‘Pokémon GO’: Top 8 Awesome Features That Would Make The App Far Better

By far the largest theme of this week’s news has been Pokémon GO, Nintendo’s new augmented reality (AR) Pokémon adventure that lets players catch Pokémon and take on gyms in the real world. Notice, though, that I called Pokémon GO a Pokémon “adventure,” not a Pokémon “game.” That is because, as many very high-profile sources have noted, Pokémon GO is just too sparse on features at this point to realistically be called a video game. Sure, wandering around in the real world to battle Pokémon that show up at real-life locations on an AR background is clever and fun for those who have never experienced AR before. It is pretty much confined to the very simple concepts of finding and catching Pokémon and battling gyms, though, and the game mechanics for even those to activities are extremely simplistic.

Pokémon GO is way too simple and it certainly does not capture the nuanced and sometimes complex strategic gameplay that has made Pokemon’s main series portable games such a success for the past 20 years. Reports agree that Pokémon GO is sure to add many more features in updates over the coming years to address this problem, and here is a list of the top eight features that Pokémon GO users would love to see, although they may not know it before reading this article. The features are in order of my least wanted to most wanted.

For this list, I’ve ignored obvious updates that are almost certainly going to be implemented, like Pokémon trading, the ability to catch more than 133 different Pokémon, more strategic battle mechanics, and improved AR. I’ve also focused on features inspired by the main series Pokémon games, which, again, have been hugely successful.

8. Pokémon Variants

One of the Pokémon franchise’s central mantras is that people from all over the world can connect with each other through trading. In fact, the concept for Pokémon was originally conceived by Satoshi Taijiri when he daydreamed about magical creatures crawling along a link cable. Pokémon X and Y went a long way in advancing that grand tradition by establishing the wifi-enabled global trade link system, and Pokémon GO certainly looks to follow in that trend of international connection. I mean, the app’s logo is the game’s name superimposed over a picture of the earth, for God’s sake.

It seems unlikely that casual players will want to trade with anyone outside their circle of friends, though, unless Pokémon GO gives them a solid reason to do so. The answer is variations of each Pokemon that differ around the world!

Vivillon, a butterfly Pokémon introduced in Pokémon’s generation six that sports different patterns on its wings based on which global locale it was caught. Pokémon GO could take the same idea but apply it to many more Pokémon and go even further with it, adding unique moves or abilities that help catch more Pokémon depending on the country or continent the Pokémon is being sent from. This will encourage all players who want to experience the game in full to connect globally.

7. Player Battles and Rewards

Continuing with the theme of connecting with other players but getting more local with the idea, Pokémon GO could allow nearby trainers to meet up and battle one another. This would create a reason for Pokémon GO players to seek each other out and meet up.

Of course, such battles would be optional, and both players would need to agree, so there would be a reward involved. The players could agree on a wager of any amount of stardust, one of the in-game currencies, for each battle, for instance.

This would not only increase interaction but make the game’s digital overworld, which as of now is a bit too empty, feel more lively.

6. A More Diverse Digital Overworld

Following up on the last point made above, Pokémon GO’s digital overworld feels a bit empty. Sure, it has the PokeStops, the gyms, and the occasional wild encounter Pokémon, but part of what makes to main series Pokémon games so much fun is how alive they feel. I am not suggesting that Pokémon GO do away with the concept of the map of the real world serving as the basis for the overworld, but I am suggesting they dress it up a bit. Color the map according to the geography of the player’s real-world surroundings and add areas (random locations) that will make the player encounter different Pokémon, like randomly placed Safari Zones or dream worlds.

Also, add in additional types of buildings. Even if they don’t have much point, locations where players can receive gift Pokémon or even talk to random NPCs would give the Pokémon GO world a definite feeling of purpose.

5. More Direction

One of Pokémon GO‘s glaring problems is the lack of direction on how to play the game. It is a bit surprising that almost no instructions on how to perform crucial maneuvers, like tracking specific Pokémon or throwing Pokeballs accurately, is given at the start of Pokémon GO, as the main series Pokémon games are infamous for beating the player over the head with instructions. I think I have figured out the reason for Pokémon GO‘s decision to let the fan community figure out the best ways to play the games for itself, however.

As most reports agree, Pokémon GO is clearly an effort to draw Pokémon fans from “the golden age of Pokémon” back into the franchise. It makes as many callbacks to the early Pokémon games as possible and attempts to make nostalgic references whenever it can. One of the most well-remembered parts of the late 1990s-early 2000s Pokémon craze is the many rumors that flew around at the time about how Pokémon Red, Blue, Yellow Gold, and Silver should be played and how to get ahead in said games.

Nowadays, with the much more dominant presence of the internet, Pokémon GO cannot really recreate the same rumor mill, because any false rumors can be dispelled too easily. It can, however, provide as little player guidance as possible to help create a few weeks where the entire fan community is still figuring out the game.

Following that strand of logic, the problem of too little instruction on how to do things in Pokémon GO will probably be fixed once the internet has all the game’s secrets figured out – likely within a matter of weeks. That being said, this feature is much-needed and would let players know that Pokémon GO actually contains some elements that involve skill and thought.

4. Single-Typing Gyms

Every time I take on a gym in Pokémon GO, it feels very disorganized. Scyther, Vaporeon, Charizard, Dragonite… these Pokémon really don’t share anything in common. The gym has no unifying theme. In the main series Pokémon games, every gym contains Pokemon of only one type. Secondary typings may vary, and there are exceptions here and there (although very rarely), but primary Pokémon typing generally stays the same across all Pokémon in a given gym.

Uniformity wouldn’t be the biggest advantage of single-type gyms in Pokémon GO, either. Singularly typed gyms were included in the main series games to help the player learn about type effectiveness, one of the most original and game-changing aspects of the Pokemon formula. This is something on which Pokemon GO misses out completely, and I think it is a big mistake.

In short, I think Pokémon GO should require players to choose Pokémon of a specific type (chosen by the player) when placing them in a gym.

3. NPC Trainer Battles

In following with the above point about creating a more diverse overworld, Pokémon GO should randomly place computer-controlled characters, like the ones in the main series Pokémon games, that the player can face off against.

Unlike in the main series games, the NPC battles would be optional, but they would offer rewards.

The difficulty of the trainers would vary depending on the human player’s level.

In case single-typing gyms make some players feel that Pokémon GO‘s battling scene is too one-dimensional, these NPC battles would allow players to once again battle opponents that have teams full of all different types of Pokemon.

2. A Pokemon League

One of the most glaring points that keeps Pokémon GO from really qualifying as a game is that it lacks a goal. The implementation of a Pokémon league, like in the main series Pokemon games, would fix that. Perhaps a Pokémon GO trainer would have to acquire a badge from one gym each of all 18 Pokemon types before challenging the Elite Four and, finally, a Champion. All these trainers would be computer-generated, but the player would still need to travel around in the real world to challenge them and use a Pokémon GO-acquired team to defeat them.

Once the champion is defeated, the player would earn a medal and could either restart at level one, earning a reward for beating the game, or wander the Pokémon GO world as a champion.

1. Side Quests

Players are already complaining that there is not enough to do in Pokémon GO. It’s totally aimless aside from the concept of “catching them all.” Adding NPCs that would provide the player with side quests, should the player choose to accept them, would be a great way to add bulk to Pokémon GO‘s content, introduce the players to littler-known game features, make the world of Pokémon GO seem fuller, and provide the player with constant, tangible, varying goals.

The side quests could easily take advantage of Pokémon GO‘s AR capabilities (e.g. “find 10 instances of [whatever] in the real world and return here”), and they would encourage players to wander off the beaten path, one of Pokémon GO‘s biggest strengths.

The best thing about all of these features is that they are totally optional. If a casual player does not want to add more depth to his or her Pokémon GO experience and wants to keep on playing the game the same as it is now, they can just ignore all these added features without detracting from gameplay.

Do you have any great ideas for Pokémon GO features that are not mentioned on this list? If so, make your voice heard in the comments section below!

[Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images and Nerd Union]