Pokémon Go is quickly approaching its second birthday, and it's a very different game than it was at launch. I'm not saying it's yet made the giant leap characteristic of a Charmander blossoming into a Charizard—but hey, it's getting there.
Niantic rolled out the latest big update for the AR mobile game late last week and through the weekend. Pokémon Go trainers can become friends and send one another gifts (care packages stuffed with rare goodies like Ultra Balls and Max Potions). Friends can even trade Pokémon, the very same feature that's defined the series since Pokémon Red and Blue for the Game Boy. Sweet baby Arceus, finally. Just, uh, you can't trade online; you have to be sitting side-by-side with your pal. And you can't trade Legendary Pokémon until you've built up a rapport between you. Head-to-head battling isn't available yet, either. Sorry.
OK, Niantic still has some ways to go before Pokémon Go can be considered anywhere near the level of a mainline Pokémon game (maybe that's why the mobile developer is working so closely with Game Freak on Pokémon Let's Go for the Nintendo Switch: It understands Let's Go is the series' best bet at bridging the gap between Go and the base series). The addition of friends to Pokémon Go has nevertheless provided a real booster shot to the game alongside the Gym reconstruction that marked the game's first anniversary, and the more recent addition of Research quests. People who fell off the Pokémon Go hype train once the summer of 2016 cooled down are logging back in to find quite a different—and more polished—experience.
(Thanks for packing Gyms with Rattatas and Pidgeys, guys. Eh, I'm kidding. It's good to have fresh blood around; you get tired of battling the same Blissey-spamming jerks).
The thing I dig most about the Pokémon Go friend update is how it truly brings the game one step closer to becoming a Pokémon experience for the entire world. You secure gifts for your friends by spinning PokéStops, and when you send them along, your buddy receives a "postcard" with greetings from wherever. I already love sending gifts from popular Toronto landmarks, and I like getting a glimpse into my friends' stomping grounds when they kindly send something along. Sometimes I get to see a quaint church or a cool piece of artwork. Sometimes I get to see a major city landmark. Still waiting on seeing something worthy of the Shit PokéStops subreddit, though. I have faith I'll get there someday.
With Pokemon GO’s new gifting feature, I can dish out souvenirs to all y’all Scott Pilgrim fans out there. pic.twitter.com/CkyuVDp3SX— Nadia Oxford (@nadiaoxford) June 23, 2018
Another benefit to the latest update: The easy acquisition of valuable items makes the game much friendlier to people who live in rural areas. It's no longer necessary to depend on PokéStops or Gyms for item payouts (your friends' generosity might actually overload your bag sooner than later—invest in an upgrade, it's worth it). We still need an easy way to suggest PokéStop candidates in our own neighborhoods, but it's not a bad hold-over for now.
In fact, Niantic should do whatever's necessary to keep these large, interesting updates rolling out at a regular pace for Pokémon Go. Big news about the game is clearly healthy for its active user base. If it's not possible to let us submit potential PokéStop and Gym locations, then maybe the next large update should let us trade wirelessly. C'mon, Niantic—sitting next to your friend to trade Pokémon is so 2004.