On Sunday night, I found the best Pokémon I’ve ever seen. Right in the middle of Hyde Park, inappropriately close to the Pool of Reflection, I discovered a Golduck worth a whopping 917 combat points – more than anything in my Pokédex.
If you’re one of the rapidly dwindling number who isn’t playing Pokémon Go, that’s like coming across a $100 note, if the $100 wasn’t worth anything except in some stupid game.
But I was excited. With this spiky-headed blue creature in my Pokéarsenal, I could win my first Pokégym battle and capture the nearby obelisk for Team Red.
(And yes, that’s a big deal, in case you’re wondering.)
I asked my three companions to wait, tempted the Pokémon with a Razz Berry to soften it up, and flung a Pokéball at it. (Strangely, you capture “pocket monsters” by chucking cricket balls at their heads.) A direct hit! I was stoked.
And then the app froze. The Pokéball containing the precious Golduck just sat on my screen, not doing anything.
I quit the app and reloaded. It took several minutes to let me in, but all was not lost – the Golduck was still there! I scored another direct hit. And the app crashed again.
After this had happened four times, it was clear that my companions’ patience was also on the verge of crashing, so I reluctantly walked away. I would claim no gym that night.
The game refused to work properly for the next 18 hours, and this gave me time to reflect. When I’d first played Pokémon Go 7 days earlier, I’d been blown away. There was a map with my street on it, and all the nearby landmarks were in the game! And I immediately found a Zubat, right there in my bedroom, the cheeky devil! The gameplay seemed ingenious and fun.
I didn’t yet know that those stupid Zubats were about as rare as Bogong moths during migration season. I’ve now captured 136, and let’s just say it doesn’t get any more entertaining the more you do it. Checking my work email now seems fun by comparison.
As I progressed up to Level 17, the game became significantly harder. Pokémon would jump back out of their ball-shaped prisons, and take off, leaving a cloud of dust. A straight flick that should have scored a direct hit would veer off sideways. The already tedious task of snaffling Pokémon varied randomly between easy and impossible.
Eventually I realised that there isn’t much to the game. You wander around the city map, hoping to find new Pokémon and scooping up endless Zubats in the meantime. Occasionally you’ll try to capture a gym, which involves a whole mess of tapping, swiping and hoping. But otherwise, you clock up the kilometres, hoping the random Pokéalgorithm favours you, and that the ever-tenuous servers don’t crash.
And also that a car doesn’t crash into you. I’ve mostly played in the CBD, where hordes of Pokémonners roam the streets, their phones plugged into external battery packs, and I’ve seen seen several near-misses. If you are going to play, please look out – there are some crashes from which you can’t reboot.
From here, I can’t be bothered playing on to “catch ’em all”. I don’t have the stamp collector gene, fortunately, so am unfazed by the idea of letting rare Pokémon go uncaught. Finishing the game, even if that were possible, simply doesn’t have the challenge of finishing a Mario game. There’s no mastery required for Pokémon Go, just time.
More advanced players say that as you play on, the difficulty and frustration scale up even further. Even at the lofty heights of level 30, you only get to collect 121 or so of the 147 Pokémon – and it’ll take you a whopping 500,000 experience points to progress to 31.
Advanced players say that the temptation to just buy Pokéballs instead of collecting them from local landmarks becomes “intense”. And of course it does, because that’s the business model.
With the freemium approach that most mobile games now use, you can simply pay your way to glory. The attempts to pressure us into buying stuff have become increasingly obnoxious, and in-game achievements have become as meaningless as a doctorate from an online degree mill.
So I’m going to let go of Pokémon Go. Like the Trump campaign, the more I see, the less entertaining it gets. But the game’s success means that a zillion other augmented reality apps will soon flood into the App Store. No doubt some of them will combine the excitement of exploring our own cities with genuinely innovative gameplay that becomes more enjoyable as we move through the levels.
And if you’ve got any Nintendo shares, I’d sell them now. Because if my experience with Pokémon Go is any indication, investors are going to end up dumping ’em all.