It’s hard to argue that Pokémon Go wasn’t the killer app of 2016, and has probably brought augmented reality technology into the mainstream. I’ve been a fairly devoted player of the game since about the third or fourth day after its release, and just a few weeks ago, Pokémon from the second generation of the original games were added. While the game has waned in popularity from its ridiculous July/August peak, that change, among others, is starting to bring some players back. The Generation II update also came with some other changes that altered the feel of the game. After test-driving the new-look Pokémon Go, I thought I’d round up all the ways the game has improved since I did my first impressions post at the peak of its popularity.
Of course, there’s the most exciting change… new Pokémon! Niantic added several of the “baby” pre-evolutions of Generation I Pokémon at the end of 2016 to whet players’ appetite for the massive surge of new Pokémon from Generation II that were added in mid-February. According to multiple sources, there were around 80 new Pokémon added in the February update, which means that most of the Gold/Silver/Crystal Pokémon are now in the game. This change is probably most responsible for bringing lapsed players back, although honestly, I appreciated some of the other changes they made more, so let’s read on for the rest.
The game has made resource accumulation a bit easier in several ways. This is probably where the most changes have been made. In my original post, I criticized the way the candy system worked to power-up and evolve Pokémon. Because candy was unique to a Pokémon’s evolutionary line, that meant you had to catch the same Pokémon on that line over and over again in order to have enough candy to evolve. At 3-4 candy per catch, it can take a lot of work to get the 50-100 required to evolve certain types of uncommon Pokémon. And forget powering up the rarer and stronger ones.
Niantic, the game’s developer, realized this and made several updates to the candy system to give hard-working players a boost. First off, the buddy system was introduced, in which a player could designate one of their Pokémon as their “buddy,” to walk alongside them. After walking a certain distance (depending on the rarity of the Pokémon), the player would receive one of that Pokémon’s candy. That becomes a reliable (if still painfully slow) way to generate candy on your own, as long as you’d caught at least one of a certain Pokémon.
Niantic also helped with resource collection through certain events, like the Halloween and Valentine’s ones. These events generally give trainers double candy or Stardust (used with candy to power up Pokémon) for catching Pokémon for about a week, so dedicated trainers can speed along the evolutionary or power-up processes. Also, the spawn rates for certain Pokémon will sometimes increase during these events (for instance, the Valentine’s event increased the spawn rate of pink Pokémon such as Jigglypuff and Exeggcute), which can allow the player to catch more of the same species of Pokémon and thus, accumulate candy or fill up their Pokédex faster (I’m still waiting for that Chansey the Valentine’s event promised us, Niantic… :P).
Finally, there’s the streak system. Taking a page out of the playbooks of other apps that reward a player for playing them consistently, Pokémon Go now gives the player bonus experience points, Stardust, and items the first time they catch a Pokémon and the first time they hit a Pokéstop every day. If the player manages to do so seven days in a row, they get an even bigger bonus. One of the subtler updates that got lost in the shuffle of the Generation II bonanza was that there is now a 50 experience point bonus for catching a Pokémon on the first throw of a Poké Ball. While experience points (that increase one’s trainer level and thus allow one to train stronger Pokémon) are easier to come by than any other resource thanks to techniques like Pidgey Spamming, the boost in Stardust is much more welcome.
The game brought tracking back in a different form. I mentioned in my original post that the game had a tracking system that showed which Pokémon were nearby, but it was largely scrapped in a controversial update once Niantic realized players were using it in unintended ways. However, an update brought it back. The Pokémon show up on the tracker with a picture of the Pokéstop they are closest to. If there aren’t as many Pokéstops around your location, then the old Sightings feature, that shows Pokémon near you without any other real indicators, appears. This helps players in rural areas who don’t have as many Pokéstops around. I actually like this feature a lot, because it actually gives you an idea of where you need to go to catch certain Pokémon. I didn’t like the old tracker because it didn’t really tell you where Pokémon were (except that they were nearby), and was thus not all that useful. There’s at least a few instances where I’ve caught new Pokémon using the tracker to go to the Pokéstop that they are near. Niantic is still cracking down on tracking websites and apps, but new ones keep springing up. Some of them require you to use them in conjunction with your account, so try them at your own risk.
There are some new items. The second-biggest part of the massive Gen II update was the introduction of a few new items. Trainers have been able to use Razz Berries for awhile to increase their chances of catching wild Pokémon. Now there are two other varieties. Nanab Berries calm wild Pokémon down, keeping them from moving around and blocking trainers’ Poké Balls. Pinap Berries are far more valuable, though, as they make Pokémon drop more candy if they are caught on the next attempt after the berry is used. That ties back to the game making resource accumulation a little less annoying. If you find a Pokémon you know you need lots of candy to evolve, or you’re just on the cusp of evolving/powering up, the Pinap Berry really comes in handy. There’s also some new items that you can use to make your Pokémon evolve into new and different forms, and they’re taken directly from the Gold/Silver/Crystal games. Rather than list them here, you can just refer to the chart below. There aren’t too many Pokémon that are affected by these items, and thus they don’t show up that often at Pokéstops. Though those infinitely helpful nerds who sift through the source code for us have found evidence of more items that will be added, which could be quite interesting indeed.
Finally, there’s some new music and sound effects. My readers may roll their eyes, but I actually like the new music and sound effects that now play when trainers play at night. The overworld (“walking around”) music and the music for Pokémon encounters. It actually added to my excitement over the Gen II update, since the first time I played it after the update was at night, and it made me feel like I was stepping into a brave new world of the game. The new themes a little more calm and peaceful, and it’s just good to have a change of pace every once in awhile. Trainers may also have noticed a new “power up/power down” type sound effect that now plays when Pokémon are evolved.
So what’s next? There have been rumors that the next big update will include an overhaul of the gym system, which I think is what’s most badly needed right now. I’d love to see a more intuitive and strategy-based fighting system. I’d also love to see player vs. player fights, because that’s a relic of the original game and could get people gathering to play the game again. Many players are still waiting for the legendary Pokémon to be added, which could be done with some sort of worldwide event like the ones I talked about above (at least, I think this is the best way to do it, rather than some sort of exclusive sweepstakes or something else that would unfairly limit access to them). I think that there are still some Gen II Pokémon that need to be added as well. After reading a few articles, I’m less enamored of the idea of Niantic bringing trading into the game (even though it was in the original games), only because I’m not sure it could be executed well and safely without creating major imbalance and inequality in the game (there’s already a little of that with PokéCoin microtransactions). New items would be interesting, and could mix up the game a bit, especially if they introduced items that could be used in battle. I’d also really love to see another special event (besides the party-hat Pikachu that are in the game now to celebrate the Pokémon franchise’s 21st birthday). Maybe they’ll do something big for the game’s anniversary in July? Who knows, but I’ll be catching plenty of Pokémon in the interim and powering them up for more battles to come.