Pokémon Go’s biggest update since the game launched arrives this week. It’s something that’s been teased for quite some time: the addition of 80 new Pokémon, as well as some cosmetic features and new items.
More Pokémon to collect — particularly those from the franchise’s excellent second generation of monsters — is welcome. More the most part, fans have taken well to the announcement that there are plenty more Pokémon to hunt down.
I now have a reason to download Pokemon GO, because Johto pokes are being added.— ♡ Didi ♡ (@euphemiisms) February 15, 2017
I have a midterm in 2 hours but this Pokémon go announcement has got me too hyped to do any sort of revising— marshmallow (@Fifii_s) February 15, 2017
GEN 2 for Pokémon go this week fuck yes ! Let's go— ♛ (@BeckwithNick19) February 15, 2017
But the question remains: Is this enough to reenergize the fanbase? The desire for deeper gameplay and seemingly basic features, some of which have been teased since shortly after Pokémon Go’s launch, remains strong. For some big Pokémon fans who fell hard and fast for the mobile game, catching ‘em all might not be enough to sustain them.
Pokémon Go exploded when it first hit the scene, and in many ways, the game has managed to sustain much of that popularity. But as the seasons changed, the game took an obvious hit. Dependent on the unpredictability of real world geography and climates, Pokémon Go was seemingly not designed with sustained play during winter months in mind. (It’s important to remember that Niantic, the company that develops the game, is based in the comfortable climate of San Francisco.)
The Pokémon Go Plus peripheral seemed positioned to attend to that issue, but it arrived in typical Nintendo fashion: scarce availability at launch, with the bonus of some major compatibility issues. While it’s been otherwise well-received by the most dedicated of Pokémon trainers, the bracelet accessory doesn’t make up for the game’s more ingrained problems.
Those are namely its lack of depth. Pokémon Go is perhaps more complex than the average free-to-play game, but for the seasoned Pokémon player, there are some obvious deficiencies. The number of Pokémon, which until late last year was limited to the series’ beloved first generation of characters, was not one of them, making this week’s update fairly low on the priority list. The bigger issues are the lack of multiplayer options, a key part of the Pokémon experience that Pokémon Go has yet to adequately address.
Representatives for Niantic have promised again and again that trading and player-versus-player battles are in the works. Not long after the game arrive, the company said that players would be able to trade Pokémon in future updates. It also said that multiplayer battles, one of the most core elements of the franchise, were well on their way. That these were missing from the game’s initial release was already surprising, but to still not have them months later is almost unthinkable. Even slightly smaller updates, like further characterizing the game’s three factions and Pokémon professor — and the addition of several first-gen legendaries — are also missing in action.
It would be unrealistic to expect that these major gameplay changes would take mere weeks to develop, but Pokémon Go is approaching seven months on the market. Giving players the chance to further expand their Pokémon teams is commendable, but without a venue to show off our skills? Things start to get really tedious, and this update doesn’t do enough to mitigate that.
Considering that they’re launching in the middle of February, during which many cities and countries worldwide experience snow and other freezing, untenable weather conditions, the arrival of more Pokémon also seems poorly timed. It’s not that more Pokémon aren’t welcome — of course they are! But considering that finding and capturing them is a crapshoot by design, it’s hard to feel so jazzed about trekking around outside with gloved hands, hoping a Totodile shows up before the cold, blustery winds pick up.
Pokémon Go still does quite well for itself and its developer. The game remains massively popular on the iOS and Android charts, and it generates a ton of money for the Pokémon Company and Niantic, as well as Nintendo, which reaps a percentage of the benefits thanks to a publishing deal. But eventually, these updates begin to feel like superficial stopgaps on the way to the true iteration that Pokémon Go needs — and, frankly, deserves.
Pokémon Go is a machine at this point, and it’s a well-oiled one. Playing it obsessively last summer was among 2016’s highlights, and it’s wonderful to see all kinds of people still so invested in a Pokémon game. But the game has the potential to be the very best, and we’re still waiting for the updates that will help achieve that goal.