I gave a pretty glowing review to Niantic’s Pokemon Go a few days ago, and I still stand by everything I wrote in the review, yet I am now pretty much saying “Goodbye” to the game. In fact, the problems I cited in that review are the reasons I’m saying goodbye to Pokemon Go, and I hope that someone at Niantic reads this so they realize just how high they set the bar, and just how badly they failed.
The problems are numerous, and I’ll start with the most obvious.
No Sign-In Bonus
Unlike the overwhelming majority of Free to Play games, there is no daily sign-in bonus for Pokemon Go. Games like Smite, Clash of Clans, and all the others do this as a way of motivating players to stay interested in the game. “I need to sign-in to get my free stuff. Well, as long as I’m here, I might as well do a few things…” Yet Pokemon Go has nothing like this, and there are a few simple ways they could do it.
- Poke Balls. On Day 1, 5 free Poke Balls. On Day 2, 10 Pokeballs. Day 3 – 15 Pokeballs. Day 4 – 5 Great Balls. Day 5 – 10 Great Balls. Day 6 – 15 Great Balls. Day 7+ – 5 Ultra Balls. Eventually this wouldn’t be much of a sign-in bonus, but for a while, it would be helpful.
- Eggs hatching on timers. While incubated, eggs should hatch based on time: 24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours, 96 hours, and 120 hours. Walking should lower the time so that 1 km walked takes of 12 hours. This way, players can have a sign-in bonus, in a way, of having their eggs hatch.
- Stardust gifts?
There’s Nothing To Do
This is the main problem. There’s nothing for me to do. My character is now level 16, which is pretty high for the game, as most people are still hanging around level 12 and 13 right now. Hey, I had to review the game. That took a lot of playing it, and I gained a lot of levels seeing what it had to offer.
All I can do is go around the town hitting Pokestops and chasing Pokemon. But what Pokemon are around? Just a fuck-ton of Rattatas and Pidgeys. Incense is a total waste of time, as it only causes bullshit like Rattata, Pidgey, and Weedle to appear. Oh, good, I’ve only got 107 Rattata Candies. I definitely need more!
The problem is that character level causes “more rare” Pokemon to start appearing, but those Pokemon are still rare as diamonds and are no more powerful than some of the generic ones I have 40 copies of. Oh, a Ponyta! With 360 Combat Power… Oh goody… It gets put to shame by a Beedrill I caught 7 levels ago. The only way for me to change that would be to feed the Ponyta a lot of Stardust and Ponyta Candy, but joke’s on me! I need to catch more Ponytas to get Ponyta Candy, and Ponytas are rare as fuck, even at level 16!
Removing the Candy requirement to Power-Up Pokemon would solve this problem, Niantic. Requiring Candy to Power-Up Pokemon on top of Stardust is stupid and bad game design, as it renders all the new Pokemon people encounter via leveling up totally useless.
If in the original games, players were still encountering Pidgeys, Caterpies, Rattatas, and Weedles when they reached Celadon City, then no one would have enjoyed Pokemon, and the franchise would not have become the mega success that it is. But that wasn’t the way that it worked. By the time you had progressed that far into the game, you were catching bigger, stronger, more powerful Pokemon. You might occasionally come across a very high level Pidgey (or, more likely, a Pidgeotto), but 99% of your random encounters were going to be with more powerful, less generic Pokemon.
These are the Pokemon I’ve caught in the past few levels:
- Gastly CP 78
- Snorlax CP 1016
- Ponyta CP 230
- Abra CP 73
- Koffing CP 348
- Fearow CP 629
What’s the problem with that? Well, except for the Fearow that is nearly maxed out at 629 CP, I can’t level any of them, because I’ve only found one of each. That’s enough to purchase one or two power-ups for them, but that’s inconsequential. The Snorlax was like 971 before I used 2 Snorlax Candies and 1200 Stardust to buy a power-up for him, but I only got 3 Snorlax Candies when I caught him, so I could only power him up once. To get my Ponyta competitive, I’ll need a solid 40 or 50 Ponyta Candies and 15000 Stardust (at least). Even evolving it to a Rapidash won’t make it competitive with the Snorlax I caught when I was level 11–and that I’ve still only seen two of (my battery died when I was trying to catch the first one I encountered). I’m unlikely to ever see another Gastly, Ponyta, or Abra. I’ll see a ton of Spearows, and can use the Spearow Candy to level my Fearow, but it still won’t surpass the Snorlax.
In a circle through the town, I’m unlikely to encounter anything but Pidgey, Rattata, Weedle, and Paras. I’ve been encountering these same Pokemon since I was level 1. Sure, their starting CP is higher now, but that’s totally irrelevant when there’s only one question that needs to be answered: “Will they reach my Snorlax’s CP?” If not, then they’re TOTALLY USELESS. Yes, that deserved bold and all caps. Because it’s true. If a Pokemon you catch doesn’t have a chance of reaching your best mon’s CP, then it is garbage, pure and simple. And whether it has a chance depends on your character level and how rare the Pokemon is.
So I can’t power up any of these cool Pokemon to show them off in a gym. I just have to keep throwing ThunderBuns (My Snorlax is named ThunderBuns) at gyms, and the AI is so bad that he’s never going to successfully defend a gym. The AI never dodges; it just stands there and spams attacks until it can use its special attack. And that brings me to the next part of the problem:
Battling Sucks and is Gay
Nothing To Do 2
The only battles are gym battles, and then you leave one Pokemon behind to defend the gym. Obviously, you’ll pick your best, right? Yeah, but why bother? Whatever Pokemon you leave simply won’t stand a chance of holding the gym, because the AI is too bad and type differences are irrelevant. Damage is a simple number that subtracts a specific amount from the enemy’s HP, and whoever is alive at the end of the fight wins. Dodging isn’t exceptionally useful (even on a lightning fast 4G connection) because it wasn’t designed to be, and it doesn’t make sense to do anything but tap the enemy until you can long-tap the enemy and use your special. Then you leave your Pokemon, and a few minutes/hours later, your Pokemon is back in your bag, needing to be healed, and someone else beat your Pokemon as the AI turned ThunderBuns into a dumbass who just stood there and slowly attacked.
The last time I took over a gym, because I needed to collect my stuff for defending it (That’s kind of a sign-in bonus, but not really, since, as I said, you’ll never defend a gym unless people just don’t bother to attack it), I left my CP 12 Charmander defending it. Why leave anything more powerful? ThunderBuns would lose just as surely as CP 12 Charmander would lose, but ThunderBuns requires like 4 Super Potions to heal afterward, and I don’t care if Charmander is healed or not.
So I left a weak little Charmander defending the gym by himself. From MY point of view, there’s no difference between leaving Charmander there and leaving ThunderBuns. If ThunderBuns ever did successfully kill anyone’s Pokemon while defending, it didn’t mean anything to me–I didn’t gain anything from his victory. Instead, I just got ThunderBuns back anywhere from 5 minutes to 3 hours later, needing 4 Super Potions to recover his 170 HP. There was absolutely zero benefit to me, and I seem to be the only Team Instinct player in the area.
Fellow Pokemon Go players, take a look at that image and let it sink in. I happen to think that leaving Charmander behind was brilliant. What was the chance that I would keep the gym for any period of time that would matter? None. Besides that, what benefit would I even gain from keeping the gym? None. It does me no good to try to keep it by leaving ThunderBuns there. In fact, leaving something weak there ensures that someone will take it back, and then I can gain Experience by taking it back. I just hope the other players are smart enough to realize why I left a weak Pokemon, and to see that there really is no point in leaving behind a strong one.
ThunderBuns conquers them, and a Charmander or Weedle or something stays to defend them. Earlier, today, I came across a gym in a nearby city that was held by Team Instinct, so I threw my Pidget there to defend it. Jacques the Pidgeot, Cp 700~. Less than an hour later, Jacques was back in my group and needing to be healed. What was the fucking point of that? There wasn’t one. A gym is inevitably going to change hands, and it’s going to do it sooner rather than later. There is absolutely no point in trying to defend one. It is completely broken from a game design standpoint, as the only thing that will keep people leaving strong Pokemon behind is their own stupidity and inability to see that they are only hurting themselves by doing so. They’re just forcing themselves to use Potions later, after ThunderBuns takes the gym back, and forcing me to use Potions to heal ThunderBuns after he takes the gym from their strong Pokemon. If players have any sense at all, they’ll see how counterintuitive it is to leave strong Pokemon defending gyms.
There’s No Social Interaction To It
Earlier today, someone was behind me as I was driving from one Poke-Stop to the next. They were clearly doing the same thing. For about ten minutes, the guy stayed behind me, and we just drove from one stop to the next.
We didn’t even wave at each other.
There was no reason to interact. We couldn’t trade with each other, and we couldn’t battle each other. As far as the game was concerned, we weren’t even next to each other. What kind of shit is that? This is a game that clearly wasn’t thought through completely. I was fifteen feet from this guy, and we were both playing the game, but there was absolutely no way for the games to interact directly?
THIS IS FUCKING POKEMON!
Pokemon is the champion of that kind of thing!
I’m pretty much as anti-social as a person gets, and even I’m saying, “This is ridiculous! There should be a way for me to trade this guy the Beedrill that he needs while he trades me the Butterfree that I need.”
Maybe we could battle, and gain Experience? Maybe you could only battle each person for experience once per day? Who the hell knows?
There’s just no gameplay here.
What is here?
A bunch of Pidgeys and Rattatas.
Sure, there is a more rare Pokemon every once in a while, but not enough to keep me interested, because they aren’t powerful enough to replace the Pidgeot that I evolved when I was level 5, and they aren’t common enough for me to power them up to be competitive. They’re trophy Pokemon, and that’s all. Barring the rare exception that comes really powerful like ThunderBuns, the only Pokemon that matter are Eevee evolutions, because Eevees are common and their evolutions can be powered up to 1200 or so. But 1200 is not a big enough difference when types mean nothing and the defending AI is that bad.
I think I’ll go back to Pokemon Blue. I bought it from the Nintendo eShop about 2 months ago for $9.99. It’s vastly superior to Pokemon Go. Pokemon Go is a brilliant idea, but there’s just no gameplay to it. And when I say “there’s just no gameplay to it,” I mean… There’s NO gameplay.
I’m sure I’ll check in on Pokemon Go from time to time, because I’ve made a lot of progress and they promise to keep updating it and to make it “the game that players want.” That’s fine and all, but I find it hard to believe–no, I find it impossible to believe that they somehow didn’t know that players would want trading and traditional battling. Are you kidding me? This is fucking Pokemon! I’m supposed to believe that Niantic didn’t consider the fact that people playing Pokemon Go would want Pokemon trading and Pokemon battling? The stupid masses may swallow that line, but I don’t.
The bottom line is that Niantic knew that this wouldn’t be good enough. They knew that this wouldn’t meet gameplay standards–not to mention the constant crashing and instability. THIS WAS A BETA. But it wasn’t announced as a beta. And I’m not criticizing them for releasing a beta, but I have better things to do with my limited free time than play a crashy, bug-ridden beta that can’t really be “played” in the first place.
And I don’t see any way for Niantic to fix the actual game design problem. I want to raise and power up an Alakazam, but I stand a better chance of developing Psychic powers in real life. I simply can’t fathom the time investment that it would take to hunt down and capture enough Abras to evolve an Alakazam, and I used to play World of Warcraft, so I know time sinks. We’re talking hundreds of hours across weeks and weeks, just to get an Alakazam that… would maybe be about as powerful as ThunderBuns.
I honestly don’t see any way for Niantic to fix that. It’s a fundamental design problem, woven into the mechanics themselves. As I said in the review, “The future looks great. The present…? Not so much.”
And to believe that Niantic can fix these fundamental mechanics problems is something I’m too jaded for. Fixing these core problems requires an overhaul of the entire freaking game, and I’ve never seen a developer overhaul the core mechanics of their game.