Review: Pokémon Go

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Such a wee baby

The term “smash-hit” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to video games. However, when your game surpasses Tinder downloads and active Twitter users in a week, the title is more than justified.

In early July, Pokémon Go was released by the former Google start-up Niantic, to instant and almost overwhelming success from fans. The game, available on iOS and Android mobile devices, received fairly average reviews from outlets. Pocket Gamer sums it up best with, “Despite its problems, Pokémon GO is an immensely enjoyable experience.” I tend to agree.

Starting Pokémon Go is as easy as downloading the app from your app store and opening it up. It requires a Google or “Pokémon Trainers” account to log in, as opposed to being able to sign up with a general email, or other social media account. This has been marred with controversy, as it was revealed that Pokémon Go had full access to your Google account. While the news circulated quickly through the community, it was just as quickly dealt with, with permissions being changed in the latest update. You then create a male or female avatar with a few choices as far as hair and clothing are concerned and you set off on your journey.

Pokémon Go is an incredibly physical game. While it might be set on your mobile phone, the game uses GPS tracking and Augmented Reality to give the player a greater sense of depth. To catch Pokémon, or find gyms and Pokéstops, you have to travel physical distances to find them. This has had an unprecedented effect on Pokémon trainer’s physical and emotional health. Stories are emerging of people who struggled to leave the house (like this war vet) able to go out into the world and social again without anxiety. Twitter and Facebook is flooded with similar stories of people going out and meeting like-minded trainers who are happy to talk tactics. Along with the improved mental health, it’s getting people up off the couch and into the world. J and I spent all of the Friday following release walking around our local suburb all afternoon catching Pokémon. We walked more on that Friday than we do normally. While the world is in the grasp of an obesity crisis, it’s ironic that a video game is getting everyone out and about.

Welcome to (Zu)Bat Country.

Pokémon Go is F2P (Free-2-Play). The game does have microtransactions, but if you don’t want to spend money on in-game items, you can hit up any number of Pokéstops; which are at local and popular landmarks and parks. Again, this is somewhat controversial. Pokémon Go uses Google Maps to generate Pokéstops. This means that places with historical importance like Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, a memorial dedicated to the victims of Nazi concentration camps during WW2, and a restored Church which was now a liveable home, were automatically turned into Pokéstops in the virtual world. In the craze Pokémon Go is generating, it appears that people are forgetting about the social courtesies that a lot of these places afford. With a lack of support from Niantic as far as reporting bugs and other issues, the places that want to be removed from the game may struggle to get answers.

The lack of support from the developers is grinding a lot of people the wrong way. While the game is incredibly fun and capable of great things, it’s buggy as hell. During the first release version of the game, the servers could barely keep up with the load. People were locked out of the game, unable to sign in, for hours. When you could access the game, you would have to manage multiple game freezes while trying to catch Pokémon which meant you needed to close the game and reopen it to see if you’d caught that Eevee you just spent 10 Pokéballs trying to catch. It also means that people have been forced to do their own research and figure out the intricate details of the game.

 

It’s conflicting. Technically speaking, the game isn’t nearly finished and isn’t what Niantic has promised gamers. If this game was released by another developer, people would be up in arms over the server issues and privacy concerns. However, nostalgia is giving people rose-tinted glasses which is giving Niantic more slack than they deserve.

However, Pokémon Go is doing some great things in society. Discounting the achievements made by people who suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD and other mental illnesses along with the new burst of enthusiasm for fitness and walking would be an insult. The encouraging steps that these people (including myself) take to find something that brings them relief should be celebrated and rewarded.

With the potential updates of trading and trainer battling that Niantic has rumoured, I don’t see the enthusiasm around Pokémon Go dying down anytime soon. In fact, with more and more people hearing about it and downloading it, it’ll only get bigger and hopefully better.


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