Pokémon GO Preview and Thoughts
New information on the highly anticipated mobile game Pokémon GO has finally been released. Pokémon GO is a collaboration between the Pokémon Company and Niantic, known for the similar augmented-reality mobile experience, Ingress. A big feature of Pokémon GO will be the ability to catch wild Pokémon around the world. A unique aspect of this is that certain creatures will appear only in certain places, such as water Pokémon living near oceans. By catching enough of a Pokémon, you will have the opportunity to evolve them. This is certainly an intriguing method for evolution, making me wonder how Pokémon here will level up, if at all. Will battling other trainers be included, and does that affect an experience system? Interestingly enough, trainers will level up, so perhaps that will substitute for Pokémon level-ups. Pokéstops will also function as hot spots where you can find special prizes or even Pokémon eggs. Such stops will be at points of interest, like museums, monuments, and other attractions.
Having to go around the world to catch Pokémon sounds like a daunting task. If I were a perfectionist (which I am in the Pokémon games, having caught ‘em all), I would either be very disappointed or become a world traveler. Looking at it from a non-perfectionist perspective, it sounds incredible to be able to find new Pokémon wherever you go. Pulling my phone out in a new location to see what Pokémon are around calls back to the excitement I felt whenever I went to a new route and discovered what creatures were hiding in the tall grass. It sounds exciting just thinking about what surprises the game will have in store and how exactly the Pokémon will be distributed. Although the press release only lists oceans, I hope that they take it one step further and make certain Pokémon exclusive to certain global regions, such as Darmanitan in Japan, Girafarig in Africa, and Cubchoo in Antarctica. Unfortunately, that may mean most of us will never catch these exclusive Pokemon. But if you were to ever venture to any of these places, you would have a chance at catching these rare finds, which would certainly give a new meaning to “vacations.”
In what is perhaps the most exciting news from the press release, players will be able to join one of three teams and form gyms with others in your team. This is a phenomenal idea that promotes camaraderie and friendly competition. Who didn’t want to be a gym leader after playing through Pokémon for the first time? Inhabiting gyms and fighting others for gym ownership can potentially turn this into a worldwide game of Pokémon Risk. What if the three teams became separate factions, like ones based on which original starter was your favorite? (By the way, the correct answer is Charmander.)
Finally, the last piece of news: the Pokémon GO Plus will function as a portable, wearable device that connects to smartphones via Bluetooth. Not much else is known, but the PGP may prove to be a hit tool that further immerses players into the Pokémon GO experience.
Why Pokémon GO Matters
This news has built up my anticipation for the upcoming Pokémon GO even more than before. For a long time, I have thought that a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (or MMORPG) would be a good direction for the Pokémon series to go. While this is likely not going to be that particular genre, this is perhaps as close as we will get. It may even be better than an MMORPG. Instead of having a virtual world and finding other trainers in lobbies, we will have the real world. There will be trainers everywhere, and encountering them in real life may be a more rewarding experience than in the confines of a video game. Hopefully, there will be some way to know if others are Pokémon GO trainers. I could see a potential StreetPass-like method of sharing (optional) information and allowing trainers to find you if desired. Imagine being at the grocery store and suddenly running into someone who has an exclamation mark above his head. He walks over to you demanding you drop your groceries and have a Pokémon battle. Okay, that probably wouldn’t happen, but any kind of meaningful trainer interaction would be fitting for the type of social experience the original Pokémon games provide.
The mobile platform for this game is also a significant departure from the usual handheld experiences. It shows that Nintendo and the Pokémon Company are ready to evolve with the times. The current trend of mobile gaming is huge for children (and adults). It is so big that Nintendo is jumping on the bandwagon with its own set of games including Miitomo. Teaming up with Niantic is a wonderful idea that will allow the Pokémon Company to create a tailor-made experience that takes advantage of the smartphone’s functional strengths, such as augmented-reality cameras and GPS capabilities. At the same time, they are aiming to support a novel way of undergoing the tried-and-true Pokémon trainer’s journey.
Finally, on a personal level, my desire for an experience like this stems from childhood. Back when the original Pokémon Red and Blue versions came out, I would imagine what it would be like if Pokémon were real. This fantasy was likely common to many kids at that time, but I really acted on it, making up my own real-world Pokémon game. I walked around my living room pretending to find and catch Pokémon. They could be anywhere–hiding in the couch or near the TV. I wrote down my team members and added any Pokémon I found, and I leveled them up by fighting other imaginary trainers (which in my young, anime-crazed mind were Goku and Sailor Moon). I even roped my friends into these pretend Pokémon adventures. We would discuss which Pokémon we had and even enact battles. Keep in mind that this whole experience was all dramatic play, with paper being the only record of what had transpired. This was basically my own pen-and-paper Pokémon RPG!
Pokémon GO represents a revival of that childhood dream to go on an adventure and catch these beloved creatures. It is a way for long-time fans to finally relive the game in a brand-new way. It also provides a much-needed modern social version of the popular series that young smartphone gamers can appreciate. While the final product is not yet out, Pokémon GO is shaping up to be the ideal Pokémon trainer’s game that is sure to please fans, both young and old.