To review "Pokemon Go" is to roam farmland for Mewtwos: It's pretty much pointless.
There's critic-proof, and then there's critic-proof. Sure, like any blockbuster property, Nintendo's augmented reality game was all but guaranteed to succeed in spite of whatever curmudgeonly attacks came its way. I mean, it's a free game involving Pokemon, a gallery of cute cartoon monsters that have turned almost everything they touch to yen for 20 years now. No amount of "get off my lawn" grunts could drown out that old familiar mandate: "Gotta catch 'em all."
But "Pokemon Go" is doing more than just spiking Nintendo's stock and setting records for app usage. It's doing so because the game's also seeding a nascent field of technology, and coaxing honest-to-god lifestyle change from the people who want to play in it. By geolocating its Pokemon, "Go" is luring its players into the real world, not letting them sink further into a virtual one. It's taking millions of players to new places, introducing them to new people. It's big bang and monoculture all rolled, furry and doe-eyed, into one.
How do I begin to review that? I suppose, if there is a way, it's by examining how long the game can maintain that hold on its players — which means examining whether its design can pick up the life-consuming slack when its novelty disappears.
And I don't think it can, because "Pokemon Go" just isn't a good game. It's an ocean of promise, but a shallow one.
Yes, it's a small thrill to photograph Jigglypuffs and Pikachu lurking in our world, from outside your morning coffee stop to atop the most sacred PokeStop landmarks. First comes the technological wow factor of just seeing through your phone the critters hanging out feet away, their shadows blotting the ground. Next, the one-upsmanship of sharing your most scenic catches on social media. (I was in New Orleans when I started playing, so enjoy this Venonat waiting for beignets at Cafe Du Monde.)
After you flick a few Pokeballs and those thrills subside, however, all "Pokemon Go" has to offer is a streamlined collect-a-thon and crude touch-screen fighting — and both succumb to an almost intolerable frequency of stutters and crashes.
Here's the ritual: You walk around, catching Pokemon as they pop up on your map and amassing Pokeballs and other materials as the PokeStops do, too. As you accumulate duplicate Rattatas, Zubats and others, you trade in the weaker ones, culling them in exchange for candy to evolve the stronger ones. As you level up and covet stronger and rarer Pokemon, you employ lures to attract them to PokeStops, incense to attract them to you, and raspberries to keep them from scampering away from your Pokeballs.
Having done this in both New Orleans and Auburn, I can say "Pokemon Go's" exploratory and social powers have their limits. Sure, the game will get you walking and talking, but with your face intermittently buried in your screen, squinting in the sun like some befuddled poacher.
The dreary prospect of playing "Pokemon Go" in an upstate New York winter raises another point: The game lives or dies by where you live. Rural and suburban areas simply lack the PokeStops and gyms to sustain an enticing amount of player progress. And that's to say nothing of areas that shouldn't be explored, nor players who shouldn't be exploring.
But that's fairly moot, because the game's just not that fun, either. There's nothing intrinsically rewarding about catching Pokemon or improving your collection besides whatever braggy or obsessive-compulsive tendencies you bring to the game. It's not the simple screen flick required to throw Pokeballs, and it's certainly not the gyms. An endgame if "Pokemon Go" has one, the gym battle arenas are like graphics showcase "Infinity Blade" with even less mechanical depth. It's just a mad dash of attacks and dodges.
It's also a buggy one. If the unrewarding progression arc doesn't put you off "Pokemon Go," its proneness to server crashes, GPS hiccups and screen freezes will.
Developer Niantic's improvement of "Pokemon Go" is inevitable, but so are future augmented reality games that improve upon it. Though they may lack the brand wallop of Pokemon, those games will heed the lessons of Niantic as much, if not more so than Niantic heeded the lessons of "Pokemon Go's" progenitor, "Ingress." Who knows? They may actually make those games fun to play.
For now, though, "Pokemon Go" is monopolizing the market — and the zeitgeist. And how do you review anything, especially a fleetingly fun free tech demo, that achieves that?