one swipe at a time.