GAME REVIEW – ‘POKEMON GO’ (2016)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock-type geodude (and even that might not be a good excuse, really) you’ve probably already heard all about Pokémon GO. The new augmented reality mobile game from California-based software company Niantic, Inc. has absolutely taken the world by storm and has become something of a cultural phenomenon since its release earlier this month.

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(image courtesy of Niantic, Inc.)

Pokémon GO, available for free download on iOS and Android isn’t even a month old, yet it’s already all over… well, everything. Social media is buzzing about it (stronger than any political rantings, major sporting events, blockbuster movies, or perhaps even memes), news outlets (yes, even the “mainstream” ones like your local newspaper or TV newscasts) are giving it major coverage, and just about anywhere you go, you’re sure to see several people wandering about with smartphones-in-hand looking for Pokémon. But popularity aside, is this game truly, actually that good?  Read on to see for yourselves!

Pokémon is not a new franchise by any stretch of the imagination. The first Pokémon game was released in 1996 on the original Nintendo Game Boy – yes, twenty years ago! If that little stat makes you feel old, then don’t worry, because you’re not alone! In fact, a quick fact-check will show that most Pokémon GO players are not kids, but adults! This is likely due to the fact that many more adults – who also likely fondly remember Pokémon from their own childhood – own expensive smartphones than children do. So what makes this game any different from the ’96 original, or any of the tons of Pokémon games released since? – Quite a lot, actually.

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For starters, Pokémon GO takes the famous and insanely lucrative monster-catching franchise and transplants it into the real world using a combination of your mobile phone’s GPS functionality, Google Maps data and your handset’s camera, the latter of which is used to created an Augmented Reality environment in which 3D rendered Pokémon appear directly in front of you, waiting to be ensnared in one of those iconic red and white Pokéballs. Each of these components isn’t groundbreaking when taken on its own; Nintendo dabbled with AR gaming when the 3DS launched, while Ingress – also developed by Niantic – uses real world maps as the basis for its gameplay. However, no smartphone title has ever been so successful at pulling all of these elements together to create a compelling experience, and the fact that Pokémon are at the center of that experience is perhaps what has given Pokémon GO such astonishing mainstream appeal; as pretty much everyone knows what a Pokémon is.

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Gameplay is pretty simple – you load up the game in your phone (well, if you can – more on that in just a bit), get out there in the world, catch wild monsters, train them, evolve them, and all the standard Pokémon stuff. You go to landmark locations called Pokéstops to reload your Pokéballs, and collect various other random items, and visit special locations called Gyms once you’re level 5 where you can join one of three teams and do battle/claim the gym/train more/etc. And, well, that’s pretty much it. It’s fairly simple, easy to play, and (as a quick look around just about anywhere will show) highly addicitive.

But as the old saying goes, with big success comes bigger problems, and this game is no exception. Servers are continuously overloaded, sometimes the game doesn’t load at all, it crashes way too often, it’s very glitchy, and it’s frankly buggier than lizard excrement. The fact that this game uses your phone’s GPS also means some severe battery drain. There is a “battery saver” function on the app, but that only really helps a little, and there is a slight workaround for the general bugginess of turning off the AR, but again it’s only a small, partial fix. No doubt, Niantic has their hands full in finding ways to improve this, but they assert that they “are well aware of the problems and are hard at work on fixing the server issues” and “new patches are being developed to deal with the glitches and work out the kinks”. Hopefully these issues will be resolved soon, as right now the issues are really affecting the experience, and making the game virtually unplayable at times.

The Bottom Line:
Overall, Pokémon GO is an exceptionally fun, easy-to-play, and very habit-forming game that deserves quite a lot of praise for encouraging players to get out there, be active, be social, and enjoy themselves. Not since the days of Pac-Man, Tetris, or Super Mario Bros. has a video game of any kind become such a far-reaching social phenomenon, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. That being said, the near-constant server issues, way-too-frequent crashing, and gamebreaking bugs make it nearly impossible to rate this game nearly as high as it otherwise would be. But if Niantic can correct these issues, we’ve definitely got an all time great (literally) in our hands. – 8.0/10

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-Dave Harlequin
Editor/Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine
@DaveHarlequin

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