I was checking my phone after my shower this morning when I saw it: A Team Valor gym at the local grocery store ripe for the picking. I could finally take my first Pokemon Go gym and complete many of my pressing objectives in one fell swoop.
I grabbed my bag and ran down the street toward my objective, and that's when I saw it—a woman leaning against the telephone pole in front of the empty grocery store with her phone. And sure enough, the gym was under attack. I could only watch helplessly as she quickly claimed Dan's Grocery for Team Instinct and left a 3192 CP Dragonite to defend her newly won territory.
It was an irritating setback, but also emblematic of just how far I've fallen into Pokemon Go over the past couple weeks. Earlier this month, my partner, who has played Pokemon Go more or less continuously since the beginning, announced that she was running out across the street to spin a PokeStop. Bored and wanting to get out of the house, I asked if she wanted to do a PokeWalk for old times' sake. She agreed, I updated my app for the first time in two years, and suddenly I was back in.
My return comes amid a renaissance for the two-year-old app. Pokemon Go Fest was held in Chicago over the weekend, attracting 21,000 fans who came to hunt monsters and acquire the elusive Celebi. Urban centers continue to bustle with gyms, raids, monsters, and trainers (though rural areas sadly continue to be left out of the fun).
The game itself has changed massively for the better since launch. It's now actually possible to hunt Pokemon rather than trying to puzzle out the formerly obtuse hint system, and item acquisition is much more balanced. The new friends list has me sending gifts back and forth on the regular, bringing in a steady stream of Pokeballs, eggs, and other items. And legendary monsters are now obtainable via raids.
The expanded Pokedex has also helped, as it makes for a much greater variety of monsters to hunt and catch. When I flipped on Pokemon Go after my big update, the first monster to pop up in my living room was Treecko—my favorite Hoenn starter. I captured it immediately and made it my buddy (though I've since shifted to Bayleef). A few days ago I evolved it into a Grovyle.
Pokemon Go has lately been encouraging me to step outside and enjoy the nice weather (it's thankfully not a hundred degrees here like in other cities). I moved recently, so it's been a nice opportunity to explore my new home and discover some of the local landmarks. Pokemon Go itself is a remarkably chill game, though I'll admit to burning with jealousy every time I pass a gym with a Shiny Charizard or an Articuno.
Unfortunately, if I want to get to the point where I can reasonably challenge gyms, I have a very long way to go. One reason I got out of Pokemon Go in the first instance was that grinding took forever. I have a handful of a powerful monsters now, but I'm going to have to capture 25 or more Bayleefs if I want a fully-evolved Meganium. That's a lot of work for one monster.
The reason is obvious: Niantic and The Pokemon Company want to keep engagement high. There always needs to be a carrot dangling for players to chase. Still, I can't help feeling a little left out right now, as seemingly every gym is loaded with impossibly strong monsters. At least I can occasionally plop my Bayleef in a friendly gym slot and earn some coins.
In any case, the past couple weeks have brought me back to Pokemon Go's launch, when it was so big that crowds were literally stampeding Central Park in the hunt for monsters. It's no longer quite the phenomenon that it was back in 2016, but anyone who thought that Pokemon Go was a fad has clearly been proven wrong many times over.
I was previously off the train because I was frustrated with the grind, found capturing monsters somewhat repetitive, and didn't feel that it compared to the greatness of the core series. But as of this summer, I think I'm back for good. Watch out, Team Instinct: Dan's Grocery will be mine soon enough.
Looking Ahead to the Rest of the Week
- Sonic Mania Plus (Switch, PC, PS4, Xbox One) [July 17]: Sonic Mania's expanded DLC launches Tuesday, bringing with it new characters from the 1993 arcade game, remixes, levels, and lots of fanservice-oriented extras. If you missed it last year, now is a great time to pick it up. Caty has some thoughts on Sonic Mania Plus here.
- Tempest 4000 (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Atari VCS) [July 17]: Legendary developer Jeff Minter returns with a brand-new Tempest, the equally legendary shoot 'em up series that first debuted back in 1981. This one feature 4K graphics and a thumpin' techno track, but it looks much the same as it did way back in the day. It'll be a treat for fans looking to return to the good old days of retro shoot 'em ups.
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Alfyn's Theme (Octopath Traveler)
When I put together my ranking of Octopath Traveler's characters, I put the apothecary Alfyn near the top. Not because he's especially remarkable as a fighter or a healer, but because he exudes a kindness that's nice to experience in this day and age.
I didn't realize it when crafting my list, but Alfyn also has one of the best themes in the game. It's soft and gentle, a bit like the apothecary himself. Alfyn's theme plays during important story points, and even though Alfyn means well, his intentions are sometimes twisted. The soft saxophone that plays during Alfyn's sadder interludes effectively calms things down and gives everyone a chance to reflect. Alfyn's theme is just one showcase in a lovely soundtrack.
Caty’s AltGame Corner
Earlier this year, the mobile game Florence captured my heart. Its interactions were minimal, but it made for an engaging bite-sized experience. A new game from developers Andrew Gleeson and Cecile Richard, made for the recent Blue Light Collective Game Jam, follows a similar approach, showing off the familiar mundanity of exploring Melbourne, Australia.
The game, called Touch Melbourne, is fleeting but leaves a lasting impression due to its cute art style and simplicity. In one vignette, you drag your subway pass to pay for a ride on a train; in another, you choose an emoji to send a friend. Before you know it, Touch Melbourne's over, but it's a nice way to spend some time if you're a fan of quick little gamified experiences. Touch Melbourne is downloadable for free on itch.io for PC and Mac.
This Week's News and Notes
- Prime Day is today and tomorrow, and we're covering it per our obligation, but we'd be remiss if we didn't point out that Amazon warehouse workers are currently striking across Europe. Amazon workers suffer from poor working conditions and long working hours, and Prime Day only serves to highlight their plight. Spare a thought for the strike and consider joining the boycott that has gained traction across social media.
- Happy birthday to the Famicom, which celebrated its 35th anniversary yesterday. Here's our tribute to Famicom from its 30th anniversary as well as our guide to the best NES games.
- I finished God of War over the weekend. I'll have some extended thoughts on Thursday, but I just want to express my appreciation for the way that God of War lets its ending breathe. So many games would insecurely cram in one last final boss battle, but God of War ends on a lovely and quite denouement and an interesting (if slightly groan-worthy) revelation. With a few caveats, God of War is definitely one of the best games of the year.
- Meanwhile, it's time for me to move on to my next game, and I've decided to go retro and get an important RPG off my backlog. I'll let you know what I think once I get far enough to have some concrete thoughts. I'm sure I'll talk about it on Axe of the Blood God.
- Jeremy Parish's History of RPGs series continues this week with this in-depth interview with Wizardry co-creator Robert Woodhead. Read and learn about the origin of RPGs on PLATO and beyond, and make sure to check out Part 1 as well.
- With Octopath Traveler now available, Nadia took it upon herself to rank all eight of the main characters. I'm not too far in myself, but I tend to agree with Nadia that H'aanit is awesome (even if her accent is a little overbearing).
- Nathan Fillion put together a 14-minute fan video in which he plays Nathan Drake, and now everyone is calling for him to play the hero in the Uncharted film. Meanwhile I'm over here like, "Reboot Firefly instead."
- An especially lazy summer continues to roll along, our completely insane politics aside. How are you passing the time? Are you picking up Octopath Traveler, delving into your backlog, and playing Fortnite Season 5? I'd love to know.
- Axe of the Blood God: We review Octopath Traveler and add Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines to our Top 25 RPG countdown. Subscription info here!