The Agent Reviews A Game… UPDATE: The NEW Pokèmon Go

Catching ’em all just got a bit more interesting.
Source: Business Insider

As of the writing of this, we are one week from celebrating the one-year anniversary of the release of Pokèmon Go. Personally, I hope to hang out at a HUGE meet-up in Nashua, NH while celebrating a friend’s birthday (provided I get the time off).

And just in time for the festivities, Niantic Labs and Nintendo have made some major changes to the game that – in my eyes, at any rate – are much needed and long overdue.

There are three major changes to this year-one update we need to concern ourselves with; the revamped gym battle system, the new raid battle system and some new items to improve gameplay.

The Pokèmon Gyms have been completely rebalanced to encourage a more competitive atmosphere and the changes are simple enough to follow. They are as follows:

  1. Gyms, in addition to their original functions, now also act as special Pokèstops that give additional bonuses if spun by someone of the same team controlling the gym.
  2. The max number of Pokèmon allowed at a gym has been reduced from ten to six.
  3. Pokèmon will defend the gym they are assigned to in the order they have been placed, not by order of CP Level.
  4. No gym may have more than one of the same kind of Pokèmon.
  5. Instead of training to level up a gym to assign more Pokèmon and battling to lower gym levels and remove Pokèmon, a motivation system has been introduced.
    • Frequent defeat will cause a Pokèmon to lose morale – temporarily lowering its CP level until it’s motivation reaches zero and it returns to the owner.
    • Motivation can be restored by feeding any berry to a Pokèmon, thus returning its CP up to its original point and allowing it to defend longer.
  6. When a Pokèmon is removed from a gym, it returns to its owner with a number of Pokècoins to be used in the shop based on the amount of time spent defending.

These changes make the gym battles so much more enjoyable. There’s more of a challenge and incentive to try to defend and maintain gyms, you can’t cheese people with a wall of Snorlaxes or Blisseys, fresh faces are more likely to appear in gyms, and gym defense rewards are applied automatically.

Gyms also serve as the site for the other new addition to the game; raid battles. What is a raid battle? Well, you remember that scene in the trailer where everyone in a major city gathers in the middle of the square to ROFL-stomp Mewtwo? Yeah, it’s like that.

Raid battles are group efforts of up to 20 players to take down a RIDICULOUSLY overpowered Pokèmon – up to and including legendaries – using the same battle mechanics as the gym battles. Should the group be successful, everyone involved is granted a number of Premier Balls (you know, those white Pokèballs you get in the other games for buying other balls in bulk) based on their individual performances. You then get the opportunity to use those Premier Balls to capture the raid boss (note that I said OPPORTUNITY; you can still fail to catch it as with any wild Pokèmon). I sadly didn’t get to join a group, but I did solo a lower level Croconaw that I was fortunate enough to catch with my second ball.

Finally, these raids can also net you new items. They include Golden Razz Berries (a more powerful version of the normal Razz Berry that also fully restores motivation), Rare Candy (used to level up ANY Pokèmon) and Fast and Charged TMs (used to change the fast and charged attacks of your Pokèmon).

So, what do I think of the changes? Well, like I said, these are all changes that the game desperately needed to add challenge and renewed interest in the game. It won’t result in the server-destroying frenzy we saw when the game first dropped, but it has clearly brought some players back to the fold and is catching some fresh eyes.

If I had to complain about anything, it’s that the shop still doesn’t have options to buy stronger Pokèballs beyond the standard model. That would have been the first thing on my list. All you would need to do is give an appropriate price hike for the boost in quality.

Still, you can believe that I’m playing harder than ever before now that this update dropped. I hope to see you out in the field on the anniversary.

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The Agent Reviews A (Mobile) Game: Pokémon Duel

Nintendo’s still grabbing for a slice of the mobile pie.
Source: PokéCommunity Daily

So, last week’s gaming discussion was some dark and heavy stuff.  POPULAR dark and heavy stuff if the site statistics are to be believed (thank you all), but dark and heavy none-the-less. So let’s do something I haven’t done in some time – give a proper review of a game. Only this time, there’s a twist.

If I’m being completely honest with myself, I’ve never really taken mobile gaming all that seriously. I just never felt that my smartphone had the means to match my PC or consoles in the level of complex gameplay that I tend to demand. But, I heard some buzz surrounding Pokémon‘s newest foray into mobile gaming – most jeering from some especially negative people about how Nintendo was trying to recover after Pokémon Go failed (which it OBVIOUSLY DIDN’T). So, I decided to download my copy of Pokémon Duel so see what all the fuss was about.

I figured out pretty quick that this game was, in essence, a jambalaya of old ideas mixed with some spice to freshen it up a bit. It involves collecting  Pokémon figures to build your team (similar to Pokémon Rumble), collecting cards to power them up during matches (taken from the Pokémon Trading Card Game), and battle involves spinning a disk to randomly select the actions of your Pokémon (ala the justly forgotten and much-maligned Pokémon Battling Coin Game).

But repurposing and reworking the old has always been Nintendo’s bread and butter. Hell, it’s part of their business philosophy that’s kept them going for so long. So, how do they make it work? By turning Pokémon from a tactical turn-based RPG to a strategic battlefield control simulation with RPG elements.

Every match has you square off against an opponent with a set of Pokémon figures and Plates (the aforementioned cards) with the goal of getting one of your figures into their goal point. This makes the game more focused on proper figure selection and placement rather than just smashing them together until one falls down. In fact, if you’re especially skilled, you can win a match without even getting into a battle once. And if your opponent can easily overpower in one-on-one battle, you can always surround an enemy figure with yours and force them off the field.

As for the RPG elements, victories will net you in-game cash, new figures/plates, and experience boosts to use on your Pokémon. Every time one levels up, you can extend a section of their battle disk increasing the chance of landing on attacks you want and reducing the likelihood of a miss. This level up mechanic, while functional, seems a bit too simple. That said, it’s absolutely necessary to reduce the likelihood that two players with the same Pokémon figure will play the exact same and create an asymmetrically balanced game.

If I have any major complaints, it’s that the lack of variety in maps was annoying. I would have liked to see boards with different branching paths and shapes that force the players to rethink on the fly with every random match. But no; we just get the same square layout with different colored floors.

Overall, I can see why those turned off by Pokémon Go might be drawn to Pokémon Duel. It addresses a lot of the complaints people had such as the inability to play with friends (which was the whole point of the original games) and the lack of focus on combat. While I’m still not sold on mobile games over my PC and consoles, this is one I’m going to keep handy to keep my mind sharp and help me unwind after a long night at work.

 

How To Get the Most Enjoyment Out Of Pokémon GO

Trainers can now live the dream.
Source: Game Rant

So, like every nerd in America that grew up with it and has been asking for it since the invention of augmented reality gaming, I freaked out when Pokémon GO finally went live in the U.S. In fact, I’m literally writing this after an hour long hike through my neighborhood to get a feel for the new world (thanks for contributing to my fitness regiment, by the way).

However, I’ve already started to see some complaints on the horizon; ones that aren’t entirely the fault of the game.

So, in an attempt to help future trainers and speaking as a veteran of Niantic Inc.’s last AR explore-a-thon – Ingress, here are some tips to keep you safe and happy on your new Pokémon adventure.

Tip #1: DON’T train and drive

Shame on you all; you aren’t even wearing seat belts.
Source: AlphaXXI @ DeviantArt

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it was a HUGE problem back in my Ingress days. People would hack and attack portals while behind the wheel and stare at their phones instead of watching the road. And I foresee similar problems here.

Fortunately, the way Pokémon GO incorporates your phone’s camera makes the most important aspects of being a Pokémon Master impossible to do from a car anyway. You need to be able to look around freely to see wild Pokémon and line up your throws (yes, you have to aim your Pokéballs in this game).

Still, that isn’t much consolation from people who ignore the next item on the list.

Tip #2: While you’re at it, don’t train and WALK

Now imagine if it really WAS a tanker truck.
Source: Mike-Dragon @ DeviantArt

I realize this may seem counter-intuitive to some, but let me explain.

There have been complaints of people staring intently at their phones while walking and not seeing the oncoming car as they cross the street BEFORE Pokémon GO showed up (thanks for that one, texting and social media). Now we ALREADY have reports of that happening with Pokémon GO.

My advice; make use of the game’s vibrate function to give a tactile alert when a wild Pokémon shows up. Or, better yet, invest in a half-way decent pair of earbuds and listen for the sound of them leaping out of the tall grass.

Speaking of things to invest in…

Tip #3: Get a power bank

No, not THAT kind of bank…
Source: pokemonbank.com

This is something everyone with a smartphone should have anyway for emergencies, but it’s nigh crucial to get the most out of Pokémon GO.

Like IngressPokémon GO uses your GPS to track where you are in relation to key in-game locations –  gyms and Pokéstops in this case. The problem is that your GPS is a MASSIVE power draw. That, combined with the power needed to run the game, ensured that my battery was half-dead by the time I finished my aforementioned morning hunt.

To that end, you should have a portable power bank handy to keep you in the game if you intend on any extended trips. To help you out, here’s a fine article on Digital Trends to aid you in shopping around. Personally, I’m fond of the EasyAcc solar power bank.

Tip #4: Don’t forget to take a break

The benefits of TM44.
Source: fishki.net

We gamers are used to being told to peel ourselves away from marathons of our favorite games to stave off the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle. But even a physically active game like Pokémon GO requires you to not over-do it.

While it’s good to get out and exercise (believe it or not, PokéFitness is a thing), It’s a good idea to take at least 2 minutes to catch your breath for every 10 minutes of moderate to strenuous work. Also, keep a bottle handy for water or a hydration pack if you’re CRAZY dedicated to your jog.

The Kalos Connection: French Culture in Pokémon X and Y

… And so it was done.
Source: Cheezburger.com

Lately, I’ve been playing a ton of Pokémon X when I’m not savagely working on projects for college. Honestly, I had fallen out with Pokémon after the second generation, but this new addition has successfully restored my enthusiasm in the series.

One of the fascinating themes of the new generation is its decision to leave the trappings of Japanese culture to explore that of northwestern Europe; specifically France. But how does it hold up? Is it an accurate depiction of French culture? Let’s see.

Geography and Landmarks

Take a few seconds to think of how much effort went into recreating half a country in a digital environment.
Source: Pokémon Database

One of the places where French influence is most prevalent in Pokémon X and Y is in the lay of the land. This is most clear when you overlay a map of our new setting, the Kalos region, over one of France.

The coastline of Northern France matches up almost perfectly with that of Kalos. What’s more, the mountains forming the eastern side of Kalos seems to be composed of the real life mountainous borders of Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland (indeed, you can find and speak with a character in-game that speaks only in German).

Continuing with the matchups on the map, the largest city in Kalos, Lumiose City, aligns perfectly with France’s capital Paris. Lumiose City’s main attraction is its brightly lit gym which bares an amazing resemblance to the Eiffel Tower. Even the name Lumiose City is a direct reference to Paris’ title as “the City of Light.”

Many people are quick to compare Geosenge Town to Stonehenge with its standing rocks, but this makes little sense as Stonehenge is in Wiltshire, England. It’s far more likely to be a reference to the Carnac Stones in Brittany, France. And yes, its location matches up on the Kalos map as well.

Culture

Chateaus, sidewalk cafés, and an Eiffel Tower. Yeah, I’m SO sure this is New York.
Source: GamesRadar

There are certain cultural elements that we all seem to connect to France naturally and it seems most of them can be found repeated throughout Kalos.

For example, France is one of the leading countries in the fashion industry. As such, one of the heavily touted features in Pokémon X and Y is the series of fashion boutiques and salons dotting Kalos that let you customize your appearance by purchasing new clothes and restyling your hair. Then you can get in costume to film ‘Trainer PR Videos’ to show off your style to other players online in a sort of digital fashion show.

Another recurring theme in Kalos is the appearance of hotels, cafés, and restaurants. The prevalence of these relates to France’s dominance in the tourism trade. After all, when you have huge numbers of people coming in and out of your country, you want them to have nice places to rest and entertain themselves.

Name and Word Etymology

Ladies and gentlemen, the sexiest genius alive.
Source: pokemonxy.com

Many terms and names in Pokémon X and Y are derived from French. For instance, one of the new gameplay features, Pokémon-amie, is a clear play on words of the French term ‘Mon Amie’ meaning ‘My friend.’ In the original Japanese, this feature was called Poké Parler; Parler being French for ‘To speak.’

Speaking of the original Japanese translation of the game, our new Pokémon expert proves quite interesting. Professor Sycamore was originally named Dr. Platane; platanes or plane trees being the French name given to sycamore trees.

Even some of the newly added Pokémon get in on the act. I could never hope to cover them all in one sitting, but we can cover a few like Trevenant who is a portmanteau of Trent, a fantasy race of tree-like creatures, and revenant, an undead ghost or zombie-like monster. The term revenant comes from the French revenir meaning ‘to return.’

Another wholly French Pokémon is Furfrou, who is essentially a poodle that can even be styled in-game. Its name is a pun on the term ‘frou-frou’ meant to describe something extremely fancy but has its origins as a french onomatopoeia for the sound of rustling fabric.

On reflection…

So why is it such a big deal that Pokémon X and Y draw so much from French culture? Because recognizing that is to see a person’s passion and fascination with an entire people and their way of life. Pokémon X and Y’s director Junichi Masuda is a huge fan of French culture and to see that come out in his game is to read a love letter to an entire country that seems to love his country in return.

It’s also a sign of increasing cultural awareness in these polarizing times. By showing a truthful and respectful depiction of another person’s culture, even in a world of fantasy, it shows a person’s understanding of them as well as a desire to share that understanding with others.

There is no way I could cover every connection to France in these games, so I encourage you to play the game and find them for yourself. You may be surprised at what gives you a sense of Déjà Vu.