Pokémon Go players booted up the mobile game today to find the world invaded by the franchise’s original baddies, Team Rocket. In addition to taking over Pokéstops and challenging trainers to fights, the dastardly villains have also disrupted the local ecology, changing the kinds of Pokémon that players are likely to find. The theming is great because, come on, who doesn’t love Team Rocket, but overall it’s a little too shallow to hold my attention for long.
After a brief preview earlier this week, Pokémon Go’s Team Rocket event began in earnest this afternoon. The biggest change is the appearance of Team Rocket grunts, who have claimed the game’s ubiquitous Pokéstops as their own. As such, these landmarks now provide scant resources to trainers looking for more items, and the only way to return them to normal is with a good, old-fashioned Pokémon battle.
These fights play out just like they do at a Gym or against another trainer, the real-time aspect necessitating frantic tapping and smart shield use to block super attacks. They can be pretty tough if you, like me, haven’t been training your Pokémon for the last few months. After losing, the Team Rocket trainers leave one of their Shadow Pokémon behind, giving players the opportunity to catch them. With a simple purification, which costs Stardust and Candy, these Pokémon are exorcised and become much stronger, a trait that carries over to future training and evolving. My short time hunting down Team Rocket didn’t yield any special Pokémon, just the usual collection of starters like Squirtle and Charmander, but it’s possible that this will change over time.
That said, invaded Pokéstops are currently pretty sparse. The closest thing my small city has to a downtown is populated by at least 30 stops, but only one or two at a time showed the telltale twitching and discoloration that indicates a Team Rocket takeover. Furthermore, Team Rocket leaves the Pokéstop once you defeat them, which means you’ll have to do a bit of traveling in order to farm their rewards. I stuck to driving around in my air-conditioned car (sorry Maddy) so as to avoid the California heat, but was still only able to hit three Pokéstops within an hour of playtime. I’m sure this process is sped up a bit by having a stronger team and better knowledge of your city’s Pokéstop layout, but the developers definitely make you work for those new badges.
Another side effect of Team Rocket’s presence is a disruption to the local Pokémon habitats. The arrival of the organization means that Pokémon typically associated with their crimes—Koffing, Ekans, Meowth, and the like—are now appearing in greater numbers. This extends to the Pokémon hatched from eggs and those that show up in raids as well. Finally, a series of new research tasks from Professor Willow encourages players to try out the new mechanics for some basic rewards.
Pokémon Go is an odd Psyduck. Its launch carried so much promise, and the excitement of traveling the real world for Pokémon keeps me coming back after all this time. The incremental updates Niantic has made over time have only improved and expanded what you can do in the game, but for some reason I don’t feel that same longing anymore, relegating the mobile game to something I do when I’m waiting in line or killing time before a movie. Team Rocket is cool and the developers have teased future surprises, but it’s just not enough to make Pokémon Go a regular part of my daily routine again.