Tuesday 2 August 2016

Pokémon Go!

It feels like forever ago that I was excitedly writing about the announcement of Nintendo and Niantic Labs' collaboration on a new Pokémon-based artifical reality game. Last month it finally arrived, causing millions of people worldwide to abandon their sense of propriety, grab their phones and go outside to hunt down their favourite Pokémon in the wild.

Pokemon Go Pikachu
Pikachu obtained. Game over!

My lunchtimes are now spent wandering the campus in the tell-tale start-stop fashion of all Pokemon Go players. The recent sunny weather has provided ample opportunity to visit Pokéstops, collect Pokémon (let's face it, mostly Pidgeys) and attract odd looks from strangers. It's been great fun, even if trips are often punctuated by wails of 'but you're thiiiirty fooour!' from pained co-workers.

So is it any good? I think as a game it's pretty thin, really, missing huge chunks of gameplay compared to a 'normal' Pokémon game. Gym battles are cut down to just tapping on the screen and I really miss the feeling of levelling up a little team of loyal Pokemon. Sending them off to the Poke-chipper to be ground into candy (I mean, carefully looked after by the Professor) whenever you find a better one just doesn't have quite the same feelgood factor.

Even compared to its Niantic predecessor Ingress, Pokemon Go is feature light. Ingress had an in-built chat facility and the ability to support portals (transformed into the Pokéstops and gyms of the new game) from afar once you obtained a portal key. It also included a much more immersive starting experience, giving you background information on the world in the form of little video snippets that you would 'find' on your travels.

The game also uses the 'free'-to-play model, which I'm not a huge fan of - I'd much rather pay up front for a complete game. The inverted commas there represent my eternal worry about how cheaply I sell my user data, but that's a whole different post!

Despite the drawbacks, it seems that the Pokémon license renders me incapable of rational thought, putting up with server instability, login issues and bugs that would ordinarily have had me grumpily uninstalling most other games. It is, after all, a collecting game which usually means I'm immediately addicted (I'm looking at you, Animal Crossing!) and having played many incarnations of Pokémon for the greater part of (gulp) the last two decades, there's also plenty of nostalgia value to be had.

Let's also not forget how cool it is to see Pokémon in the real world; at least until the novelty wears off:

Gotta catch 'em all (as long as they're cute!)

And no, I'm not driving, that's in the passenger seat!! Although I am slightly terrified by the tales of people crashing cars, trespassing, falling off of cliffs and generally getting into trouble playing the game. Luckily, I've managed to avoid getting eaten by a Gyarados so far (although I have been known to drift off of a path or two).

Accidents aside, playing the game has had the very real benefit of getting millions of people out of their chairs and exercising. I've explored places around my home town that I'd thought about visiting but never made time for before and the game has also made me appreciate old places in a new light. We have some pretty lovely places to catch Pokémon!

Pokemon Go - castle PokeStop

Pokemon Go - park Pokemon catching

Pokemon Go - fountain PokeStop

It remains to be seen whether there's enough gameplay in Pokémon Go to hold my interest past the first month or so, but with the recent SDCC announcements from Niantic it looks like a lot more features are headed our way, like the trading promised in the original trailer video. I'm not sure how long-lived the game will be once the shine starts to wear off, but hopefully it'll tide me over until November when Pokemon Sun and Moon are released!

Let me know if you've been on any exciting Pokémon adventures on my Facebook page or come and say hello on my Twitter or Instagram feeds.