My daughter is now 3 and a half, so she’s starting to get fun. I had started playing with my old Nintendo Wii games with her, but then the disc drive failed. RIP, old friend.
Fortunately, in a fit of drunken disregard after the failure of the WiiU, Nintendo handed the prime jewels of its IP catalog to a former Google augmented reality experiment company, Niantic, who promptly used it to re-skin their old game – Ingress – and create some kind of Pokémon-flavored hard drug for kids.
Pokémon may, yet again, save Ninty’s bacon. My kid LOVES it. The game is an unqualified success. Millions of players. Legit cultural phenomenon. AR for the masses.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s any good.
Bear in mind two things – I was too old for the original Pokémon cultural tsunami, so I don’t benefit from the nostalgia buzz. Also, I live in an exurban/rural area, so my experience is very different from city dwellers. That said, Pokémon Go has issues.
The credentialing is busted
I use my Google account to log into the game, and I have to re-enter my credentials every time the game updates. For the past week, this has averaged every other day. This makes if awfully hard to just whip the app out and scan the area on a whim while you are waiting for the wife to shop or filling up the tank. I realize that Niantic had to re-structure its credentialing setup after people discovered that the game was taking full control of Google accounts. But the problems continue. Every time I moved to a different geographic area, as I did this past weekend on a road trip, Pokémon Go required me to log back in, leading me to believe that the game’s infrastructure is parceled out to different server farms that are not communicating well.
The software is slow and unstable
I’m using an iPhone 6. I have now lost count of how many ‘Mons I have had snatched from me as the game locks after the capture animation. The reason is that the capture sequence doesn’t end until the software calls home and finds out if the server will let me capture the creature or allow the creature to escape and burn more of my Pokéballs. This lockup has nothing to do with cell signal. It has everything to do with slow servers and bad netcode.
And the problem extends to simple actions, such as the achingly slow transfer of hordes of useless trash monsters to the Professor or using items to revive and heal a party wipe after a gym battle. The software has no way to complete actions locally and allow the user to continue without calling home to mommy immediately for Every Single Thing.
Also, why to my sound settings keep getting erased?
The infrastructure is shit
This also relates to the problems above. But the game’s janky server farms can’t even keep the game up an running. Again, it appears Nintendo/Pokémon Company did not allocate enough resources to the project and were caught off guard by the demand. It’s hard to blame them. Nintendo’s cell phone debut – Miitomo – landed with a resounding thud. But Nintendo is also being clawed kicking and screaming into online gaming modernity. Its last two consoles stiffly resisted adopting mainstream online gaming matchmaking and friend list conventions. It’s online play has never been stellar. And it doesn’t help that every networked product success is dogged by negative technofear media narratives (Pictochat is for pedos; Pokémon will get you robbed, etc.) even as the company fiercely guards its family-friendly image. Nintendo is wary of the Internet, and it hasn’t invested enough in understanding how to use it or prepare for the massive problems of success that it can bring.
The AR is a gimmick
Why is there a switch to turn off the augmented reality? To save battery? To allow for less powerful phones to run the software? The feature fundamentally affects the nature of capture gameplay and gym battles, but it’s optional. And that’s sad. It’s the one thing that makes the game fascinating to my daughter. She’s had a genuinely hard time understanding that the Pokémon aren’t real. She asks me if they are hiding here or there. She wants me to check with my phone. If the feature were used more effectively, it would be more engrossing to hunt for Pokémon. As it stands, I can sit at a stoplight and make the creature that just popped up in a nearby parking lot appear on my dashboard.
Pokémon/Pokéstop distribution is a joke
This is definitely more of a problem in the sticks, but it’s still a problem. A local curio and art shop down the road from me has four Pokéstops. The largest and most frequented shopping center in the county has none. My entire neighborhood is devoid of monsters on most days, unless I use an incense item. Then, only one or two show up. I can find a half-dozen creatures just by walking into a gas station. I don’t know how Niantic farmed the information that they used to populate Ingress, but it doesn’t work well when translated to this game. There there have been hundreds of Pokémon created over the years, and there are at least 150 in this game. I’ve been playing steadily for a week, and I’ve only captured 26 types of creatures. That median average is heavily skewed toward two types – Pidgies and Ratattas. Those are the only two types that I could conceivably power up to have a chance against the neckbeards dominating the local gyms.
The game itself is a lame grind mill
Imagine playing a version of Clash of the Clans where you have to physically get up and go to a specific business or monument or church to check on your fortress or physically walk down local roads to recruit soldiers. That’s Pokémon Go. There’s no direct matchmaking. No single-player quests. No friend list. No monster trading (a staple of the series). Nothing but collecting items and powering up monsters in a very limited fashion (two currencies to upgrade, one only works on its given monster type) to battle for control of geographic areas of dubious distinction (The Battle of Bob’s Gazebo?). This is a game designed to make money like grindy Clash of the Clans, but it doesn’t offer that ease of play. There’s no sense of exploration, since every Pokéstop is automatically marked on the map. The “Catch ‘Em All” aspect of the series has been de-emphasized by the paltry catalog of creatures and terrible distribution. You can’t even buy any items to customize the character you watch walking on your screen All The Damn Time.
Now that the demand for the game has been demonstrated, it’s probable that Niantic and Nintendo will get to work balancing the game and adding features. It would be amazing if it could be transformed into World of Pokémon, but that’s going to take more vision and effort than either company has shown thus far.