This last weekend offered the world Pokémon GO Fest 2021. This year, the mobile game’s biggest annual event attempted a more outgoing vibe yet still managed to end everything on the dampest squib imaginable: a quest line entirely focused on Hoopa, that absolutely in no way included Hoopa.
The global event was split into two very distinct halves, with Saturday’s activities focused on pocket monster gathering and a half-baked, deeply disappointing story about gathering a performing band of Pokémon to put on a concert. A concert that never happens. But it was as nothing compared to the slow, miserable fart noise that Sunday’s raid emphasis delivered.
POGO creators Niantic appear to have really lost their way of late when it comes to writing event quest stories. As has been the case for the last five years, up pops the kindly-faced Professor Willow, over-enthusiastically espousing the latest mysteries uncovered by his research, and then you’re given some typically generic challenges to unlock each next step of the mini-story. These will likely be, “Catch 20 different species of Pokémon,” or, “Make three great throws,” or, “Defeat two Team GO Rocket grunts.” They have little or nothing to do with the story, but have you actively playing the game in order to unlock the next clutch of rewards, and — most importantly — specific Pokémon to catch.
It’s the last part that makes most quest chains worth playing. Saturday’s was pretty cute in this regard, having you pick between a Rock Pikachu or a Pop Pikachu, and then between various other monsters who you’d collect wearing a novelty one-off hat. Not a hat that in any sense had anything to do with “rock” or “pop” of course, but rather, for some reason, far more “marching band.”
You were told by Willow throughout that this was all leading up to a concert, and the day’s play was decorated with musical notation falling across the world like confetti. Previously POGO has had music-themed events, and they have indeed climaxed in a delightful musical number. I couldn’t wait to see what my rawk Pikachu, accompanied by Gardevoir and Galarian Ponyta, would deliver. The answer: a photobomb. That was literally it. They photobombed a snapshot the final stage of the quest requested. And then did it some more later, just to underline what a colossally small deal it was. After months of real-world musical numbers being released, how could they not even have a clip of Katy Perry’s Electric?
(I should add here that the game did deliver players a Meloetta at this point, which would have been a bigger deal if she’d been more than a 1600 2*, and the story had been about her.)
Maybe they were saving Sunday for a big finish, I wondered. It was set up to be pretty special: every single Legendary Pokémon the game has seen over its five years was to be available in raids, all at once. And yes, absolutely, thanks to the game’s (surprisingly) generous supply of remote raid passes (there were 11 available free), and a small outlay of coins gathered from gyms on some more, I was able to fill in all my gaps and collect every Legendary I’d missed so far. Including a shiny Altered Forme Giratina. (All this is despite POGO’s revolting catch rate-fixing bullshit.) But as for the story? Well, hopes were raised pretty damned high.
The day before the event started, POGO’s current loading screen subtly changed. Floating above the idyllic evening ship scene appeared Hoopa, star of one of my son’s favourite Pokémon movies, Pokémon the Movie: Hoopa and the Clash of Ages. Hoopa has never appeared in the mobile game, despite showing up in the post-Gen VI mainline games. So he was coming, right?!
Then Willow’s storyline made it clear. These magical rings were showing up in the sky, and legendaries were pouring through! That’s Hoopa’s whole thing. He then name checks him. “Look here — it’s the Mythical Pokémon Hoopa.” In fact, he starts setting players up to catch the form-switching mythical beastie.
“That explains why those Legendary Pokémon appeared the way they did. Hoopa uses those rings to move things from place to place — including itself. It won’t be easy to catch.
“Based on reports from the team leaders, it doesn’t seem like Hoopa is in the area at the moment. Let’s use this time to prepare to catch it, hm?
“For now, why don’t you go challenge some raids with other Trainers and catch some Pokémon? You’ll need your skills at their sharpest to catch Hoopa. Now, let’s GO!”
Yay, we’re going to catch it! He said so!
It was only a two-part quest, which seemed odd, but one half of that was winning five raids, so it’d take a bit more time than usual. As it happened I had the special joy of a GO Fester, trapped at home as I was by the UK’s Covid-19 contact tracing system, my plans to take the boy to the nearest city to take part in the event properly cruelly dashed. So I used remote raid passes and the magic of the Poke Genie app to do this.
And once it was complete? The big finish? The end to Pokémon GO Fest 2021? I swear to God there wasn’t one. You got your 10,000 XP, three Silver Pinap Berries and 3,000 Stardust, and Willow didn’t even say a word. It just stopped. Pllrrlllbbtthhhbbthhhh.
Who does that? Who sets up the big annual event, changes the loading screen with this tease, then literally tells you you’re on a quest to catch a fan-favourite Pokémon that’s never been in the game before, and then just doesn’t? What is Niantic’s thing with creating such anticlimax?
I’m not really that bothered. I thought it was stupid, and I was disappointed that all the effort to finish the quests despite my government-imposed house arrest led to nothing interesting. But I’m also 43, and I can cope when I don’t get a cartoon drawing appear on my phone screen. But my six-year-old? That’s a whole other deal.
I’m more frustrated by the simply bad narrative design, and minimal effort. This is a game that rakes in billions for Niantic, with a player-base so enormous that bonus global tasks on Saturday like “catch 20,000,000 Pokémon” were being finished in mere minutes. They charged money to take part in GO Fest, albeit less this year than previously. They couldn’t throw together an animation of the Pokémon putting on a little concert?! They couldn’t sodding well get Hoopa ready and in the game despite literally telling players they were going to catch it? (Yes, those who pore over websites that analyse upcoming events and report what prizes will be available would have already known — they are not most people.)
It just feels so half-assed, so cobbled together. They put some weird hats on a handful of Pokémon, and let previously established Legendaries appear in raids. The promise of shiny hauls didn’t come through either, at least in my experience. I caught at least 400 Pokémon over the weekend, and got a grand total of two. That’s way fewer than normal!
Niantic could deliver so much more if they wanted to. Instead it feels so miserly, almost to the point of contemptuous. Sure, they have to balance not just throwing everything at players at once, to the point that it breaks the appeal of continuing to play. But come on, something special would have been nice, beyond Pikachu wearing yet another bloody hat.