Appraise Gengar: The Best Use for Pokemon Go’s Leaders is Staring Us in the Face
As much as it hurts to say, we all knew it was coming: the popularity of of mobile mega-hit Pokemon Go is slipping. The game blew up following its release in early July, causing Nintendo’s stock to skyrocket… and then immediately plummet once people realized it’s made by Niantic Labs and not the house that Mario built.
The game’s daily active users peaked back in the middle of July, and it’s anyone’s guess why. It could be that the game freezes more than an Articuno. Or perhaps that Niantic Labs removed Pokemon tracking altogether once the feature started glitching, as if customer goodwill were some kind of status effect in need of expunging. Or maybe it’s because the game doesn’t have that much to do outside of trying to figure out its perplexing gym battles or catching Pidgey after Pidgey to exploit the leveling system.
One of the closest things we got to a new feature came in the form of this month’s “appraisal” system. Using your character’s chosen team leader, the game tells you detailed stats about a particular Pokemon, like its weight or attack. It’s intended to give you a leg up on gym battles, to know how to use your Pokemon most efficiently. But if you’re like me --- someone who has no Pokemon worth its weight in rare candies in battle and who has the maturity of an eight year-old --- you just use it to make the same joke over and over.
Appraisal is Pokemon Go’s shot at giving its team leaders a more active role. Up to this point, they’ve been nothing more than mascots for gym dominance. Heck, until their Comic Con reveal, they were just silhouettes. Granted, the ensuing memes did get people talking.
But my biggest issue with appraisal is that it isn’t affected in any capacity by your chosen team. And by extension, there’s no gameplay-related benefit to choosing one team over another. There’s no reason to pick Valor other than “my friends are on it,” or Mystic other than “Articuno’s my favorite legendary bird,” or Instinct other than “I’m a contrarian who thinks the prequel trilogy has merit."
Rather, the best reason for Pokemon Go’s teams reveals itself the moment you meet Blanche, Candela and Spark at level five --- and Niantic has done nothing with it. When it comes time to choose your affiliation, each leader gives you a brief spiel about why you should choose them (not that it matters). Valor believes in the innate strength of Pokemon and its use in battle. Instinct looks to study how a Pokemon’s intuition is linked to how it’s hatched. Mystic studies Pokemon evolution. That last bit is what drew me to the blue team.
In my time playing Pokemon, evolution was always my favorite part: growing my team in levels until they finally jumped to that next big step, possibly filling out my Pokedex on the way. If I choose Mystic, it might help me have the most fun while playing. Nothing happened. No boost toward evolving my creatures. Why not? It seems like such a simple fix. And at a time when Pokemon Go is in desperate need of a revival, the game could use a simple fix. And simple it would be. If you choose Valor, maybe you get a 10% attack boost when taking a gym. If you go the Mystic route, Pokemon take 10% fewer candies to evolve. Instinct members can hatch their eggs at slightly shorter distances. Three teams, three different bonuses, each affecting the three main portions of the game.
Naturally, some balance testing would be in order to ensure that no one team has a game-breaking advantage. It also begs the question, should players be allowed to reassign teams? Probably, since the design change would appeal toward players’ individual play styles. If you’re into hatching eggs, there’s no reason to keep you on Valor just because your friends talked you into it. “Teams” are nothing new when it comes to pop culture phenomena. The best remembered ones tend to have driving forces behind them: Hogwarts houses appealed to base personality traits like smarts for Ravenclaws or being the protagonist for Gryffindors; each Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle corresponds to one of Hippocrates’ four humors; Team Edward or Team Jacob --- you get it.
As a game, Pokemon Go appeals to the public’s love of Pokemon, of adventure and conquering the fantastic. There’s no reason the subsequent elements of the game shouldn’t appeal to why we love Pokemon.
An update like this would by no means “save” Pokemon Go. To do that, Niantic Labs’ needs to roll out new features and Pokemon sooner rather than later and on a regular basis. Or perhaps they could include features they teased months ago, like trading.
But a change like this could be a smart bit of course correction for a developer quickly losing the support of hardcore fans and the interest of casual players. It would be nice to see a bit more strategy injected into the app’s already paper-thin gameplay and more personality into its characters.