Review – Pokemon Go

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Pokemon Go. Two words that flew like a hurricane on the gaming industry in summer 2016. A game that made mobile gaming upside down. Today, commentators have gone silent, but the game initiated by the Pokemon Company is still the king of micro-transactions. The truth is that people have talked about it a lot, far too early, without taking the time to analyze the game mechanics.

pokemon-go-koffingAs you surely know, Pokemon Go is a augmented reality game for smartphones in which you can catch pokemons as you walk. Creatures pop every 100 or 200 meters and all you need to do is throwing a poke-ball. Those poke-balls, like potions and stuff, are provided by pokestops, places spread over cities and located on monuments or street art.

Urbanization is the first problem of Pokemon Go. While pokestops are rife in city centers (so much that you regularly have to bin some), they’re almost non-existent in the rural world. In Paris, no problem to play as much as you want. But in the territories far behind the French Riviera, you have zero supplies. Niantic delivers here a rare (and a bit revolting) example of a game in which all players are not equal.

pokemon-go-eveeIn terms of breeding, you’re gonna need a lot of patience and good legs. In Pokemon Go, pokemons don’t have levels : to make them evolve, you have to collect candies specific to each species. Every time you catch a pokemon, you get 3 candies for it (and one more if you free it). But you need 25, 50 or 125 to reach final evolution. That can last for weeks, while it’s done in a couple of hours in the 3DS game. Magikarp even needs an astonishing 400 candies to evolve into Gyarados! This is downright crazy and ridiculous, I’m not expecting mine before February 2017…

pokemon-go-after-updateFortunately, some updates have been implemented to speed up the process and make the game more enjoyable. First, you can now choose a buddy with which you’re gonna walk around, by which it will pick up candies every 2,3 or 5 kilometers. True, at this pace it’s not gonna fill the world with Gyarados, but that’s certainly a progress. But the dramatic improvement lies in the increase of the appear rate the creatures. Before this month, the appear rate was average at best. Worse, ¾ of the pokemons you came across were Pidgeys, Rattatas, Weedles, etc. It was a bit like walking a long, never-ending road 2… You’d see a Ponyta every 3 weeks, and you were more likely to find a 500€ banknote on the pavement than a Vulpix. Yes, the first months have been harsh. But now it’s a lot easier to find species that were uncommon before. That said, good luck to get a Kabutops or an Omastar, fossil pokemons being still extinct or so. In the same way, it’s still very difficult to power up a rare pokemon, like Scyther or Aerodactyl, since you need quite some extra candies.

pokemon-go-arene-dodrioOf course, Pokemon is all about battle and Pokemon Go has lot in store in that department, and actually enough to make the most enthusiastic players stay. Big or medium-sized cities have all one or more gyms located on famous spots, exactly like pokestops. You go can walk there, conquer the gym and become a champion. If you really get into it, you can become one of the masters of your location! Players are divided into 3 teams : Red, Blue and Yellow. When you take a gym, it takes the color of your team and teammates can lend a hand later by fighting into it. This increases the number of points of the gym, and so does its defense and level. The more the level, the harder it will be for the competition to take it back, as more trainers of the current team can register a pokemon. Attacking a gym of a different color will decrease those points, until the number reaches 0, which makes the gym neutral again. Niantic’s current policy is favorable to attackers : the number of points added when reinforcing an allied gym is low, and it thus take 15 to 30 minutes (in the cold winter) to level it up. Pretty hard to make room for yourself. On the contrary, you can make a opposing gym fall in a few minutes.

pokemon-go-aquali-attaquesBattles are all 1 vs 1 and feature the strenghs and weaknesses known from the original game. But here, each pokemon has 2 attacks instead of 4 : a weak attack (done by tapping quickly and relentlessly your phone screen) and a strong one (done by a longer pressure on the screen). You need to fill a gauge by using the weak attack in order to use the strong attack. The huge issue about attacks here is that you can’t choose them : the super Nidoking that took you 6 weeks to evolve can end up with dumb moves and there’s nothing you can do about it. Just frustrating…

The very important point is about battle stats. Those are represented by Combat Points (CP) : the more CP a pokemon has, the more efficient it will be in battle. You can increase the overall number of CPs of a pokemon by using candies and Stardust (obtained by doing various actions in game) by its growth potential highly depends on IVs (figure that represents the potential of growth of one pokemon within its species). Therefore and like other pokemon games, Pokemon Go drives you towards performing better and better. The quest to power is felt the same. It’s absolutely delightful when you reach the goal but before you do, you’ll need to catch a base pokemon with good IVs. It can take a very long time before you’re actually able to fight with your favorite pokemon, unless you just hatch eggs.

pokemon-go-eggsThis is where Pokemon Go gets sly. Pokemons you get from eggs all have excellent IVs, bring you large quantities of candies and Stardust. But here’s the catch, except for the base incubator, the game will charge you to hatch eggs. You probably see what I mean : Pokemon is a pay-to-win game, players who invest real money get stronger faster. Moreover, taking a gym will earns you pokecoins to be used in-app, so the strong become even stronger, poor and weak players are crushed. There is no balancing to help newcomers against increasingly dominating day one trainers. Around the French capital, gym battles are fought in the 1500-2500CP range. Impossible for beginners to enter the fray, the masters of Pokemon GO are now a very closed elite. The sharp drop of popularity of the app, considered not so long ago as an economic and social revolution, is likely because of that.

Graphically very fine and addictive in both breeding and fighting, Pokemon Go is an enjoyable spin-off provided you overcome some unfair mechanics. It’s not a game you can play “casually”, but a real marathon that takes logic and endurance. Not as polished or compelling as the games published by Nintendo, but a cool and original Pokemon experience.

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