Close to 6 months ago, the much awaited mobile game, Pokemon Go!, was released on most major mobile platforms. Now if you’ve been playing the classic Pokemon games series from Gamefreak, all the way from the GameBoy Color to the Nintendo DS, you will know that as kids, we wanted nothing more than to run into the wilderness and encounter rare pokemon to befriend, capture and battle. Go! gives us all of that. From running around catching pokemon, to challenging Gyms and Gym leaders. Unfortunately, that is where the similarities stop.
As someone who has grown up playing all the Pokemon games on the GameBoy systems, seen the first 12 seasons of the Pokemon anime and wasted a good chunk of money on trading cards, Go! was an exciting prospect that was eagerly awaited. After a good year of patience since Niantic made its initial announcement, the app was finally on the App and Play stores, and subsequently on my phone. The app was soon the most downloaded app in the history of the Play store and Nintendo stock rose an astounding 21% (which is ridiculous since a 2% increase is considered solid business). This app was next big thing.
The first few hours of Go! were bliss! Creating an avatar, selecting my starter, just walking around the city, using the proximity indicator to locate those ultra rare Pokemon, it was the largest nostalgia rush I’d had since I graduated college. So far, so good. Then it all changed. The first peeve was the candy system. For those of you in the know, (rare) candy is something we use to level up any Pokemon quickly, but the right way to do it is to battle Pokemon and give them experience points, a.k.a. real life hard-work. The candy system in Go! is nothing of the sort. It requires us to catch more Pokemon of the same species in order to collect more candy that is specific to that Pokemon species and use that to level them up. The concept of peer battles is non-existent and that killed some of my interest in the app. It was still a great app, tonnes of fun, and gave me the required motivation to get my backside into gear and move out of the house. However, constantly catching the same Pokemon again and again, just to level up the first one of that kind you caught, soon became redundant and boring. Strike one.
Then came the next big update: the removal of the proximity indicator. The footstep indicator that displayed how far you had to walk to find a Pokemon was completely removed and thus made the game almost unplayable. When you have to rely on dumb luck to find a Pokemon you’ve really been meaning to catch, it is no longer a game. This was compounded by the fact that Go! comes with no sort of instructions or gameplay objective whatsoever. Suddenly it seemed that the good people over at Niantic had no idea what they were doing. Strike two.
The final kicker for me was the proliferation of illicit means to locate Pokemon. Pokemon trackers and websites displaying where different kinds of Pokemon were located started showing up all over the internet. These were illicit since Niantic had never released an official API and they were pretty much reverse-engineered and hacked together. Niantic made poor choices trying to curb this kind of unfairness, either not addressing the issue, or making the game completely unplayable. By this time, the number of active users of Go! had declined drastically and I was pretty sure that Go! was in doldrums.
As I sit at my desk with the DesMuMe DS emulator running in a different window with Pokemon Platinum, I am reminded of all the reasons why Pokemon is a global phenomenon. Playing the original game series by GameFreak showcases how to take a good idea and make it great through sophisticated execution, something a lot of companies have taken upon themselves in recent times. In comparison, Go! was doomed by its own popularity and the poor decisions by Niantic. As I head to face the first Gym Leader in Pokemon Platinum, I’m quite content having given up Go! and gone back to the classic series. At the end of the day, you gotta catch ’em all!