Video Games

Pokémon Go Is Still Great, Actually

After half a decade, I’m still trying to catch ‘em all.

Switzerland's Leo, 9, and his sister Lea, 10, look at their phones during the Pokemon Go Festival on July 4, 2019 at the Westfalenpark in Dortmund, western Germany.
Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images

For those who remember Pokémon Go as nothing more than the biggest fad of Summer 2016—or even just the inspiration behind some Hilary Clinton cringe—I have some news for you: The mobile game is still popular, still fun, and still worth playing.

Like many fads do, Pokémon Go became huge quickly, garnering tons of press and players shortly after its July 2016 launch. People went as far as to craft exercise programs around the game, which required you to walk around—and around and around—to find and catch ’em all. There was the nostalgic aspect to its popularity, sure; the Pokémon franchise of cards and games had just celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier that year, and even those who had long outgrown the franchise found themselves hooked by this free, simplified version they could play on their phones. But Pokémon Go’s biggest appeal was its community, the millions of people around the world who were eager to go Pokémon-hunting together during a time when we all wanted to be outside anyway.

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After a while, the media stopped paying attention to the game, even if diehards could always recognize fellow players in the wild by their craned necks and Poké Ball-casting finger motions. While normies moved on, Pokémon Go continued to exist and kept evolving. The game’s community is still lively (there are reportedly more than 800,000 daily active players in the U.S. alone), participating in live events like the annual Pokémon Go Fest. The inaugural edition of Go Fest, held at Chicago’s Millennium Park in July 2017, was infamously terrible; since then, game developer Niantic has found a way to make the weekend-long activity more fun and accessible to all. Take this past weekend’s, which celebrated Pokémon Go’s fifth anniversary: I spent a ton of time getting sunburned in the name of catching special, rare Pokémon, and I had a blast doing it. And I don’t care who judges me for it!

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There are many more of these rare Pokémon to find in the game these days, which helps keep it interesting. More regular updates help freshen things up, whether it’s something as simple as a new set of missions to complete by performing certain tasks or the introduction of a few new monsters to search for. Niantic even recently increased the game’s level cap, which means that players who maxed out long ago, when the obsession was at its height, now have a reason to come back and play for more experience points. You can trade Pokémon and items with friends, or battle alongside (and against) them; these are key changes to make the game feel that much more like a full-fledged Pokémon game, to the delight of the millions of franchise fans who are among the most committed to the mobile game. Also: There are lots of stylish outfits inspired by real-world Uniqlo and Original Stitch collaborations, so your avatar can look hot af now.

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It’s true that Pokémon Go is all about the grind, which, to some people, may seem insipid and repetitive. But it really does reward you for walking around and doing the same thing over and over—you truly do see those places you find Pokémon differently, less as buildings to pass by or parks to jog through, and more as meaningful habitats for your fave ’mons. It’s one thing to spend a few months doing the routine of looking for and catching Pokémon;, to do it for five years? It’s undeniably something special.

I’m a video game and Pokémon lover, so Pokémon Go was always something I was going to get into and stay into—even a half-decade later. But you don’t have to be either to find the game enjoyable these days, nor are they surefire guarantees that you’ll want to put up with some of its more annoying elements. Connection errors still exist, and some Pokémon are painfully hard to catch; if you dig into the subreddits, players have mounds of complaints about how the game is worse than ever (“Why are bug Pokémon appearing by the water?!” is a recent talking point). Yet they, like me and countless others, are still playing Pokémon Go on the regular. Even if the still-lingering pandemic means you can’t have a Hot Vax Summer, you can at least have a Hot Snorlax one.

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