Pokemon GO Review: Catch ‘Em for Real

The Good

Pure wish fulfillment in the way it used AR to bring Pokemon to life.

Simple enough that anyone can easily get into it.

The best mobile game ever at getting people to exercise.

The Bad

Has very little in the way of tutorials or instruction.

Actual gameplay is fairly shallow.

Plenty of launch week wrinkles to be ironed out.

THIS JUST IN: There’s nothing truly revolutionary about Pokemon GO. Its use of augmented reality is something that the game’s developer, Niantic, has been doing for several years, and its gameplay is actually pretty limited compared to Pokemon games of the past.

If we pivot just a bit and talk about wish fulfillment, though, that’s a different story. The magic of Pokemon GO is the way it puts players in the shoes of a Pokemon Trainer in ways no other game has previously done.

Pokemon GO Gym battle

That, along with the fact that this is Nintendo’s first real leap into mobile gaming, are enough to make Pokemon GO worthy of the frenzy around it, even if the product itself is maddeningly inconsistent. Some of the launch issues with it are merely byproducts of its own popularity, with busy servers jammed full of anxious players. Niantic has wisely decided to hold off on having the game debut in other countries until those problems get ironed out, probably by just adding capacity to meet demand.

Other aspects of the Pokemon GO experience aren’t as easily dismissed. There’s virtually no tutorial or instruction of any kind, as you’re given a brief introduction by a kindly professor and told he needs assistance capturing Pokemon for study. Then it’s off you go, into the world around you to capture what you can. Upon reaching level 5, another short series of screens introduces Gym battles and their importance in the overall scheme of things.

Pokemon GO gym battle

Granted, most of the audience will need no introduction to the core concepts involved. But everything from the basics of throwing a Pokeball to battle tactics while attacking a gym are done more by trial and error than anything else, unless you manage to find your way to the ‘?’ icon that offers in-game tips — and even those are limited.

Once you get a handle on what you’re out to do (and assuming your device stays within GPS contact with the servers, something definitely not guaranteed at the moment), the hunt for Pokemon in the real world is undeniably charming. Niantic’s AR expertise shines through in the way it turns real world locations into in-game points of interest, and you don’t even need to be near a major metropolitan area for that to be the case. Certainly, churches have rarely seen a profile boost like this one in recent years.

Pokemon GO map

Could there be more to do? Absolutely, and some of the griping from experienced fans that hasn’t had to do with server gremlins has zeroed in on this truth. There’s not a whole lot of actual battling, expected features like the ability to trade Pokemon with other players are missing, and there’s a general overall unfinished feel that you wouldn’t expect from this brand.

Then again, maybe that’s just Nintendo showing it understands more about mobile gaming than you’d expect from a company that avoided the space like it had the plague for so long. Features can be added, bugs can be squashed, and eventually, everyone is going to be able to play Pokemon GO without any trouble. The things it already does well, like mashing up the world of pocket monsters with the more mundane reality we occupy, and not so subtly telling us to get out there and walk around, it already has down pat.

It’s also made it socially acceptable to whip out your phone at random times and say, “Excuse me, but I have to take care of this Pidgey that’s on your table.” And for that, we should all be grateful.

Content writer

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