When the Pokemon Sun and Moon games first came out, I discussed in this very column how that generation could be integrated into Pokemon GO. While Niantic did release some Alolan pokemon about two years later in a way I’d hoped, features from that game haven’t exactly been incorporated into the big Season of Alola push. At least, not yet.
Some of the other ideas I had suggested in that article have been added, though in generic ways. Niantic’s not only skipped generations to do cross-promos with new Pokemon Games but often focuses on the regional variants, which is easier for it to handle. Niantic’s also added the Snapshot mode I wanted but without asking us to pay for it, plus it has incorporated QR Codes in a very simple way (adding friends). While nice for my ego, these don’t really address features Niantic could push out for the Season of Alola. So today, let’s go back to that article and also discuss a few features Niantic could do to bring that Alola-flavor to its Season of Alola.
Alola stones should probably be a thing. Orna has consumables that drastically change spawns for both the individual player and those around them, so I know Niantic could do something similar if it wanted to. I know I’d pay maybe $10-$20 for expansions that give us access to regions and new features, so it’s not like I’m suggesting unpaid work. Maybe it could simply add reusable incense that spawns only pokemon from that region, similar to mystery boxes on a far lower cooldown, even if it’s just for that player. Said incense could also ensure Kanto pokemon could evolve into their Alola variants, a sort of play on Pokemon that need lures to evolve.
But let’s be honest: Niantic won’t do that. Given the current negative press from the incense nerf and casual POGO communities noting Niantic’s push to sell data rather than make a quality game, Niantic will most likely add the easiest features it can to the game rather than innovate. Simply adding Alola Stones, like the Sinnoh and Unova Stones before, would get the job done, allowing players to evolve those forms while keeping with the mainline game traditions.
Snapping up more action
As you can probably tell from our various headers, I’m pretty big on the Snapshot Mode, both in the regular and in the AR+ modes. As we all know, it can get annoying to deal with someone in public trying to get just the right picture. But Alola brought us Poke Finder, an in-game minigame that gave us a Pokemon Snap vibe long before the New Snap was even announced. While the AR features Niantic usually adds are glut features few people make use of, the picture-taking features are already used across social media.
Niantic could support this with a series of quests that unlock new features. For example, our pokemon have various poses, but we can control only a few while taking pictures. Perhaps taking pictures of certain pokemon as part of a special research quest could unlock the option to have our pokemon use specific poses, or even introduce new ones.
If Niantic really wanted to add a new AR feature but not one that would be discarded like most of the other ones (yes, that mostly includes you, Smeargle), Niantic could add another type of Pokestop: Photo Stops, which could potentially unlock a single, special research-stats-like spawn once every few months. Much as in Sun and Moon, you could do Poke Finder only in certain areas. Using Wayfarer, players could send AR data of scenic spots restricted to tourism locations, as POGO and Niantic use OpenStreetMap features to at least manipulate spawns.
Neighborhoods could be off-limits, and tourism could be the sole category. Stops in these areas could be nominated after an AR scan, and after a certain period go through Niantic’s internal review system successfully, then be reviewed in Wayfarer. Contrary to the current problematic review system, people looking to abuse other players essentially need to work through three various systems: the OpenStreetMap review system, the AR+ Scanning system, and Wayfarer.
This would do a few things. First, cutting out areas labeled “neighborhood” should already be used more in the game, as both pokestops and gyms can be abused in these areas. They should require very specific requirements, but from my personal experience, they do not.
Second, we’ve mentioned how little the community supports giving Niantic AR data, but restricting the scans to touristy locations at least makes more sense to me. It feels significantly safer than giving Niantic access to my local streets and businesses, but it also means it’ll get lots of data for areas that already tend to have more security (and insurance).
Third, it reinforces the idea of exploration rather than continually hitting the same spots. Again, many POGO fans look at features and events knowing that what Niantic is really after is our GPS data to sell to businesses. However, not all locations are created equally, and many players I knew even before COVID stuck to the “best” local areas. Having another incentive to travel in POGO would be nice, but it’d be even nicer if there were a way to guarantee regional pokemon.
See, Niantic has a history of forgetting or disabling those regional pokemon. Tying spawns to specific, real-world, touristy locations could help ensure that travelers at least have a chance to get at least one local regional. As Gen 7 was the first time we got true regional pokemon in the main game, this would be the fourth way such a feature could help the game while adding that Alola feeling.
Finally, by forcing submissions to go through two other systems first, Wayfarer would be a bit easier to rely on, though even that’s going to be far from perfect, as “Niantic” and “transparent” sadly go together only if there’s a negative modifier in the sentence. Until AI gets better or Niantic pays professionals to do the work, it’ll rely on player volunteers who can game the system. An extra layer may slow things down and limit the scope, but with all the real-world missteps, it feels like Niantic could reel it in a bit before exposing our data.
Riding in style
One thing that often gets forgotten is that Pokemon aren’t just supposed to be used for fighting. They’re like the prehistoric beasts as appliances in The Flintstones: They’re boats, they’re planes, they’re explosives, they’re nurses… they do it all, and while we’ve always had Hidden Machines, Poke Ride visually helped reinforce the idea of pokemon working with people.
Some other AR games seem to understand that their maps aren’t perfect, and certain areas may be dangerous or restricted, offering workarounds like teleportation or allowing you to interact with far off locations for reduced effectiveness. Remote Raid Passes are good, but that was an opportunity for Niantic to use Poke Ride.
For example, Charizard was the Fly pokemon letting people travel to places they’ve already been. We have remote feeding of gym defender pokemon and golden razz berries (which was the first Gen 7 addition to the game), but why not allow players to “fly” to a gym they’re defending to use a Daily or Premium Raid Pass?
Ever seen a Pokestop that’s in a gated community you will never be able to hit? Perhaps Stoutland could “search” for items there by spinning it for you. Or maybe it’s a gym you can’t reach, so Machamp could run over and “shove” a pokemon in for you.
Now, some of these may sound too good. However, we know Niantic laid the groundwork for subscriptions as early as January 2021, so Niantic could add Ride Pokemon more freely to that. One-time purchases would be great, but Niantic seems to prefer consumables for renewable revenue, which (if Poffins or Mega Energy have proved anything) has not gone over well with the playerbase. Conversely, though, Ride Pokemon “tickets” could be fun rewards given out every once in awhile, allowing Niantic to play with features but severely limiting their use until the studio understands how and why players use them.
I mentioned Refresh as a possible capture method when I first discussed Alola features that could work in POGO, and that feels even more relevant now. The current catch method of throwing balls is the base of the game, but it’s fairly stale at this point. Perhaps some post-battle raid pokemon could be caught in a new way.
The original suggestion was this: Based on the pokemon’s terrain location (which the game detects) or even family (like Mewtwo), you could interact with the pokemon to “save” it. Maybe non-water types that were causing trouble as a Gym Boss in a Water terrain need to be dried off before they join your team, or a paralyzed pokemon in an Urban area needs a massage to convince it to join you. Balls could be replaced appropriate consumables to activate relevant interactions, like the Trainer Battle minigames. Maybe towels for that wet pokemon or massage oil for the paralyzed one. It’s a lot more fun than throwing curve balls all the time! And speaking of minigames…
Z ultimate attack
Z-moves feel particularly missing from the Season of Alola, especially with a touch-based game. The regular “tap the raid boss” to death method “works” but is rarely fun and honestly makes it easier for people with multiple accounts to raid on their own. I’m not saying raids need to change, but I think Z-moves could be added to make raids more interesting and possibly help bolster smaller groups of players.
In the original game, what you essentially have are default Z-moves and pokemon specific Z-moves. It’s a bit more involved than that, but POGO simplifies so much we’ll skip the specific mechanics. For the “default” Z, Niantic could simply add a “minigame” during battle that results in a larger attack that would make it worthwhile to perform said attack rather than continue to smash the attack button. Perhaps it would be initiated by dragging one of the charge move icons in a Z-like fashion, which would determine the damage type, which is vaguely reminiscent of how the ability gained its stats in the main games.
However, the Z-moves for specific pokemon could be harder to do, as many use stats POGO lacks. For example, Eevee’s Z-move boosts all stats by 2 levels, but raids don’t allow for moves to buff/debuff stats. Only weather and Megas can do this, which would mean Niantic would have to do some real work to incorporate it. Assuming Niantic is lazy, it could just not add the feature, as it’s already done.
But let’s pretend it wanted to. Stat-based Z-moves could be a way for players to mix up teams and make certain “useless” pokemon relevant. Currently, if I saw people using Eevee in a raid, I would assume they are extremely new, friendless, and/or clueless. If, however, Eevee’s Z-move gave big offense and defense boosts to all active raiding pokemon, it would at least seem interesting. If the move could be done multiple times, the player using Eevee would have to actively attack and dodge to get the most out of it, a playstyle that often feels punishing due to the inconsistency of mobile connections/devices.
This is why the former idea seems easier, especially as any re-imagining would also require Niantic to go through The Pokemon Company’s clearance process, and that would take time. Had Niantic done that, I would have thought it’d show off Z-moves sooner, but hey, maybe the former idea can still be pulled off.
An island of our own
ARG housing is already a thing, even if Niantic games don’t use them. Poke Pelago could combine with Secret Bases (another generational feature Niantic sadly skipped) for this. The islands in Gen 7 are primarily about consumables and wild pokemon. Niantic could tie them to another feature, especially features tied to the already bloated Buddy System.
Perhaps beans could be traded in for rare consumables, like XL candy, Mega Energy, or “rainbow beans” that simply award affection progress , which could complement or take off some pressure when selecting buddies, especially if walking any buddy helped to generate beans, regardless of the pokemon’s species or affection. This would help Niantic refocus buddies but without losing content, simply shifting it over to a feature that makes more sense building.
Islands could remain virtual but be decorated, perhaps even with a QR code. We know Pikmin Bloom allows other players to see avatars (though “Friends Only” should be an option), and from there, players could grant permission as to whether or not others could visit. Perhaps player islands could make use of QR scanning-like features to grant pokemon or quests, but with short-term QR codes or even something like authenticators so that players can’t simply trade codes online.
Conversely, Islands could act like small, mobile bases. Niantic’s already tried and failed to revamp the coin system, right? What if players could set up teams as a small “gym”? Friends could defeat them once a day for up to 10 coins, based on the level of the gym leader’s pokemon’s levels. Add in a single “pokestop” and this would allow rural players with large communities more ways to get quests and coins plus meet up in person.
It hits two out of three of Niantic’s stated goals for the game, and would certainly help rural players. It could also help curb antisocial behavior connected to gyms, increase player movement by casuals who won’t drive far to battle a gym but will drive to see a friend (so Niantic can sell that data too), and heck, maybe even be another advertisement opportunity. We have Pokestops and Gyms, but maybe certain businesses could offer “islands” so they don’t have to worry about raiders clogging their business.
Now, at this point, I doubt Niantic will do most of this. Maybe the Alola stones will be a thing. But the point is that, as usual, I’ve simply suggested features that other games, including Niantic, have executed in the past, that could be used to help set the tone for this season/Generation, but for whatever reasons (probably money) just haven’t happened, which is a shame. The Pokemon IP is quite rich and Gen 7 introduced concepts that feel both modern and have becomes series staples already, and it deserves better.