Fourth Coast Entertainment -

By Dr. Anthony Betrus
FCE Staff 

Pokémon GO: Mediocre Game, Cultural Phenomenon

The Game Connoisseur


Last updated 9/1/2016 at 2:40pm | View PDF

EVERYWHERE I go it seems that people are playing Pokémon GO. In terms of the gameplay itself, it is shallow, unpolished, and buggy, and I have maintained from the beginning that it is a mediocre game at best, a C+ if I were to give it a grade. Reviews at Metacritic are similarly bad, with an average critic rating of at 67/100. And the core game mechanic, walking and catching Pokémon, is repetitive and glitchy. So, that said, why is such a big deal?

First, it has a big franchise behind it. Before Pokémon GO most of us were at least aware of Pokémon, which saw its first game release via Pokémon Red and Green in 1996. I have played a number of these games over the years, with Pokémon Snap for the N-64 being my personal favorite, although they are all generally well designed and enjoyable. Pokémon has always maintained a healthy worldwide following, with various spikes in popularity corresponding with major card game, video game, movie, or television releases. The characters themselves are well conceived and attractive, and there is an established Pokémon lore that people do not need to decipher to play the game. Pokémon is already both familiar and comfortable for many people, and for those new to the franchise, it is simple and approachable.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, it is the world’s first Augmented Reality Game (ARG) to break through and go mainstream. By integrating Google Maps into the core gameplay, the game board is simply our real world, augmented by an overlay of information (Pokémon, Pokéstops, & PokéGyms). And although ARG games have been around for a number of years, for most users Pokémon GO is their first ARG game. The core feature of ARG is simple: movement and participation in the real world. As simple as that may sound, it really is a big deal, as it gets people moving (and it really is the main reason I play).

And while currently the game may indeed be mediocre, Niantic Labs CEO John Hanke has suggested that the game has only implemented a fraction of features that eventually will make their way into the game. At the San Diego Comic-Con he announced that there will be a significant number of new Pokémon that will be soon introduced to the game. But before that happens, the first order of business for Niantic is to secure a foothold in all of the major countries around the world, and to iron out the technical glitches. Once complete, Hanke has promised new features like trading, Pokémon and Pokéstop customizations, and more team oriented play. In the meantime, we will need to be patient as the game scales up. Personally, while I look forward to some of these new game features, I more look forward to play balancing and ironing out of known (annoying) glitches, like creatures repeatedly breaking free, Pokéstop fails, and location tracking.

In the end, the formula for Pokémon Go was a relatively simple one, and it will certainly be repeated (and refined) with other core franchises. Solid candidates for future ARG games include Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Disney, among others. If I were to put it in creature terms, Pokémon Go is, right now, essentially a “CP 10 Pidgey” game, with more powerful evolutions certain to come. In terms of its impact on culture, Pokémon Go, and Augmented Reality Gaming in general, is a “CP 2491 Snorlax,” and yet it is truly just the beginning.

Dr. Anthony Betrus

The Game Connoisseur


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