Pokémon Go Is The Best Take On The Franchise In Years
For the past month or so, the Pokémon community has been embroiled in a controversy regarding the National Dex in the upcoming Sword and Shield versions. And while I personally don’t care enough about said issue, I have to admit that for the longest time I have not found Pokémon to be very interesting. The first game I ever played was Pokémon Blue and since then I have been an avid fan of the series. I’ve played every game in the core installments of the franchise, including Colosseum and XD: Gale of Darkness.
I first became disillusioned with Pokémon in X/Y. While I’ve always liked the concept of Mega Evolutions, I couldn’t help but be disappointed with how stale the gameplay of Pokémon had become. That’s been an issue that has plagued the franchise for years — its lack of innovation. Sun and Moon were the first Pokémon games I’ve played that I never beat. I skipped Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon because I didn’t feel like there were any worthy differences in their mechanics. I wasn’t very far off the mark there.
The core gameplay of Pokémon has been the same for more than two decades now. Catch Pokémon, battle them, and level them up. In Generation 4 the combat system was revamped to include Physical and Special attacks, adding a new layer of depth to the game that at the time was captivating. Ever since, however, Pokémon has been plagued with gimmicks that fail to capture the essence of what made Pokémon fun way back when.
It’s for that reason that I believe Pokémon GO is the most innovative entry in the franchise in years. Where the main franchise entries have faltered, Niantic has delivered an experience that is consummately representing the soul of Pokémon.
A Rocky Beginning
It’s hard to believe that Pokémon GO took the world by storm over three years ago when it first released. Much like anyone that was with the times, I downloaded the game and played for quite a bit that summer. To say that it was disappointing would be an understatement, as the reveal trailer had promised so much and the game delivered so little. After a while Pokémon GO was seen more as an experiment in what could have been than a success.
Even at the game’s launch, GO was a good exercise on the core of Pokémon. Remember when the tagline of the series was “Gotta catch ‘em all”? Pokémon GO bet it all on that tagline, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. After a while the game became stale as there wasn’t much to do and many, like myself, ended up uninstalling the game.
Yet the game that Pokémon GO has become is so different from its past version that it really is a disservice to compare the two. I re-downloaded Pokémon GO about three weeks ago, when I decided that I really should be more physically active. I found a group of friends that played it, and they roped me into joining a Discord Community for it.
Change is Evolution
I’ve now been playing Pokémon GO for over a month and I have to say that I’ve never been happier with a Pokémon game. All I want to do right now is to fill my Pokedex and get all my favorite Pokémon. With added PvP and PvE mechanics, GO just keeps bringing me back.
One of the best improvements the game received over the years is the addition of Field Research and Special Research. These two features function as a progression system, with the former being more of a daily quest type of thing and the latter a full-blown questline. If you complete seven of the Field Research in seven different days (mind you, they don’t have to be in a row) then you get a shot to catch a rare Pokémon such as Groudon, Latios and Latias. There are multiple Special Research questlines that you progress throughout your time as a GO trainer, and some of them will reward you with a Mew and even a Celebi. All in all, these progression systems work wonders in bringing you back to the game every day and giving you a sense of accomplishment.
If that’s not enough for you, then the newest GO Rocket system might be something to consider. Every now and then, random PokeStops you encounter will be strangely discolored. Spinning these will start PvE encounters with Team Rocket Grunts that have three Pokémon each. These battles are challenging enough to the point where not knowing Pokémon types might be punishing. If you’re not careful when selecting your own Team, you’ll probably get knocked out — but don’t worry, you can try again. These encounters, along with the progression system, have made Pokémon GO into a beefier game where there’s always something for you to do.
The battle system in GO is not revolutionary, but it’s different. It respects the core mechanic of Typing while fully adapting to the mobile arena. And that’s just what I need from Pokémon if I’m being completely honest.
For many years the Pokémon franchise has remained stagnant, with GameFreak and The Pokémon Company refusing to venture into the unknown and do something new. Even the spinoffs seem to have been dying off. Perhaps it’s the yearly release model that is hurting Pokémon, but at the end of the day Pokémon is just not as exciting as it once was.
I’m happy that Pokémon GO exists, and I’m happy that the game has changed so much since its release. It’s a lesson for the franchise; risks pay off. Constant updates to the game and a consistent stream of additional features have slowly turned Pokémon GO into my personal favorite entry in the franchise since Black and White 2. I can only hope that the success Niantic has seen with this mobile game will one day translate to the mainline series of Pokémon games.