There are times when even the old “in case you’ve been living under a rock…” introduction are not enough. In the case of Pokémon Go, which has gotten everyone from medical researchers to people’s gran’s playing and talking, it seems we have reached that point. After all, it’s not only Nintendo’s share price that’s been on the rise, but also people getting themselves in stupid situations, phone in hand and mercenary ‘gotta catch ‘em all’ gleam in their eye.
But this is a review of the game, not its positive or negative externalities (thanks, AS-Level economics). Even for those of us who had the audacity to be on holiday when Australia’s release came, there has been time to play the game enough to get a feel both for the mechanics and the uncontrolled sobbing of Niantic’s employees as they run around with heads and servers still resolutely on fire.
In fact, that’s probably one of the first jitters a player will encounter — glitches and slowdowns aplenty, likely a result of the stupendous popularity (and willingness to change regions in order to get the game early) that not even Nintendo foresaw. When it does work, however, the popularity is a definite plus: even in my minute rural hamlet, the gym changes hands daily, and once one ventures out into civilisation they will see friendly groups of competitors/companions, all eager to play together. When Nintendo gets it right, reality has a habit of turning into one of those slightly sickly TV adverts they ran a few years ago, with a generous cross-section of society coming together to laugh, play games together and engage in polite friendly banter.
Just in case someone managed to get this far into the review without having played the game or had it explained to them, Pokémon Go uses a phone’s GPS signal to locate the player in the physical world. As they wander around, Pokémon (the first 150, at least for now) appear, and can be caught by flicking a Pokéball their way. Once caught, these Pokémon can then be stored at a gym (usually the site of a local landmark) to help defend it on behalf of one of three teams. Members of the same team can strengthen their hold, while people from other teams can aim to beat the gym in order to claim the area for themselves. If it seems like the game acts on two levels, it’s because it does. It’s perfectly fine to get worked up about catching rarer and rarer Pokémon without batting an eyelid at what colour might have claimed the local church, and cooperation can take place both in game (through lures to attract rarer Pokémon to an area, for example) and out (with, you know, your mouth).
We’re still very much in the initial rush as people discover that, yes, this is indeed literally what they dreamed of when they first started playing Pokémon and, yes, people will get themselves trapped in caves or assemble en masse in Central Park if they hear of a digital cartoon animal being sighted there. The real challenge for Nintendo and Niantic, after the servers have been hosed down and given a cuddle for having survived launch, will be maintaining interest, at least of a decent core of the tens of thousands who downloaded on Day 1.
As hinted above and in James Lees’ article, this might be tough for those of us living out in the sticks, without too many people to work with or Pokémon to catch. After all, there’s only so many times you can run into a Rattata and fight the only other person in the village for control of a low-level gym before things start to drag. Perhaps, at least for Muse’s general readership, a return to York in September will reignite passions that might have waned over the long summer, especially if the hinted-at public events surface and are anything like the one shown in the original release trailer.
The foundation is solid, but especially with the public’s generally low commitment to individual app games, it’ll be no mean feat to keep everyone interested in six months time. Until then, get out there, take advantage of the buzz and whatever you do, don’t throw things at geese. They will fight back, and it sure as hell won’t be turn-based.