Pokemon Go is by far the most clear indicator of Pokemon‘s cultural impact in the United States. While there are plenty of other examples, from perpetually high sales numbers to the unprecedented Twitch Plays Pokemon, the way that Pokemon Go literally became an overnight sensation and has people of all ages running around their towns and cities trying to catch Pokemon takes the presence of the franchise to another level.
While I personally am not as obsessed with Pokemon as I was 14 years ago, I still find myself drawn to this new take on an old idea. What I’ve found is that the catching element has made me fall in love with Pokemon all over again, but the way that evolution works still leaves something to be desired.
Over the years, catching Pokemon in the main games has felt fun but also kind of like a chore, especially after playing them for so many years. However, I still remember what it was like to first venture into Viridian Forest in Pokemon Red, the first time I encountered Articuno in the Seafoam Islands, and just that overall sense of wonder when one unexpectedly comes across Pokemon. Even though all of the current species in Pokemon Go come from the classic 151, and so I’m more than familiar with all of them, I find myself getting excited over spotting a Jynx or running into a Squirtle. Even though the ARG elements of Pokemon Go don’t feel like a perfect immersion, they’re good enough.
Where I think the game falters is its current approach to evolving. Instead of leveling up or using stones or trading as one could in the first games, all evolution and strengthening of one’s Pokemon is done through collecting candies and stardust. All candies and stardust, in turn, are obtained by catching more of the same species. This makes it so that, while the catching mechanics are fun, I feel no sense of personal connection to the Pokemon I am catching because I cannot use them in anything other than gym battles. When I get a Pokemon to evolve, they do not feel like comrades with whom I have developed a bond over the course of an adventure, but rather just something I feed sweets without their participation.
Pokemon Go has only just come out, and in spite of its numerous bugs it’s still quite fun to play. This speaks well for the basic appeal of the game, and I think it won’t go away even as it eventually adds newer Pokemon. I just hope that the game will let me feel like the Pokemon I catch matter more than they do, and that I can share my victories, defeats, and growths as a trainer with them.
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