Despite excitement, Pokémon GO! offers little promise

More stories from William Jow

On Thursday, September 10, Nintendo officially announced “Pokémon GO,” one of the company’s first titles aimed for the mobile market. The augmented reality (AR) game features the basic mechanics of the Pokémon games ― catching, battling and trading ― and adds a layer of immersion on top of them by staging the game in real-world geographical locations instead of a preprogrammed region. Ex-Google startup Niantic, Inc. is currently overseeing development of the game, which is slated for release as a free download sometime in 2016.

As part of the press release in Tokyo, The Pokémon Company unveiled a three-minute trailer that showcases the concept of “Pokémon GO.” The trailer follows different people and how they can interact with computer-generated imagery (CGI) of Pokémon creatures anywhere they go; early scenes include people catching them on a hike or battling them with friends at a park. It is important to note that everything the trailer shows is pure CGI; the only footage of the actual game is toward the end of the trailer, which merely shows two Pokémon against a digital backdrop as a player attempts to catch them.

While loyal fans of the franchise might find it easy to get excited over the footage and the idea of Pokémon “in the real world,” as the trailer says, doubtful fans will find the absence of gameplay footage concerning. Essentially all aspects of the gameplay are open to speculation, which leaves hesitant followers of the series to point out the potential problems with the game.
The main issue with “GO” is its lack of reasonable goal. In the main series, there is the definitive, achievable objective of defeating the elite trainers within the game. Catching, battling and trading are simply means to that end. The incentive to partake in these activities stems from a desire to finish to plot of the game.

In a game without any of these objectives, catching and trading Pokémon mean little; they do not bring the player any closer to fulfilling a need, because there essentially is none. Some may make the argument that the purpose is then to catch all the Pokémon there are, but this goal is already present and typically ignored in the main series. For many, taking the time to obtain all 721 different Pokémon will be a chore, and the games have historically not rewarded players much for doing so anyway. The novelty of catching Pokémon on a phone will likely fail to change anything for players, who will continue to not “catch ‘em all.”

This leaves the only other point of the game: battling other players. This seems to be the main appeal of the games outside of the internal storyline; a whole competitive community exists to fuel it. However, attempting to meet the competitive community’s expectations will be a difficult task.
The basic functions of battling, such as attacking or switching Pokémon and weather, can easily be implemented. But the more nuanced mechanics of the game, such as effort values, will be a bit of a challenge. Every time a Pokémon wins a battle, it gains a certain number of effort values to prompt more growth in particular stats, depending on which type of Pokémon it defeated. These stats in turn determine how strong and viable the Pokémon is when battling. Effort values are an integral part of training competitive Pokémon, and the AR premise of “Pokémon GO” hinders players’ ability to fully take advantage of them.

The main series contains numerous areas conducive to effort-value training; Pokémon in these areas all give effort values for the same stat. By specifically training in these areas, players gain a high degree of control over the stats of their Pokémon. Such areas will not be readily available in “GO” without making them so abundant to the point that there is no variety when catching Pokémon. There simply isn’t enough accessible space in real life. Unlike in the main games, people cannot realistically fly anywhere in the world in a matter of seconds just to train their Pokémon against certain targets.

Thus, the process of raising Pokémon to a competitive level will prove quite tedious and frankly not worth the time when there are existing free battling simulators such as “Pokémon Showdown” that allow players to make their teams in minutes and battle others worldwide. Without the battling aspect of the game, the appeal of “Pokémon GO” goes back to nil.
Even with all these concerns, the possibility that The Pokémon Company and Niantic, Inc. will address them and develop a captivating game is still there. Unfortunately, the probability that the game will be subpar or quickly lose its charm just seems greater.