Lots of people have been praising Nintendo about the revolutionary and game-changing nature of Pokemon Go. People are making friends, getting active, and being mugged all in the name of catching and obtaining Pokemon! While many are aware Pokemon has been around for a long time, they may not realize that Nintendo actually tried to spark this exact phenomenon a couple times in the past with similar (and sometimes superior) products...
Pokemon Pikachu (1998)
The grand-dad of Pokemon walkers. Pokemon Pikachu came around the same time the Tamagotchi craze was still in effect in America. Nintendo, wanting to cash in, released a Pikachu specific version with a bit more functionality than the typical Tamagotchi. Players would put Pikachu around their belt (or on top of a washing machine as I did) and every 20 steps they took they would be awarded Watts.
Players could then take those Watts and give them to Pikachu. Pikachu would start off hating you or being indifferent but then as it would receive more Watts, be fed, etc... it would become much more friendly. The more you played the more Pikachu could do, but that was about it. There was a slot machine feature that you could use to gamble for more Watts but that's about as entertaining as it got.
Pokemon Pikachu 2 GS
One year later, the Pokemon Pikachu gets a massive facelift. Pokemon Pikachu 2 GS (Gold/Silver) was a shiny new accessory better in every way compared to its successor. It was in color, got rid of the responsibility of caring for it, and was compatible with Pokemon Gold and Silver. Players could now use Watts to receive actual in-game items for use in game or to put in the player's room.
While the idea was great...man Nintendo was asking a lot of kids at the time! It took 999 steps to receive 1 Rare Candy that instantly leveled up your Pokemon! Not a huge ask if you're carrying it around all day...but it's not like these kids were able to use them in school!
The Pokewalker (2009)
Packaged with the DS re-release of Pokemon Gold and Silver (named HeartGold and SoulSilver), the Pokewalker was revolutionary for its time. It allowed you to take a Pokemon from your game, and upload it directly to your Pokewalker. From there the player was encouraged to "go on a walk" and would be able to do some pretty cool stuff like...
- Battle and capture Pokemon you could bring back to your game
- Raise your Pokemon's experience and level via walking
- Link up with other players and receive items
- Find items via minigames on your walk
Essentially the Pokewalker was the Magnum Opus of 10 years of development in this technology. It should be the Gold standard that Pokemon Go should wish to achieve in the future...
Ways Pokemon Go Is Better...And Worse
As cool as some of these things were back in their day, let's face facts...they were nerdy. Sure it's cool when you're at a convention strutting around with a miniature Pokeball strapped to your belt, but conventions weren't much of a widespread thing as they are now, and as geeky as I was I damn sure wasn't wearing that thing to the mall! Even if I was it was highly unlikely that I had another friend or stranger who was doing the same.
Now we have smartphones that may or may not have Pokemon on them and the world is none the wiser. This, I think, has been the key to Pokemon Go's success. The trick wasn't to make something we would want to carry around, but rather develop for something we already carry around. Even in 2009 this technology wasn't feasible in the smartphone world so I can understand the delay, but it's safe to say without smart phones this phenomenon would have never happened.
That said, there could be some things added from past incarnations to improve Pokemon Go. Battling a wild Pokemon, even in the rudimentary style the game allows would definitely raise the stakes for me personally and give me a greater sense of accomplishment. I want that feeling of anxiety where catching a Pokemon involves more than throwing enough Pokeballs and you risk missing out on catching because you accidentally hurt them too much!
Additionally, I really think Pokemon Go is missing the boat in not letting me connect with my friends in person or otherwise. A lot of chatter about the game has revolved around it's social aspect, and if Niantic is smart, they'll work to increase that as much as possible.
Overall I do think this app is a good "experience". Comparing it to past incarnations I can't really call it a "game", but it's getting there. With a few tweaks it will be, and possibly will be the greatest "Pokewalker" yet.