Cast your mind back to this time one year ago, Pokemon Go was in its infancy and had the world hooked. Every smartphone owner as far as the eye could see was glued to Niantic’s innovative new application.
The game suffered from unstable servers, a lack of features and the removal of key components (step counter died for our sins). But the world was entranced, it was like Pokemon-shaped crack, except legal, and everyone could get involved and you could jump ship anytime you so desired.
And jump ship people did. A serious lack of communication, updates and the novelty effect wearing off caused vast number of players to phase PoGo out of their lives. The fanbase was slashed – no longer were the street jam-packed with avid trainers – but despite all of this, many fans, much like myself, have stuck it out and Pokemon Go is in a true period of resurgence.
But was has changed in order to keep people on board? In short, quite a lot, so please allow me to elaborate on the details…
Updates that Scratched the Itch
Around the turn of the year Niantic released their biggest update to the game as generation 2 Pokemon were made available for capture. Suddenly players had another sizable sample of creatures to hunt down, powerful attackers to battle with such as Tyranitar, and new baby Pokemon to hatch from eggs.
Niantic also managed to wet our appetite with in-game events occurring at an increasing pace. Examples of such include the Halloween ghost event where more ‘spooky’ Pokemon appeared and more candies were awarded, or the Water Festival, where an increased number of water types could be found all over the globe.
Admittedly the experience grew stagnant, just like if you eat a delicious pizza every day for 6 months, the effect just isn’t the same, and the longer you go on without change, the worst it will taste. During this time the dynamic of the app changed; gym battles were no fun as most were filled with unstoppable Dragonites and Blisseys, so other than filling up your Pokedex there was almost nothing else to explore.
Pokemon Go therefore no longer felt like a game, in fact, it became little more than a glorified collection. But collect I did. Something extremely rare popping up, or hatching something cool after walking 10K kept me coming back for my PoGo fix, and I even managed to finish the EU 1st generation Dex – I was beaming when I finally caught the elusive Hitmonlee to fill the final piece of the first gen puzzle.
Tying in with this timeline, I has a personal boost in reason to continue playing. My Dad finally ditched his old useless phone in favour a of a shiny new iPhone and immediately caught the Pokemon Go bug. Watching his excitement as he captured more and more Pokemon reminded me of how wonderous the game was initially and it got me amped up to search for new Pokemon too. It really showed me the fun of playing Pogo alongside someone else, rather than slogging through a solo mission.
He’s still playing now, with my highlight of his tenure being in his Pokemon Go infancy as he didn’t realise he could tap the Pokemon on the map and instead thought his character had to bump into them, meaning he was clambering around in trees and bushes attempting to collect his first Hoothoot. What his plan was for those located in water, I do not know.
Aside from my Dad getting involved, the mild shake-ups from the events and updates (we’re talking Korma-levels of mild) meant that I, and many others, ferried through the storm. No longer would I actively hunt Pokemon like a wild caveman, instead I would simply keep an eye on the PokeWorld whilst out and about. However, then the Spring/Summer updates arrived.
Niantic Drops the Legendary Bomb
This summer Niantic and the Pokemon Go franchise delivered in a huge manner. Either side of an utterly disastrous Pokemon Go Festival in Chicago, they really managed to enhance the player experience and sailed the rough seas back to the top of the highest-grossing app list – have some of that Candy Crush!
First came the very much needed gym re-work. Gone we’re the days of 10 uber-powerful beasts, as gyms were edited to only allow for 6 Pokemon defenders, with each of these needing to be unique. This has led to increased diversity, faster gym turnover, and has even allowed the glorious Team Instinct player to take control of a few gyms too.
Honestly, I never cared for the gym battling aspect of the app, I found it primitive, boring and hollow. Now though, even if the combat remains monotonous, it is entertaining to tackle gyms. Seeing them flip control like pancakes gives the feeling that finally, you can challenge the highest-level players and you can earn coins for your efforts, even if your best Pokemon is more Caterpie and less Charizard.
As we sunk our teeth into the tasty new battle system however, a colossal addition was taking shape beneath the surface. The aforementioned catastrophe, Pokemon Go Festival, acted as a launching pad and BOOM, Niantic unleashed legendary Pokemon into our virtual stratosphere.
Legendary birds Lugia and Articuno (followed by Moltres and Zapdos) were thrust upon players and a wave of avid Pokemon hunters were back on the trail, desperately trying to get their hands on these new targets. Now I don’t need to tell you how Pokemon usually spawn in the game, but legendaries are obtained in a new and interesting fashion.
As opposed to locating critter on the map, Niantics freshly floated ‘Raid Battles’ became the sole method of capturing these magnificent flying types. Raid battles are similar to gyms in the sense that you battle to defeat a foe, with the task here being to topple the legendaries before you can even get an opportunity to capture them.
These aren’t your ordinary monsters though, they are incredibly powerful and one lone ranger simply cannot slay such as a singleton. Groups of up to 20 people are required, a decision which has been a large success on the developer’s part. Now Pokemon Go feels similar to those sweet, sweet first few weeks again; I’ve been playing with huge groups as we have collectively slain Lugias, Articunos and the like, leading to the sense of community in Pokemon Go to shine bright once again.
Raid battling together epitomises everything that made the app so successful in the short-term whilst injecting it with long-term nutrients, as trainers are actively going out and meeting up with others, all in an attempt to claim the rarest Pokemon available.
Currently I am sans-legendary despite my various attempts and victories when battling these challenging birds. Every time I’ve had an opportunity to throw my Pokeballs at them, they’ve fled, leaving me dejected and frustrated by the ordeal as the empty slot in my Pokedex taunts me each time I view such. The blue-balling that these legendaries cause is unlike anything else Pokemon Go has produced thus far and you can be certain that when I finally net a legendary I’ll be punching the air will glee.
Do you know what that feels like then? It feels like an actual, genuine, exciting, encapsulating video game. It is challenging, it is irritating, but most of all it is fun, really fun, the exact element that the game was sorely missing for months. Niantic have released the ‘glorified collection’ shackles and managed to capture the hearts and minds of players, and I’m thankful for that.
Whether they be veterans, returning, or even novices, Pokemon Go has got its mojo back and given that we haven’t even seen the likes of Ho-oh, Mewtwo or any of the further 5 generations yet the game looks to be riding the wave of success once again, with no signs of slowing down.