Like a bolt of Pikachu’s thunder attack, “Pokémon Go” has sent shockwaves through the video game world. In less than two weeks, the app has spread like wildfire, becoming a cultural phenomenon. It has pushed Nintendo stock through the roof, benefited small businesses and gotten a few folks in trouble. The speed and scale of “Pokémon Go’s” success have been almost magical. One day it was just a franchise played on Nintendo 3DS; the next, it was on millions of players’ phones. It’s was almost like suddenly discovering that everyone was listening to the same song on the radio. Nintendo’s popularity extends across generations. Those raised on Mario and company in the ’80s passed on that love to their children. More importantly, video games have managed to stay relevant in ways that many media have not. It’s almost a surreal scene when you look around and see everyone playing the same game. That urge to play ‘Pokémon Go” is fueled by the core mechanics of the game. Niantic, the San Francisco-based developer of “Pokémon Go,” has not only distilled what’s great about massive multiplayer online games such as “World of Warcraft,” but transplanted it to the real world via mobile phones.
Going outdoors, collecting Pokémon and battling over gyms make for an addictive gameplay loop that keeps us engaged. To judge from the number of people out and about, Nintendo single-handedly could cure America’s obesity epidemic, while helping players learn more about their communities. There’s true exploration and discovery going on since the app offers information about some of the landmarks players come across.
Catching those Pokémon is a skill that must be developed. Sometimes a simple flick isn’t enough. Players may need to lower the Pokémon’s guard by using Razz Berries, or throw curve balls to snag it. After a few hours, skillful players can amass a whole menagerie.
Unfortunately, Niantic makes dealing with the creatures cumbersome. You have to figure out which ones to power up with Stardust, and which to send to Professor Willow for the candy that fuels Pokémon evolution. You will need to use powerful Venusaurs and Dragonites to take over gyms.
At level 5, players must choose one of three teams to join — Instinct, Mystic or Valor — the game’s equivalent to “Harry Potter” houses.
From there, players will do battle over gyms (with real-world locations) by using their Pokémon. Challengers have to battle computer-controlled pocket monsters left behind to defend the gym by rivals.
Plenty of factors are involved in winning a contest. Players must go into battle with Pokémon to exploit weaknesses of the defenders. Skill comes into play as players dodge attacks of foes’ attacks and mount their own counterattacks.
A match for a gym offers the option of a tag-team effort with friends, and winning that way can be extremely satisfying.
Although “Pokémon Go” has gotten off to an extraordinary start, it does have some issues. Niantic has found it challenging to keep its servers steadily up and running. And bugs too often force players to reset the game.
The app also lacks some of the series staples, such as trading between friends, a feature that is said to be under development.
The big unanswered questions about “Pokémon Go” are how will it fare when summer’s over, and what will happen when the game’s novelty wears off, and it’s no longer a fad?
To judge from “Ingress,” Niantic’s first GPS-related game, the team will find a way to keep “Pokémon’s Go” fans hooked. There will undoubtedly be additional Pokémon to collect, as well as major gatherings to attract fans.
But the Niantic team will have to find novel ways to keep the faithful playing during winter months, when many Americans prefer to spend time indoors.