“I want to be the very best, like no one ever was.”
It was these words that kicked off the iconic Pokémon theme song in the first season of the long-running anime series. Now, 20 years later, those words still ring true, and for those 20 years Pokémon fans have diligently tried to be the best Pokémon Master they could be. Whether it was via the video games, or the card game, or just basic Pokémon knowledge, they put their skills to the test.
However, though there have been six generations of Pokémon, with several games and the anime to flesh them all out, there’s been a bit of a void of nothingness where the potential for a new game lies: To truly become a Pokémon Trainer. That’s where Pokémon GO comes in.
Becoming the Very Best
Obviously we’ll never “truly” be a trainer as Pokémon don’t exist, but the experience of being a trainer in a virtual setting has always been a desire, yet it’s been unfulfilled. The games are turn-based RPG’s, and lack the real-time free-flow style of the anime. Even the recent Pokkén Tournament on Wii U doesn’t fully match what we see in the show. And while it may not be a 1:1 recreation of the ultimate fantasy we’ve all been dreaming of all these years, the upcoming augmented reality mobile game, Pokémon GO, may just be the game that would-be trainers have been waiting for for 20 years.
What separates Pokémon GO is two-fold. First, it’s on mobile devices, meaning you can play it anywhere. However, more importantly, unlike the handheld games where a pre-determined fictional world is provided to you, the world of Pokémon GO is your own real world. A recent demo of the game showed an Ivysaur being caught on a grassy plain. And the team behind Pokémon GO have stated that you will have to go and wander around to get other Pokémon, and that only certain Pokémon will appear in certain areas.
You may be thinking, “Doesn’t the handhelds do this too?” Well yes, they do, but in a more traditional video game way. For example, you can all but predict who you’re going to find in those areas. Especially at the beginning of the game. It lacks the unpredictable nature of our actual environment. All of the trademark elements, from catching Pokémon with Pokéballs, battling other trainers, conquering gyms, and so much more will be seamlessly integrated into the world around us.
And beyond even those elements, what makes Pokémon GO so appealing, is that you have to go find each and every Pokémon yourself, instead of going to a specific area in a video game world to try and catch them. Thus, there’s a desire to go outside your comfort zone (literally – walking out your door) and looking everywhere and anywhere to find Pokémon. Just like in the show we all know and love.
While this could limit the content and interaction, since you’ll be restricted to what you can find based on where you are physically located at any given time, even that serves the purpose of heightening your desire to explore, as well as interact with other trainers.
Battling Your Way to the Top
Speaking of other trainers, they can be anywhere in Pokémon GO. If you’re paying attention, you’ll find someone you can trade with, or battle with, just walking down the street once the game is popular enough. Though we still don’t know all the details about Pokémon GO, it’s clearly different from the handheld entries in the series from a purely gameplay and presentation perspective.
More than that though, there has been confirmation that there will be special events going on in the “world” of Pokémon, also like in the TV show. So instead of being there on a “specific day” like in previous handheld games, or just going in whenever you’re ready, it’s going to be something you look forward to, and prepare for, similar to the events that often run in popular online games such as MMOs and shooters. The randomness of it is what allows for unexpected fun. While there are capturing and evolution mechanics, it won’t actually feel the same as the handheld games, as you can see in the screenshots below.
If it’s a battle tournament, and it’ll be held in a week, you know that there will be people ensuring that their Pokémon are up to snuff, or that they’ll try and make sure they have the best team possible for the event. And whereas in the games you have all the time you want to get ready, in Pokémon GO, you’d have a time limit before the event starts. And once it’s gone, it’s gone. Leaving you to have to wait for the next one.
Then there’s the unknown factor, “What don’t we know yet?” “What surprises are waiting for us?” That’s part of the fun of waiting for this title. This kind of game has never been done before by Nintendo or The Pokémon Company and they’ve been extremely tight-lipped about how it all fits together. AR gaming is new to both companies, so they’ve enlisted the help of Niantic Labs to assist in the game’s development. They know the expectations of fans and what people want.
Many of us have dreamed of being Ash Ketchum (or Red from the game), to travel the world and try to catch all the Pokémon on the quest to become the very best. It’s a beautiful dream. The freedom, the ability to go anywhere and catch any Pokémon you want – that’s been the fantasy of millions for years. While the existing line of games has allowed certain amounts of freedom, it’s still restricting by design. Pokémon GO could just be the breaking of the traditional Pokémon game formula, and allow us an experience unlike any other.
Even though the existing handheld games will always have their audience, for those who want a more immersive way of connecting with the franchise, Pokémon GO just might be a game ripped straight from your wildest dreams – only time will tell.
Registration for the first US Field Test is now open, with the release date still unknown. Pokémon GO is expected to release for both iOS and Android at some point in 2016 – hopefully more news is revealed this year at E3.
Article contributed by Todd Black. Todd is a freelance writer with work appearing in Pop Geeks and Toon Zone.