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.
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;
- 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).
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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’?
- Platform – Between iOS and Android they command nearly 90% of the mobile market, the potential audience is huge, so this is not an issue!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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!