Can Pokemon GO succeed where Invizimals failed?

Yesterday Nintendo; in collaboration with Niantec, announced their first mobile game ‘Pokemon GO’ and it looked wonderful.

The innovation here is that the game uses AR features to bring the world of Pokemon into our world, in what appears to be a mix between Pokemon and Geocache; if the game can meet half of what it promises it should be a cracker!

And yet it reminded me of an old game that not a lot of people played, on the ill-fated PSP, called ‘Invizimals’. For those of you who don’t know what that is (check out the video below); it was an AR “pokemon-like” released in 2009 alongside the PSP camera peripheral. It used the terrain, colours and even time of day to decide which monster you found, you could capture them with an AR trap (much like the Pokemon GO watch) and battle your friends.

The thing is though, ‘Invizimals’ was a commercial flop, the first sold only .78 million copies worldwide and despite numerous sequels and a cartoon show (a whole 26 episodes long) Sony couldn’t quite manufacture a global phenomenon. That was at the heart of ‘Invizimals’ ultimate failure, Sony wanted a ‘Pokemon’ style national obsession, it was created, from the ground up, with marketability at its core. Sony imagined cartoons, figures, collectibles, games and spin-offs; the whole shebang, and precisely none of that ever occurred.

But why?

Gamers are always lamenting the fact that creativity and innovation is what they want (possibly on their way to buying the new FIFA or COD) and here we had a game that was innovative (beyond its original premise) and that was pushing new technology that no-one had ever really seen before (and lost their minds to in a ‘Minecraft’ demo in 2015) and it worked pretty well…and no-one buys it.

The above is overly simplistic, there were a contributing factors that led to ‘Invizimals’ failure;

  1. Platform – by 2009 the PSP was all but dead, although there was a sizeable number sold, people playing the system was low (as seen in-game sales figures), it was a poor time to launch a new IP (even though it coincided with the release of the PSP Go).
  2. Simple battle system – one thing that people forget about ‘Pokemon’ is that it looks simple but it is one of the deepest games on the market. Even the first entries had a deep and rewarding battle system. ‘Invizimals’ forgot to incorporate a deep battle system and in its place a stamina conservation exercise.
  3. Forgettable monsters – ‘Pokemon’ had Pikachu and Charizard, ‘Invizimals’ had…Jetcrab?! Although the monsters all looked really good and were well animated, they had no personality, how are the kids meant to have a favourite when they’re all so boring?
  4. Restrictive mission structure – Rather than allowing the player to do anything they want ‘Invizimals’ told players to go and find a specific monster, then capture them and make them part of their team. It was woefully simplistic and restrictive; it was undoubtedly the weakest aspect of the game.
  5. The Technology –  As I said above, the AR worked pretty well with ‘Invizimals’ however when it wigged out, it wigged out big style! The trap card had to be kept in the middle of the screen during battles otherwise everything would fall apart, the camera was also rudimentary and would not react well to bright light or indeed low light! All-in-all it was a case of being too far ahead of the curve.

The question stands, can ‘Pokemon GO’ succeed in the same market, with the same premise as ‘Invizimals’?

  1. Platform – Between iOS and Android they command nearly 90% of the mobile market, the potential audience is huge, so this is not an issue!
  2. Simple battle system – Pokemon has one of the deepest and most satisfying battle system of any RPG, I’d go as far as saying the most recent iterations have the deepest mechanics of any game (if we consider trading, breeding etc). HOWEVER, does Mr & Mrs Candy Crush want this level of depth in their game? Do they want a simpler version? If Nintendo hold firm and deliver a system on par with their handheld systems this could be something special. This waits to be seen though.
  3. Memorable monsters – Hello?! Do you know games/anime/trading cards?! One word…Pikachu! Seriously though, my mum can name at least two Pokemon and she still calls all consoles a playstation.
  4. Restrictive mission structure – Like the battle system, if Nintendo can replicate the handheld versions then this is a non-issue. Going by the trailer though, it looks like you’ll be alerted to a Pokemon in your vicinity and if you choose you can go and catch it. Sounds awfully like ‘Invizimals’ if you ask me, and a little one-dimensional – but it may be saved by the geocache aspect; running through the countryside in search of a Caterpie sounds awesome (spelunking for geodude, not as much). The jury is out on this aspect!
  5. The Technology – AR is much more stable now than it was in 2009 and Nintendo has dabbled (and Niantec has made a name for themselves in this area), so this should be a solid use of the tech. However I cannot see Mr & Mrs Candy Crush going out and buying the Pokemon Go Plus Watch! If we look through the annuls of history the Pokewalker was taken away because it was unpopular (even though it was amazing!); if hardcore Pokemon fans didn’t take to it, I cannot see casual gamers wanting the watch – it’ll become niche.


I think if Nintendo can deliver a game with a battle system on par with handhelds and find a way of making the gameplay more interesting than run around looking for pokemon that happen to be close-by then they have a winner here. Pokemon’s popularity has never really waned, it’s an established franchise with memorable characters and a rabid fanbase all point to a simple “Yes, this will be a success”.

Question is though, will this game spell the end of traditional handheld consoles?

Are you interested in ‘Pokemon GO’?

Will you be buying the watch?

Can Nintendo make a game that is deep and rewarding as it is innovative for the mobile market?

Tell me your thoughts in the comment section below!


7 thoughts on “Can Pokemon GO succeed where Invizimals failed?

  1. Invizimals wasn’t a flop. It was a low budget game out of a Spanish studio that had never done anything of note prior to that. There were no attempts at global conquest, as the franchise itself never made it to Asia and only launched in North America a year after its EU date. Its surprise success spurred multiple entries (across PSP, PS Vita, PS3, and iOS/Android) and a TV show. Do you think Sony invests millions in unprofitable franchises?


    • Well for a franchise that spanned six games over 3 consoles and has sold a grand total of 1.26 million – it appears that yes they do.

      I don’t see how that figure quantifies success when there were over 80mill PSPs, 80+ mill PS3s and 3+ mill PS Vitas.

      I liked the game and the premise but it wasn’t successful. Not by any definition of the word.


      • Success doesn’t require one to be a cultural phenomenon. Invizimals can be successful and not have sold 10+ million units.

        While it doesn’t matter much, your figures are off. Sony reported over 2 million unit sales across the first five games outside of North America: That’s an average of 400k a title. Is that a scratch on Pokemon? No, but for a small studio out of Spain making low budget handheld games, that’s a success story.

        Pokemon Go will likely reach a tonne more people that Invizimals ever could, but that’s the power of brand awareness. You typically don’t see derivatives ever surpass the “originator,” but that doesn’t mean all the derivatives are failures.

        Liked by 1 person

      • 400k a title is a very small number for such a popular series of consoles! I’m not saying it was a failure in not becoming a cultural phenomenon, I’m saying it failed because it’s figures are tiny compared to install base.

        2mill (which is not a dramatic increase on my figures) over 3 consoles and over 150mill potential customers.

        You’ve literally got a 1 in a million chance of finding someone who bought it!


  2. satori says:

    Now that Pokemon Go has done its damage, it’s quite clear that the real answer is that Go has Pokemon behind it and that the hellish smartphone market with its f2p nonsense has almost completely replaced real gaming. Go is barely a game, it’s a vehicle to get people out of the house.

    (Pokemon aren’t inherently “memorable”, that’s your nostalgia talking.)


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