The Pokemon mobile experience is great…when it works.
Launching to an unprecedented amount of anticipation, Pokemon Go takes the mega-popular video game franchise into the world of augmented reality. Using their smartphones, players travel to real-world locations, capturing the pocket monsters that live there. After building a strong team, they can join up with a color-coordinated team and dive into Gym battles, dominating their regions and becoming a true Pokemon master.
At least, that’s the theory. While the game has only been available for a few days, players have been faced with a slew of bugs, disconnections, and the dreaded ‘server down’ screen. In fact, it may not be much of a stretch to say that people are spending more time trying to log on than actually playing the game. So is the game actually worth the hype?
The sad reality is, in its current state, Pokemon Go is less a game and more a souped-up beta experiment. When it works, it’s a fantastic time-sync, and encourages exploration and activity into the real world (a place most video games intend to pull the gamer away from). Catching Pokemon is fun, and sending the extra creatures away in order to level up your favorites is an easy, if poorly explained system. ‘Poorly explained’ could apply to much of the game, as after a short tutorial (that really covers nothing) players are dumped into the world. Luckily, a strong community has formed on sites like Reddit to guide new players, but still, this is something that could easily have been included in the game itself. Once you’ve learned the quirks and tactics of the system, the thrill of wandering around to catch that particular ‘mon is something that hasn’t been seen yet for the Nintendo powerhouse. The fact that the game is so fun makes the constant bugs and crashes hurt that much more.
And boy, are there bugs. Simply visit any Pokemon Go thread on your chosen forums to see the incredible variety and amount of errors provided by the game. From simply not loading, to missing items, to entire resets of level and team, playing the game right now feels like testing a beta…which would be fine, had the game not been launched to the public app stores. For every Pokemon caught, there have to be ten times the app freezes, crashes, or simply stops responding to touch. That is, of course, assuming the servers respond in the first place. Strangely, the entire game requires server access, so even looking at a team or achievements is locked behind a constantly-repeating log in screen. The app would go a long way towards being a must-have if it included any sort of offline activity, even down to a simplified Pokedex.
There are also a few design choices that, for lack of a better term, are unfortunate. For instance, the Pokemon Go app must be open and running (not backgrounded) in order to alert the phone owner. This isn’t as terrible as it could be, but it does encourage users to purchase a physical wrist attachment that acts as a dumbed-down smartwatch for the game…for an additional $35. Hatching eggs is even worse, as the only way currently to have the eggs record your steps is to have the app open. Considering that some of the eggs require an immense amount of steps, it’s strange that the app couldn’t simply pull from the pedometer built into the phone. There’s also no planned smartwatch support for the foreseeable future, though this would be far less beneficial than allowing the app to run while the phone is locked. To their credit, developers Niantic did include a power saving mode, but all this does is dim the screen when the phone is set down.
However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Developer Niantic has promised a constant increase in content over the summer, as well as stability fixes to the bigger server issues plaguing the game. Admitting the launch issues is a good first step, and shows they are aware of the feedback coming in. As it stands now, Pokemon Go is a fun diversion, but no where near the promised land of real-life Pokemon that fans were anticipating. Time will tell if Pokemon Go can evolve to meet the hopes of millions of fans wanting to be the very best.