Review by Joshua Roeder, Drew University
Niantic, 2016. Game.
Launched in July 2016, Pokémon Go is a free-to-play augmented reality mobile game. Despite initial launch issues, the game has quickly spread to become a global phenomenon. It holds the record of being one of the fastest growing game apps in mobile game history, having hit over 100 million downloads in Google’s Play Store in its first month of release. In September of 2016, Pokémon Go grossed over $600 million in revenue from micro transactions (Crider, Makuch).
Niantic, Inc., the publisher and developer behind this mobile game, was largely unknown until the initial announcement of Pokémon Go. The company was an internal startup from within Google and formed in 2010 by John Hanke as Niantic Labs. Using its previous location-based augmented reality mobile game, Ingress (November 2012), Niantic repurposed its location data to build the base for its second title game, Pokémon Go ("Leveraging the Google Cloud Platform"; "Ingress").
Players assume the role of a Pokémon catcher. Player’s mobile devices allow them to catch unique creatures known as Pokémon, in a digitally augmented reality that overlays the real world (Fig.1).
At launch, players could catch 146 of the original 151 total Pokémon from the original Gameboy games that released in the late 1990s. By walking about and exploring, a player encounters wild Pokémon in various environments. After encountering a wild Pokémon, players attempt to catch the digital monsters by throwing Poké Balls with precision timing. If successfully caught, the Pokémon goes into the player’s collection and players can continue on their adventure. (Fig. 2)
To help players with capturing Pokémon, Pokéstops are essential. These stations are located at real world attractions such as statues, buildings, cemeteries, and other sites. This feature allows players to amass items that will help them on their quest to collect Pokémon. These include berries, Poké Balls, and Pokémon Eggs. Pokémon Eggs require players walk a certain distance before they hatch into a Pokémon. Players may also transfer extra copies of their digital creatures to the Pokémon Professor to get Pokémon Candy. Feeding your Pokémon these candies increases their overall power so that they fight better. Pokémon Candy also allows a player to evolve a Pokémon into a more powerful form. Other items help the players in specific ways. Lure Modules may be placed at Pokéstops to attract additional wild Pokémon to the area. Lucky Eggs increase the experience a player receives for a brief period. However, the inherent flaw about this system of replenishing items is that if a player is in a more rural area, there are virtually no Pokéstops to use. These unlucky players are then limited to their gameplay, an issue Niantic has yet to fix.
If players feel that their Pokémon are strong enough, they can compete against others for control over Gyms (Fig. 3).
Gyms, like Pokéstops, appear in various locations. Competition is played out between three teams, Mystic, Valor, and Instinct. When a player takes over a gym, the ownership changes to the player’s team and they leave one of their Pokémon at the location to defend it from other teams. Other trainers of the same team may add to the overall strength of the Gym with their own Pokémon. The benefits of holding a Gym include in-game currency that allows players to buy more items to help them on their quest. Alternatively, players can purchase in-game items with real money. This however, feels like there is a pay-to-win option that diminishes the entire experience of the game.
Pokémon battles entail a player using his own team of Pokémon to fight against Pokémon stationed on the opposing team’s Gym (Fig. 4).
Each Pokémon has its own bar of stamina. Successful attacks landed on the opposing Pokémon decrease their stamina. To the reverse of this, attacks taken from the opponents decrease player’s own stamina bar. When a Pokémon’s stamina reaches zero, it faints and a player either drops from the battle or a player continues to battle with their next Pokémon. Attacking works as follows: Tapping the area where the enemy Pokémon is on the screen will use a Pokémon’s normal attack. Using normal attacks will charge the meter for a special attack. Once a Pokémon’s special attack meter is full, a player can unleash a powerful attack by taping and holding down on the screen.
Combat Power (CP) determines how strong a Pokémon can be. CP is determined on each individual Pokémon’s stats and a player’s current level. While battling, a player can also dodge incoming attacks. Swipe left or right to dodge incoming attacks. Dodging an opponent’s attack will save your Pokémon from taking damage, allowing it to stay in the fight longer. There is one final aspect to battling. Either side with correct Pokémon typing may gain an advantage in battle. For example, electric type Pokémon are strong against water types. For a game whose primary aspect is fighting other Pokémon, this is too simplistic of a battle system that has little depth. This especially troublesome for when players reach the plateau of the adventuring side of the game. Battling then often comes down to having the one of the few top tier Pokémon who are absurdly overpowered.
While gameplay is simple, Pokémon Go had a number of changes to fix gameplay issues. Initially, the Pokémon tracking was heavily flawed. Sometimes it did not refresh Pokémon locations. At worst, players ran into an issue called the “3-Step Glitch” where tracking stopped working altogether. The basic fundamental aspect of going outside and finding Pokémon was broken. Issues such as this caused the game’s user base to become disgruntled. Despite its popularity, this issue and others caused many to quit the game. These issues ended up costing Niantic 79% of its paying players since its initial launch ("'Pokémon GO' Has Lost 79% Of Its Paying Players Since Launch, But That's Fine").
While player numbers have been down due to gameplay issues and cold weather, Niantic has recently been pushing out large updates to bring their player numbers back up in time for warmer weather. Recently added are a number of fresh game mechanics. The Buddy system allows a player to obtain more Pokémon Candy when the walk a certain distance with a Pokémon of their choosing. New items such as the Nanab Berry helps players catch Pokémon. A new Daily Bonus system gives players more rewards for playing daily. There has also been an announcement for upcoming updates. A future update will allow players to trade Pokémon locally. Another update intends to overhaul the Gym system to make it more teamwork orientated and provide players with more rewards. The latest update has relieved the much felt stagnation of the game with the release of 80 new Generation 2 Pokémon that were originally introduced in the video games Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver (November, 1999). These new updates will finally give this game some depth that it has desperately needed since its launch. ("Pokémon GO's Gen 2 Is Making Big Money For The Game Again" ; Frank; Hoffer).
Despite the initial issues experienced with the launch and gameplay issues, Pokémon Go is still a very much enjoyable game. The game was and still is a great excuse to go walking outside (preferably in warm weather), in town or in the city, exploring new areas with friends, and even making new ones. The initial hype and outbreak of new players has since passed, but with each content update, there will be a revival of players. The goal now for Pokémon Go should be to bring back the player base it had lost during its initial launch. However, the game needs better end-game content, more integration into social media, and make Pokémon more available to those who live in areas that are more rural. So far, the developers have been heading in the right direction. With the Pokémon Buddy system, additional items, daily rewards, new content, and improvement in-game mechanics, Pokémon Go has become more of what a completed game should look like. Adding more content and depth to this game will fix some of the major issues.
Crider, Michael. "Pokémon GO passes 100 million Play Store downloads in just a month." Android Police. August 08, 2016. Accessed March 03, 2017.
Frank, Allegra. "Pokémon Go trading won't solve rural players' biggest problem." Polygon. March 01, 2017. Accessed March 03, 2017.
Hoffer, Christian. "Niantic CEO Confirms Major Pokemon Go Gym Overhaul, Legendary Pokemon in 2017." WWG. March 03, 2017. Accessed March 03, 2017.
"Ingress." Google+ Collections. Google. November 04, 2013. Accessed March 03, 2017.
Makuch, Eddie. "Pokemon Go Reaches $600 Million, Faster Than Any Mobile Game in History - Report." GameSpot. October 21, 2016. Accessed March 03, 2017.
Thier, Dave. "Pokémon GO's Gen 2 Is Making Big Money For The Game Again." Forbes. February 21, 2017. Accessed March 03, 2017.
_____. "'Pokémon GO' Has Lost 79% Of Its Paying Players Since Launch, But That's Fine." Forbes. September 13, 2016. Accessed March 03, 2017.
Joshua Roeder is a Ph.D. Student in the History & Culture Program at Drew University, where he is currently studying American Popular Culture. He earned his B.A. and M.A. in History at Wichita State University. He has a special interest in Comic Books and Graphic Novels. His work primarily focuses on the relationship between the creators and the readers, while exploring how the latter has influenced the development of the former’s work.
© 2017 Joshua Roeder, used by permission