On my seventh birthday, sitting at a table in a Golden Corral, my parents surprised me with a Game Boy Color. I got three games that night, but the only one I remember was Pokemon.
I popped that game in first. I chose the board. I hit the A and B buttons to send the pinball flying around, and when I got enough points, I won a Pokemon. Yes!
I didn’t play this game much after that first night. In part (if the screenshot doesn’t give it away) because it wasn’t Pokemon. It was Pokemon Pinball.
Months later, I got Pokemon Red (and eventually Yellow, Silver, Crystal, Sapphire, and even Diamond and White version) and I realized what Pokemon truly was.
It was choosing Charmander and Gary choosing Squirtle. It’s training in the grass for hours so you can defeat Witney’s Miltank and its attract-rollout combo. It’s beating Maxie of Team Magma or Archie of Team Aqua, and claiming Groudon or Kyogre as your prize.
It’s adventuring, bonding, and memories all rolled into one. That’s Pokemon. Pokemon Pinball wasn’t… and neither is the newest app capturing the world, PokemonGo.
I admit, I was hesitant about PokemonGo from the beginning. Only after days of hearing the hype did I downloaded it. I caught a Charmander. Then I caught a Weedle. Then I walked all the way to the nearest gym (the post office), but was turned away because I was only level 2.
My friend tweeted me, “You can’t take on Giovanni straight from Pallet Town.”
Made sense. I was still on board. I kept playing. Nicknamed a couple of my Pokemon. I caught Ratatas at an alarming rate. I explored the city of Tampa and stopped at every pokestop on the Riverwalk… twice… But soon, the fun stopped.
On the way home from work one day, I opened up the app and saw a Ponyta and a Gloom in a random neighborhood. I immediately pulled down a back road and started driving slow. I managed to catch a Ponyta and then got into a battle with a Weepinbell. I tried flicking a pokeball at it, but nothing happened. Where the pokeballs should’ve been was an empty space.
I had run out of pokeballs…
Nothing horrible. In any of the original games, running out of pokeballs is unfortunate, but not “stop playing the game” worthy. With PokemonGo, it was. The last thing I wanted to do was have the game open and miss out on catching a rare Pokemon because I had no pokeballs. So, I closed the app and seldom opened it again.
Granted, I’m probably just lazy for not wanting to find a pokemart to re-up on pokeballs, but I think my lack of interest to do so speaks deeper to the rest of the game. The goal of Pokemon is to “catch em all,” but what made 90’s kids bring extra batteries for their Game Boys on road trips wasn’t the option to catch their thirtieth Weedle.
The true Pokemon games were about the journey and the bond built with the Pokemon you captured; not just the actual capturing of them. More time was spent training them in caves full of Zubats, taking on Youngsters and Lasses when they made eye contact with you, and rushing your Pokemon to the pokecenter when they fainted. Each Pokemon meant something to you, and you shared memories as you grew together. Your favorites weren’t chosen based on their CP level (whatever that is).
As it stands now, in order to improve your Pokemon in PokemonGo, you are required to catch others. This diminishes the bonds formed with each. I caught 20 Pidgeys before I got my Pidgeot. This feature for the lack of a better term is dumb (why in Hoenn would I want twenty Pidgeys?), but also stems from nothing ever seen in the Pokemon universe. I can’t imagine watching the TV show and seeing Ash catch a new Pikachu every episode so he could strengthen his original. That’s stupid.
To give it some credit, PokemonGo does a lot right. The simplicity to play helped drive the original amount of players. Only starting with the OG 150 gives it plenty of room to grow. The augmented reality part is cool and did get me to leave the house. But in my eyes, it’s still a game about flicking balls around and smashing buttons, wrapped in the colorful wallpaper of the Pokemon franchise. It’s not much different from the Pokemon Pinball game I had on Game Boy Color.
It is an app though, and the beauty of apps is that we don’t have to wait till PokemonGo Yellow version to come out for a big overhaul. A solid update with true training mechanics that make the bond between each Pokemon and trainer stronger could win me and I’m sure many others over. Throw in an option to trade and challenge your friends for kicks. Maybe it’s just the Team Mystic in me speaking, but only then can I see it as a true Pokemon game… and maybe re-up on pokeballs.