An Honest Review of Pokemon Go

My goal this month has been to write blog posts regularly in order to get in the habit of writing again. All my efforts so far have been trumped by the release of a highly anticipated game, however. Do you want to take a guess which game I’m talking about?


Pokemon Go is the game that everyone is playing. Ok, not exactly everyone since I don’t think most of the people my age and older would play it, but let’s say Gen Y and younger are all raving about it. It even secured an article on Forbes magazine, so it must be quite something. Right? Here lies my concern. I think Pokemon Go is not going to be much more than a passing fad and these are my reasons:

  • It’s a Pokemon-skinned Ingress

For all of you who are absolutely new to GPS games and are playing Pokemon Go for the first time, I regret to inform you that you are playing another game altogether. That game is called Ingress.

Ingress is a game much like Pokemon Go where you have to capture portals around the world and link them together to create fields. Every Pokestop and Pokemon Gym you encounter in Pokemon Go were born as one of those user-requested “portals”. These portals are used by Ingress players to gain control over an area (so people would request portals be made close to their working places and homes) and it is probably the reason why there are a few Pokestops that don’t make any sense (a seagull on top of a house? Sure, why not make that a portal!) or that don’t exist anymore. Ingress players abused the ability to request portals be made, and usually requested portals to be easily accessible by car. If you translate that into Pokemon go where you’re supposed to walk (eggs can only be hatched if you move slowly), you get a lot of Pokestops that are located in areas that are difficult to access as a pedestrian and that just doesn’t make any sense.

There was also something called ” exotic matter” which was basically a recording of how popular a road was. places with a lot of user transit would get a higher level of exotic matter, which meant walking around exotic matter fields would grant ingress players energy. The idea made a lot of sense in Ingress since it came from the premise that aliens were drawn to humanity and humanity’s inspirational objects. In Pokemon Go, however, the exotic matter has been replaced with chances of random encounters and that makes a lot less sense to me. I mean, why would there be a bigger Pokemon density in highly populated areas? By the way, this is why you’re getting Aerodactyl while you’re on the highway.


  • It’s not Newby Friendly


If you’re playing Pokemon Go, most likely you have googled “how do I throw the stupid Pokeball?” or asked a friend how to put the eggs in the incubator. To this date, I have no idea how to use the tracking system (should I be given an arrow to follow the Pokemon I’m tracking?), whether I should power up before or after evolving, or whether the size has anything to do with HP. There are thousands of articles that tell you what to do or things the authors wished they knew before playing Pokemon go, but all in all, let’s just agree that the tutorial system sucks.

I agree that there should be a bit of a struggle if you want to max out your characters, but I should be able to understand how the game works and why. As a game, Pokemon has evolved from the time where it was 150 Pokemon, and there’s a lot of types that have changed over the years. Niantic expects users to just generate content, tutorials and do a lot of research, after all, it worked with ingress, right?


  • The Battle System is Awful


One of the finer points of the Pokemon games was the turn based battle system, and the ability to choose which moves to learn and at what stage to evolve your Pokemon. You would get a Magikarp and make sure it was under level 20, so it could potentially evolve into Gyarados. Certain moves could only be learned at a certain level and the best way to ensure you did everything right was to hand-raise your Pokemon with a lot of tender love and care. There was also the breeding system which added another layer of complexity to the game.

I understand, a battle system as complex as the one in the old games could not make it to a game where you have to keep on the move. It’s a pity because a lot of enjoyment of the classic Pokemon games comes from people trying to raise the perfect team, but there are better alternatives to a button-mash game mechanic. At first, I thought dodge would be an interesting addition –albeit a bit clunky. Since then I have realized I get more damage done to me if I try to dodge (this probably has to do with the lag and may be fixed when the unkillable bosses are not a thing anymore). I feel that the game’s battle system wants to be faster than the old system, but it is still too slow. A Gym battle doesn’t end seconds after you arrive and that means you have to stop, check your Pokemon, make sure everything is in place and then attack the gym enough times to be able to take it over. I would also much rather battle a specific thematic gym than a bunch of other people’s Pokemon. I’ll miss Brock and Misty.

One improvement of this system from the Ingress system is that the attacker has the advantage and that is great! In Ingress at a low level, you don’t stand a chance against a high-level portal, it seems Niantic has learned its lesson and allowed for more fluidity between gyms. Still, I find the system too slow. I would have preferred a battle system like that in games like Hearthstones/Magic (there was a Pokemon card game at one point, right?) or like Half Minute Hero. The basis for this comment is that if I don’t really have that much agency in what the fight will look like, I would like the fight to be done automatically.

On top of that, the idea of not being able to choose which moves my Pokemon knows is something I am personally incredibly bummed about. Sure I can catch a bunch of them until I get the perfect combination of moves and CP, but that feels joylessly grindy: It’s like waiting for that perfect Ancient Furnace to drop on Diablo III. Worst of all, it’s all about chance drops. I think I wouldn’t mind grinding a bit if I had more agency in what I’m getting: if moves worked the way moves work in other Pokemon games.

Finally, let’s agree that the idea of a starter Pokemon is completely lost on Pokemon Go. I understand it’s a legacy mechanic from the old games, it just doesn’t make sense on the capturing mechanic of Pokemon Go. You needed starter Pokemon in the old games because to capture a new Pokemon you need to fight it. If you didn’t have a Pokemon to start out with, you couldn’t capture a new one, but on Pokemon Go all you need to do is throw balls at the wild Pokemon, so why do you need a starter again? Not to mention it’s a really weak Pokemon too that you’ll grow out of as soon as you capture your first wild Pokemon. And again, this section doesn’t even have a good tutorial on how to capture Pokemon. The professor just leaves you there almost shouting: ” ok, that’s it, you’re on your own!”

  • The Rivalry System will make for Scary Real Life Situations


I have no idea why North Americans have such a strong belief that dividing people into factions and making them compete against each other is the best way to create cooperation. It’s like they think humans are incapable of bonding over anything other than a common enemy.

I have said this once before about Ingress and I will say this again now: that works in online games when you can’t stab each other for real or when the other person can’t chase you with a baseball bat. Yeah, you’re laughing right now because the worst thing you can think of is chasing a Squirtle around a bad place of the neighborhood. Trust me when I say this: people will be losing their sh*t over you taking ” their” Gym. How can I tell? Because it happens all the time in Ingress. So make sure you are safe. Also, be wary of stalkers. Those happen too in Ingress, so just be careful when and where you put your Pokemon on your local Gym.

On an added bonus, there’s now robbers attaching lures to remote locations, waiting for you to come and take your valuables. Yay?

  • It’s a Niantic Game


What do I mean by this? First, I think Niantic is a very lazy company. They got as far as they did, hitchhiking on the content their users provided them with. That’s why Pokemon Go has such a high breach of your privacy. They’ll most likely sell your data to someone else –and they know where you’ve been, who you’re with and where you live.

When I first started playing Ingress, I was told I shouldn’t be too negative about the game “it just came out of beta, so things are bound to get better”. Years later, Ingress is now a bit more dumbed down, but most of their major issues are still not resolved. They’ve completely relied on crowd management of their game and I don’t think this will change in Pokemon Go. I would love to choose my Pokemon’s moves, battle friends or even trade Pokemon, all things people talk about ” coming later”, but knowing Niantic, I’m not too hopeful.


All negativity aside, I am having fun playing Pokemon Go. I’m level 15 at the moment and I’ve been walking the dog a lot longer than usual, so that’s good. I probably will continue playing casually for years to come, if the game is still alive by then. I think there’s many nice friendships that can be made and a lot of life improvements. I just feel that I was expecting more from this. Maybe when the fever dies out, Pokemon Go will be one of those games you’ll talk about among friends and smile ” remember that time when we went to the park at night to catch a Charizard? Yeah, that was crazy scary! Those were the days!”