This past weekend, mobile developer Niantic, known for Pokémon GO, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, and Ingress, hosted their annual Pokémon GO Fest as a remote event for the second year in a row. Previously held as a series of in-person events in various locations around the world, Pokémon GO Fest was made accessible to everyone with a mobile ticket starting last year as a response to the pandemic. Now, one year later, the event continued the same way… with some in-person activity added to certain locations. Let's take a look at this event and determine if it was worth the hype.
What worked in this Pokémon GO event
- Saturday: The first day of the event was focused on wild spawns, essentially making it a Shiny hunt. There was a good deal of new species released in their Shiny forms, including Audino, Whismur, Throh, Sawk, and more. This aspect of GO Fest is, to me, the most fun.
- Meloetta's Theme: The entire event was themed around Meloetta, with Pikachu, Zigzagoon, Ponyta, Gardevoir, and Flygon receiving Melotta hats. This, paired with the Rock Star and Pop Star Pikachus that could be earned through Special Research, made for a consistent and fun music-themed event. For those who play with sound on, there was also event-exclusive music. Meloetta itself also had a special catch screen where it was shown on stage at a performance that the Special Research build toward. And speaking of research…
- Special Research tracks: Research with different tracks was introduced into Pokémon GO in the last event, which was clearly done so we'd be used to it by the time GO Fest 2021 came along. I thought this was a great idea, but it must be said that this only worked because of the photobombs. Essentially, once the research was completed, players would have either a Pop Star or Rock Star Pikachu and either a costumed Gardevoir or costumed Flygon. However, Saturday's photobombs earned two more Pikachu encounters and Sunday's yielded two either Flygon or Gardevoir. Your photobombs matched your choice. Done correctly, you'd end GO Fest 2021 with three Pikachu and three Gardevoir or Flygon. Essentially, Niantic was giving you enough to swap with a friend so you could trade the ones you don't have. If we just got one, this wouldn't work.
- Raids in general: Raiding is a staple of Pokémon GO and GO Fest 2021 did right by the community for the most part. Tier One raids were great with a huge Deino feature and costumed Ponyta and Gardevoir available. Day Two became mostly about Tier Five, and featuring all Legendaries was an interesting idea that was applied mostly well. The quicker raid hatches and run times on Sunday contributed to more choices for players, which worked out well.
- Effects: The musical notes on Sunday were awesome, though they did make Chimecho and Tynamo blend into the screen a bit due to their size and color. Then, Sunday saw the introduction of Hoopa's rings in the sky, which is one of the coolest visual effects the gamer has done.
- Narrative: Unlike Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, Pokémon GO doesn't really have an ongoing narrative. The Special Research questlines are largely meant to stand alone. This time, though, Sunday's raids and a two-page Special Research built toward the release of Hoopa in an upcoming event.
- Bonuses: The decreased egg distance and XP bonuses, especially on Sunday, made this for an incredibly fruitful event. I was able to earn well over four million XP between the two days, and would've been able to earn far more if I raided with more intensity on Sunday.
- In-person activity done right: In Chicago, there was a huge, physical raid egg that featured graphics of the Pokémon that trainers could raid at the time. It was a terrific idea that was well-played by Niantic. They walked the fine line of "cool enough to excite those who were there" and "no new in-game content to make people who couldn't be there feel like they were missing out." Perfectly done.
- 1KM & Hatch an Egg: Niantic received heat on social media for Special Research tasks asking players to walk 1KM and hatch an egg. Personally, I found the insinuation that Niantic was being unfair to be unfair itself. On the morning of the event, I racked up 1KM without even trying by making coffee, walking to my computer, and doing a few errands around the house. It took even less effort with hatching an Egg due to the distance. Pokémon GO is a walking game and we are starting to see Niantic adjusting it back to normal… but this is a very small step, which I personally thought was more than fair.
What didn't work in this Pokémon GO event
- Sunday's Shiny rate: Here's where we get into iffy territory. This is an interesting topic, because one could argue that Saturday was primarily about wild hunting and Sunday was primarily about raids. Fine. However, last year you could suggest the same thing but swap out "raids" for "Team GO Rocket." What Niantic didn't do last year that they did this year was change the Shiny rate. Saturday spawns had the higher Shiny rate one expects from GO Fests and Safari Zones, while Sunday was explicitly announced by Niantic to have a lower rate. This felt incredibly stingy. The fact of the matter is, there are players with different goals and playing styles in Pokémon GO. Many longtime players have raided all of the available Legendaries in the past many, many times over again. As there was no new content added, a portion of the playerbase was left with a day that was markedly less interesting than Saturday. There was even discussion amongst the game's community about this on social media. The great thing about Pokémon GO from my perspective is that there is generally a lot to do. It felt weird, then, that Niantic would limit the second day in that way, pulling back a feature which for many players defines the event. While I don't think this is a fatal flaw, as the bonuses made it both full and well-worth playing, I'm left wondering why there was a need to pull back on the event's features at all.
- No distance trading: This was bizarre. Niantic is pushing the idea of the game returning to normal, which I completely get… but this is a relatively new feature compared to the pandemic bonuses. I wouldn't even consider this a pandemic bonuses, as it was introduced months and months after and never listed among them. Why, then, would this have been introduced at all if it wasn't going to be utilized for the biggest event in the game's year?
- No surprises: In 2020, Pokémon GO players found out about new Shinies, new Shadows, and more by experiencing the event. (Or, you know, looking for spoilers online.) This time, with the exception of the Hoopa-theme which didn't even lead to a new Hoopa catch, every bit of the event had been announced in the initial blog posts. There were no surprises, large or small, that led to actual new content. Now, I don't mean that Hoopa should've been catchable. One Mythical during the show is enough. However, something minor like not telling us that Sawk and Throh could be Shiny would be a great surprise. It's weird, too, because Niantic has previously used surprises to build up hype for things that are… well, not at all exciting. Remember that time that for Halloween 2020, they introduced Shiny Origin Forme Giratina in the first half of the month and then hyped up the second half as a huge reveal? A reveal that seemed to be even more exciting than the long-awaited Giratina release? Then, it was just Darkrai again after a previous feature. No new move. No nothing. So Niantic hypes up that as a huge surprise, but then totally spills the beans about GO Fest in a huge info dump, leaving nothing up for players to discover. This company is normally critiqued for not giving enough information, and fairly so… but this is the one time that holding back a bit could've led to more fun.
Overall, Pokémon GO Fest 2021 was well worth the price of the ticket many times over. Even with the Saturday/Sunday issue, the event was consistently fun and rewarding for players new and veteran alike.