Bits & Bytes: Pokémon GO

A family dinner reminds Robert why the mobile AR game remains so popular.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 04/25/2021 23:31 Comment on this     ShareThis

Bits & Bytes is a weekly column where Editor-in-Chief Robert shares his thoughts about video games and the industry on a lazy Sunday. Light reading for a day of rest, Bits & Bytes is short, to the point, and something to read with a nice drink.

Admittedly, mobile games aren’t a favorite of mine. There are some that stand out, like Monument Valley, but as I type that name, I realize that example is pretty long in the tooth at this point. When I sit and think about contemporary, quality mobile software, I realize that I don’t have a lot of examples that I can summon. For a moment, I was really putting in the effort to try and be a mobile gamer, but I fell off and haven’t looked back. Which means it’s been eons since I’ve given Pokémon GO any proper attention.

This weekend I found myself up north of the Bay Area and visiting with the Gillums, my aunt Brenda’s family. A trip to a local antique store resulted in a couple of Pokémon TCG boosters in my hands as we all transitioned next door to sit inside of a Claim Jumpers for a late lunch/early dinner. My cousin Jack has become very enthusiastic about Pokémon over the last couple of years, and he was all too eager to chat about it with me as we shopped and even as we sat in the restaurant.

As a kid in his early teens is wont to do, Jack spends a good chunk of his time gaming on his phone. Thus, he was more than happy, along with my cousin Courtney’s boyfriend Johnny, to get me up to speed with Pokémon GO. Niantic’s mobile take on Pocket Monsters launched in 2016 and continues to do crazy numbers in terms of revenue. I played it a little at first, but have never really, truly counted myself as a proper GO fan.

Until today. Maybe.

It was fun listening to Jack and Johnny talk about playing Pokémon GO. They were both genuinely enthusiastic about the game. Johnny was filling me in on understanding stats while Jack was a whirlwind of information about everything from leveling up to sending friends gifts. I waited for my plate of pasta to arrive and poked around in the app, learning about the different changes that have come to the game over the past five years. Caught some ‘Mon. Realized I was having more fun than I thought I would.

Pokémon GO might never reach the level of praise that the mainline series entries get, and maybe it doesn’t deserve such acclaim—but that’s okay. GO is its own thing. GO plays by similar but different rules compared to the core Pokémon games. I had to tap the screen a bunch of times to battle, for instance, and my Pikachu will follow me around so long as he’s well fed, two factors unique to GO. Yet, it was engaging, and I’m not the least bit ashamed to say that I’ll now dust off and put a fresh battery into that Pokémon GO Plus that I bought a few years ago. How long I’ll keep playing is anyone’s guess, but as of today I’m onboard for at least another 24 hours.

My aunt chastised me for getting lost in the game instead of eating my food, and I grinned—it sort of felt like being a kid again. For all the guff that some Pokémon fans give GO, I gotta say that it’s really just further proof positive that Pokémon is so strong as a franchise and a concept that it can withstand countless different interpretations and remain recognizable. GO is good. So was the pasta.

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