Pokemon Go just released their much anticipated update which includes the new buddy system. It allows players to select their favorite Pokemon to serve as their companion when they go on walks. This takes the walking mechanic used for hatching eggs and applies it to the progression of a selected Pokemon. This is a boon for players like myself who wanted to simply focus on spoiling their starter with all their attention. I believe it’ll help to reinvigorate the player base since now players get to really connect with their Pokemon in a direct way. The elegant design of this system is that it uses the most socially relevant mechanic of the game, walking, and focuses it on fixing the problem of catching or hatching your favorite Pokemon only to be immediately prevented from training it due to its rarity.
(My starting Pokemon Fuego and I finally starting our journey together in Pokemon Go)
When I first installed Pokemon Go I only wanted one thing ; I wanted to train my starting Charmander, Fuego, up to the Charizard I had always dreamed of having ever since I was a kid and saw him in all his glory on a foil card. However, even though Charmander is a generally common Pokemon his geolocation spawn points were difficult to reach, mainly desertous hiking trails, often requiring a concerted effort to go to compared to most other Pokemon which I could encounter on a casual walk.
(An original Charizard foil card from the Pokemon card game)
Many of my friends resorted to using third party Pokemon tracking websites to actually hunt down their Pokemon of choice, but I didn’t believe that a game should require add-ons to be playable. Thus I remained with the natural experience of looking for Charmanders on the walks I would take around my city. I saved all my razz berries for the little fire lizards of my dreams and patiently searched for them. In my time playing since the game was released back in July I encountered 3 and caught 3, netting me a cool 11 Charmander Candies with 25 needed to evolve Fuego to Charmeleon, the midpoint to the Charizard I longed for him to become. It was disheartening to say the least, and although I enjoyed the rest of the game for the social experience it provided my friends and I, going on walks together, I realized that I really only wanted one Pokemon and if I couldn’t attain him without extraordinary effort I had little reason to keep playing.
(Poke Radar, one of the many websites and apps that have sprouted up to help players find Pokemon much to Nintendo and Niantic’s dismay)
With the new buddy system I immediately saw the light at the end of the tunnel, it didn’t matter if I had to walk 100 kilometers to train my Charmander up to his ultimate evolution, the point was that there was a concrete way in which I could. The truth of Pokemon Go is that it was fated to fade out as a fad quickly as players began to disengage after finding out that just capturing their most beloved Pokemon meant little since the path to training them and powering them up was simply impractical.
(Fuego, with the new Buddy indicator in Pokemon Go)
When I received my starting Pokemon Fuego I wondered what I was supposed to do with him as he quickly became outclassed by every Pidgey and Rattata I encountered. I lamented in the fact that since it would be so much easier to just catch a much stronger Charmander than to try and powerup my little 12 combat power Fuego, that he would meet the fate of being transferred for candy. Still I took heart and kept him around out of sentimentality and it paid off. Hopefully Niantic will take notice of how this change helps to right the initial shortcomings of their game and continue to seek ways to improve upon it based on what will provide the players with their dream Pokemon experience. Next up on the list of improvements will surely be an improved and more transparent tracking system.
(The annoyingly abundant Pokemon Pidgey finally finds purpose; as an adorable buddy so small it can sit on your shoulder in Pokemon Go)
Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor. You can check out more of his content on Facebook, and Instagram.