Pokémon Go was a huge event when it first appeared on smartphones, however many players expressed dissatisfaction with the shallow gameplay and limited features when compared to a traditional Pokémon game. Two years on, how are Nintendo and Niantic luring players back to the game?
This year marked the first time I’d been excited for gaming news events in probably a decade, and a lot of that excitement is owed to Nintendo and the joy I feel when I’m playing basically anything on the Switch. While E3 was the big event in the calendar – especially knowing that there was upcoming news on the new Smash Bros – I was just as excited for the Pokémon press conference that happened in May, because it promised to bring with it an announcement for a new core Pokémon game for the Switch.
When the announcement for Pokémon Let’s Go: Eevee and Let’s Go: Pikachu happened, I felt conflicted – it was the first Pokémon game since the days of the Game Boy to be based in Generation 1, which I was deeply excited about – I remember vividly my first experiences with Pokémon Red 18 years ago and Gen 1 has always felt like a gaming home to me. I still tend to think in terms of “all 151” pokémon, and the sheer number of available critters these days gives me anxiety.
The thing which gave me pause about Let’s Go is the fact that it shares mechanics and style with Pokémon Go, the mobile game that broke the servers when it first appeared on smartphones but then settled into a smaller but dedicated fanbase. I’d played Go when it first appeared and loved it, but the lack of what I considered core Pokémon features (trading, levelling and battling) meant that I let it fall by the wayside. Niantic have worked on improving the game over the last two years, but I’d largely let it pass me by – this left me in an unusual place of being very excited for Let’s Go, but still disinterested in Go.
This is where things start to get very clever from Nintendo. Firstly, you can trade your pokémon between Go and Let’s Go, meaning that you can catch pokémon on your phone and then bring them into Kanto to join your team of six. This immediately made me perk up, because Bulbasaur, Squirtle and Charmander all appear in Go and it’s a lot easier to catch one yourself than to arrange a trading circle. Secondly, Let’s Go comes in two editions – one with a pokéball which can both be used as a peripheral for the game and a storage device for a single pokémon which you can then wear on your belt and level up by walking around, remeniscent of the old Pocket Pikachu virtual pet. This in itself wouldn’t be enough to make me pay the extra 60% to get the version with the ball, but then Nintendo stuck the claws in.
Every pokéball would come pre-loaded with a Mew.
The Mythical Pokémon Mew awaits you in the #PokeBallPlus! Trainers who pick up this special accessory will be able to add Mew to their #PokemonLetsGo Pikachu or #PokemonLetsGo Eevee team! https://t.co/vwaeeWxGzI #E32018 pic.twitter.com/7IxKveJPqw
— Pokémon (@Pokemon) June 12, 2018
Immediately upon hearing this news I was transported back to being that child, playing Pokémon Red and hearing these rumours of a mythical pokémon, one that you could only get by performing bizarre rituals or collecting all 150 of the others. None of the rumours were true, of course, although Mew was available at some events, but I never had one. It’s been 18 years, and I never had a Mew. Am I willing to pay most of the cost of a game again to have one?
Luckily, I don’t have to look too deep into the chasm of that answer (a resounding “yes” would await), because Mew is available in Pokémon Go, obtained by completing Field Research for Go’s young and hunky Professor Oak substitute. Armed with the knowledge that I could get a Mew in Go and transfer it over to Let’s Go, suddenly the urge to play Go awakened within me once again. I downloaded the app, chose my starter and started playing – and found an experience wildly different to the one I had left behind.
Niantic have worked hard to make Pokémon Go a game that it’s much harder to leave behind than it used to be, and they’ve done this by incorporating elements of clicker games and peer pressure. Firstly, they introduced Friend Codes to the game – familiar to anyone who’s ever used a Nintendo online service, Friend Codes are required to add friends in place of usernames, a method of ensuring the safety of younger gamers by preventing friends requests from random people. You can now have friends in Pokémon Go! Because of this, you can now trade your precious monsters with each other – for a cost.
— Pokémon (@Pokemon) July 23, 2018
Everything that you do in Pokémon Go that helps you out has a cost of Stardust – this in-game resource is used for powering up your pokémon and trading with friends. The best way to get stardust is by catching pokémon, which means if you see a creature your best bet is to grab it regardless of what it is. Trading is still expensive, though – unless you become better friends with the person you want to trade with. Pokémon Go has four levels of friendship, and once you hit the higher levels you have a big stardust discount to trading and you can trade legendaries.
Hitting that higher tier is where the really clever stuff lies. To increase your friendship level you need to send each other gifts every day. You get the gifts from pokéstops, but you need to keep up your streak for months to hit the highest friendship tier. That means that if you run out of gifts – easily done with multiple friends – you need to leave your house and hit up pokéstops to get more. Thus, you’re caught in a gameplay loop of going out to hit up pokéstops to get gifts to send your friends to increase your friendship level to trade. It’s genius.
So, here I am. Two weeks ago I didn’t care about Pokémon Go, and now I’m taking special trips to get gifts. Nintendo, you have hooked me again, and I love it.