One of the main reasons why Pokemo Go became wildly successful is its charm to the general public, most especially to casual gamers and even non-gamers. The game’s simple gameplay is easy to pick up, allowing people not familiar with the main Pokemon games or the entire franchise to get into the craze quickly. In today’s modern world, there’s no harm in hopping into the bandwagon of whatever is trending at the moment. But apparently, some Pokemon fans – people who’ve been playing the main games for years and probably own an entire closet of Pokemon toys – are treating Pokemon Go with the cold shoulder. Their primary reasoning is that the game isn’t a “real” Pokemon game.
Yes, the game has a lot of differences from the main games, but is it enough to warrant such a distinction? To better understand, let’s take a look at a few reasons why Pokemon Go is a “real” Pokemon game AND why it isn’t.
It’s a “real” Pokemon game because…
The gameplay still revolves around completing the Pokedex
Pokemon Go, despite the change in aesthetics and gameplay mechanics, still features the same mantra from the main games: “Gotta catch ‘em all!”. The Pokedex is still in the game and the primary goal for players is to capture all 151 original Pokemon and complete their Pokedex. Battles have taken a backseat in Pokemon Go, only accessible during Gym battles. It’s entirely possible to complete the Pokedex without having to fight a single battle in the game. Some players have actually taken on that goal exclusively, mostly because a lot of Gyms are already too heavily guarded for players just starting out. So Pokemon Go still holds the true essence of Pokemon, which is to catch all Pokemon.
Like the main games, it promotes socializing outside
The first generation of Pokemon games allowed players to link with other players using, uh, Link cables. They can either trade Pokemon or engage in competitive battles. Linking required players to actually be in front of each other. Unless they somehow have an extremely long cable capable of bridging two players from different towns. This aspect of allowing players to enjoy the game together with their schoolmates and neighborhood friends is also one of the reasons the original games took off. Things changed when the internet rendered link cables useless, but people can still socialize with whoever is nearby via Wi-Fi. The same holds true for Pokemon Go. Although the game doesn’t necessarily require players to actually interact with each other, it promotes them to socialize with other people within a PokeStop or a specific Pokemon hunting ground, like parks. There’s also the issue with the teams. People are more likely to join the team where most of their friends are members of. And personally knowing your team members helps a lot when defending a Gym from challengers.
Pokemon battles are still around
Yes, one of the most criticized gameplay aspects of Pokemon Go is also one of the reasons why it’s a “real” Pokemon game, but only to a certain degree. As mentioned, battles only occur during Gym affairs. There is currently no feature in the game that allows players to randomly challenge other players they come across. Although the battle mechanics have been heavily simplified and devoid of any deep strategy, players can nevertheless make their Pokemon go head-to-head with other players’ Pokemon, albeit AI-controlled variations. The mere presence of the battle system – however flawed it may be – gives Pokemon Go the two most important aspects in the main games: capturing Pokemon and battling.
It’s not a “real” Pokemon game because…
Nintendo and Game Freak had nothing to do with it
It’s pretty much common knowledge by now that both Nintendo and Game Freak (the main games’ developer) had nothing to do with Pokemon Go. Google-backed Niantic developed the game while The Pokemon Company published it. Nintendo still holds a portion of The Pokemon Company, but they did not have any input in the game aside from lending their intellectual properties. So, in the most technical sense, the fact that Pokemon Go is not a product of the same minds behind the main games goes against it being a “real” Pokemon game.
There are no Gym badges to collect and flaunt
Yes, there are Gyms present in the game and, yes, players can challenge them, but they function differently than their counterparts in the main games. First of all, players defend the Gyms and essentially act as Gym Leaders. That also makes the Pokemon defending the Gyms vary in type. In the main games, each Gym represents a specific Pokemon type and is held by only one dedicated Gym Leader – except for special cases like Tate & Liza in the third-gen games. And second, defeating Gyms don’t give players unique badges as proof of conquering the Pokemon strongholds. There are Achievements, though, but those only act as milestones. The main games reward players with uniquely-designed badges for every Gym they conquer, which gives them different perks like being able to command higher-level Pokemon without a hitch.
It has no story whatsoever
The main Pokemon games usually feature a generic story: a young boy or girl sets out from a small town with dreams of becoming a Pokemon Master by catching all Pokemon and defeating the very best of trainers, thwarting an evil organization’s plans along the way. The same narrative has been recycled over and over again because, well, as they say, “why fix it if it isn’t broken?” Although the story was never one of the highlights of the main Pokemon games – except maybe Pokemon Black & White – its omission in Pokemon Go makes the game hollow and devoid of any direction. Yes, having no story to follow allows players to focus on catching Pokemon and Gym battles. But wouldn’t it be more fun to at least have evil villains to go up against?
So is Pokemon Go a “real” Pokemon game or not?
In essence, it is. As long as Niantic doesn’t inexplicably remove the ability for players to catch Pokemon AND battle against other Pokemon in Gyms, Pokemon Go will stay true to the most important reasons of what makes a Pokemon game. It will undoubtedly have more features in the future, like possibly the ability to trade Pokemon with other players and battle random players on the street, so perhaps it’s still too early for judgement. Let’s wait for maybe a year or so, assuming Pokemon Go stays popular that long.