Pokémon Oh, Okay
For those of us outside of the U.S, Australia and New Zealand, being online over the past few weeks has felt like being a child not invited to the coolest party in the neighbourhood. We watch, twitching the curtain every so often for a better look, as child after child waltzes through the nearby party door, clutching gifts and balloons, with detestable smiles adorning their precociously smug faces. Oh, sure, I could’ve gotten into the party had I only sideloaded an APK on Android or messed about with foreign accounts on the iTunes store, but I just — yeah, okay, the analogy has gotten away from me.
Well, regardless, it’s here now. I’ve captured a few Pokémon, spun a few PokéStops, and marvelled at the places considered enough of a ‘landmark’ to have PokéGym status. (One of which is a McDonalds. Funny, that.) From all of this, I’ve come to one conclusion which you already know because you’ve seen the headline.
It’s just a little bit crap.That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed my time with Pokémon Go. I can’t, in good faith, sit here and tell you that catching virtual Pokémon in your own town isn’t a tad exhilarating. I recognise the sense of camaraderie when, looking across the street or around the town centre, you notice a few others sneaking furtive little glances at their phone screen. Never before have so many vied to be the very best, like no one ever was, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.
Nor am I part of the braying crowd who are utterly incensed (little pun there; you’re welcome) that this has somehow made Pokémon ‘mainstream’. Let me remind you: this is Pokémon, the multi-billion dollar behemoth, that we’re talking about – not some home-grown twee indie band to whom you ruefully listen on Radio 1, clutching a signed edition of their first shitty album.
My issues with the app have nothing to do with its scope or its staggering popularity, and everything to do with, well, the app.
Its responsiveness can vary from ‘usable’ to ‘oh Jesus Christ everything is melting’. Upon catching a Pokémon it seems like a coin flip for whether the app will bravely venture on unperturbed, or whether you’ll experience an odd kind of crash where the camera slowly zooms into a stationary Pokéball, requiring a restart. It takes away a little of the mystique of the catching process when you have to load back into the app, look at your collection and confirm that, yes, at some point during that mess you did in fact catch that Pokémon after all. One particularly horrifying moment came when I caught a Rattata, turned away for a moment, and turned back to see a Rattata face, baleful and malevolent, filling the screen of my phone. I could turn the camera, but the Rattata would follow. Not only was it a crash — it was a terrifyingly effective jump-scare crash.There’s the server outages too, of course. Perhaps that’s to be expected for an app that’s bigger than both Jesus and The Beatles, and, probably, bigger than a hypothetical supergroup called ‘Jesus and The Beatles’.
The gameplay itself is sparse; it lives and dies by its GPS-powered searching and catching mechanic. Outside of that, battles are unfortunately limited to gyms and lack a lot of the depth for which many had hoped. Who knows, perhaps there will be some updates on the way that will add a little mechanical depth.
Far, far, far more egregious than any of this is the inclusion of microtransactions. I am, like many, steadfast in my opposition to microtransactions, and that’s no different in this case. The ‘you can get everything you need at a PokéStop’ defence is pretty thin on the ground, especially considering that the availability of a PokéStop can vary greatly based on your location.
Of course, there will always be the argument of “if people are enjoying themselves, who are you to say that they’re wrong?” And yes, obviously, I’m okay with fun happening in the world. But, being one of those craven swines tasked with putting words on paper about video games, I’m also allowed to say when I think games are lacklustre.
There’s also the standard defence of “it’s getting people outside, isn’t that a good thing?” And yes, people going outside is generally a nice thing. Of course, there are myriad issues as to why some people aren’t able to readily venture outside, or indeed don’t feel as safe doing so as others. Not that I’m laying that at the app’s feet – indeed, Pokémon Go has in some instances served as a window to institutionalised prejudices in society, as has been expanded upon far more authoritatively and articulately in pieces such as this.
The Bottom Line
Pokémon Go is a bit crap.
It’s also a diverting little app which has somehow bridged the gap between hardcore Pokémon fans and every single other person (in parts of the world where it’s feasible to gallivant around scooping up virtual pets, of course).
These two points are by no means mutually exclusive. To call an extraordinarily popular app ‘a bit crap’ does it no disservice; indeed, that seems to be a requirement for the vast majority of them. If you enjoy Pokémon Go, then you can rest safe in the knowledge that this article cannot dent that enjoyment. No amount of relentlessly bitter thinkpieces can take that feeling away from you, and that’s a beautiful thing.
But still. It is a bit crap, though.