Pokemon has always occupied a particularly fond place in my heart. I can remember my older brother getting a Game Boy Colour for his 9th birthday and watching him play Pokemon Silver. I can also vividly remember spending an hour trying to leave the starting house because we didn’t realise you’re supposed to push against the wall when standing on what was supposed to represent a “door mat”. I remember being convinced that you had to get the name of your rival correct when reporting them to the police, so managed to convince my brother that they were called Jeff. Then when I finally got my own Game Boy, I loaded up Pokemon Crystal and promptly also called my rival Jeff. It was new territory for me. It was my first handheld games console and this was the game I would go on to play for hours, exploring every nook and cranny that the game had to offer. Every game in the series after this have had two main themes that inform the design philosophy: growth and exploration. Growing through training to eventually become a Pokemon Master and take on every Gym Leader in the region to then go on and defeat the Elite Four. The only way to progress through the game is to explore, diving in games and navigating seas, discovering new Pokemon on your journey. These two ideas complimented one another to give you a journey that was both exciting and joyous.
Pokemon Go ignores this. Pokemon Go is a mobile game on Android and iOS where you go out and catch Pokemon, take over gyms when you come across them and… that’s about it. You go out with your phone, it tells you when a Pokemon goes by and you catch the Pokemon. Eventually these Pokemon will be strong enough for you to take on gyms. Exploration is meaningless because Pokemon don’t appear in set locations, instead completely randomly. There’s no growth in the game because your Pokemon don’t evolve with training but by catching more of the same Pokemon. This is a poorly made game also. It’s constantly crashing. It overheats your phone and is a serious battery drain. It requires a constant internet connection meaning it gobbles up all of your data. When you do eventually find a Pokemon it would no doubt be one that you’ve already caught 50 of already. The interface is horrendous, with its many features going completely unexplained. You hatch eggs by walking around but the game doesn’t tell you that you first have to put them in an incubator. And half the time the app doesn’t track you steps accurate. The map is horrendous, failing to label areas that are prohibited and can get you in trouble with trespassing. Also, because the rules are so vague as to when and where Pokemon will appear so your local area could be filled with the same common Pokemon. It’s terrible. Awful. Un-intuitive. Frustrating.
And yet it is the most innovative and exciting Pokemon game for quite a while. Although it has many flaws it has chosen to take the game in a different direction. There have been many horror stories surrounding the game, but also a lot of pointless fear-mongering. It’s a game that has taken a brave step into uncharted territory and much of it has paid off in spades. The genius of Niantic (the company behind the game) is by fundamentally altering the base theme. Here the importance is community. If you see a Pokemon nearby, you let everyone know about it. If you put down a lure at a Pokestop (signature locations where you can pick up on free supplies), everyone around you benefits from the more frequent appearance of Pokemon. It’s a game that promotes social interaction, as you approach a Pokestop with a lure on and find many other people trying to catch Pokemon, it’s the perfect way into conversation. In fact, many people with social anxiety say that it’s helped them get out of the house and talk to strangers. And of course it does, there’s plenty to talk about. It’s the perfect water cooler game: one where you come into work excited about a Pokemon you have caught or evolved and swap the stories with your friends. The game is fantastic. Intriguing. Incredible and exciting fun.
It’s a pedalo powered by a V8 engine. It’s a gourmet chef whose specialist dish is a fried egg. It’s a bank that only works in the currency of rocks. There is a fundamental disconnect between the way the game works and functions and to what the real game actually is. It’s a meta-game. People are using the (bad) tools the game has provided in order to create a much larger community that is bigger than the game itself. There are so many things to continue complaining about about the game. I can’t totally express how tedious and frustrating the game is, and yet it is so rewarding and exciting to play. Whenever your phone vibrates to signify a Pokemon is nearby sends a jolt of excitement through you. The excitement, after weeks of playing, never subsides. That joyous novelty, sense of adventure and need to go out and be the very best. That is why it’s the best worst Pokemon game ever made.