This year’s Pokémon Go Fest, taking place between July 17-18, had the unfortunate and difficult job of straddling the weird middle ground between the world getting back to “normal” following a year of global lockdowns caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Not to mention it had to be extra cautious as numbers begin to rise again. However, despite this unenviable task, it still managed to do what it often does best: bring people together.
It was also a strange Pokémon Go Fest for me. I had arranged to take part in the two-day event with a small group of friends. We were planning to travel to a larger city with more people playing — and more Pokéstops and Pokémon to catch. Then I got the dreaded ping from my country’s Covid-19 Track and Trace app, urging me to self-isolate…
I had taken part in the previous year’s Pokémon Go fest, where I had to stay home the entire time as my country was in a full lockdown, so the prospect of doing so again this year was a bit of a gut-punch to my excitement towards the festival. Especially as this year’s event happened to coincide with a heatwave and glorious sunshine.
But, even though there were live, in-person elements to this year’s Pokémon Go Fest, with people handing out goody bags in certain host city locations. Niantic cleverly and helpfully designed the entire event so that it could feasibly be played from home.
This year’s festival was a celebration of music centred around the rhythmic and mythical Pokémon Meloetta. The narrative of the event established that the player had to put together a band of Pokémon for a concert.
There were other rare Pokémon on offer for the event, too. These included a Pikachu wearing either a Popstar or Rockstar outfit, a Galarian Zigzagoon and Galarian Ponyta wearing a Meloetta hat, a Gardevoir or Flygon wearing a Meloetta hat, and finally a Pikachu wearing a Meloetta hat.
Players had to complete a series of research tasks to earn the opportunity to encounter the festival’s coveted top prize, but in a new element over last year’s festival, players could also make interactive choices to determine which other festival exclusive Pokémon they would encounter. I opted for Rockstar Pikachu, Galarian Ponyta, and Gardevoir.
I wouldn’t miss out on the other Pokémon though. The festival also provided the opportunity for players to catch multiple versions of the Pokémon they chose, encouraging them to trade with others to get the ones they didn’t choose in the research tasks. This was just one of many fun elements that encouraged human interaction of some kind. Not to mention working together.
Outside of the main research task and questline, the event had two distinct focuses. Day one brought back the rotating habitats from last year’s festival, with the Pokémon that were available to catch in the wild rotating on an hourly basis. However, this time there were also individual collection challenges requiring players to catch one of each Pokémon from each habitat to keep you interested.
Day two was all about raid battles. Every legendary Pokémon released in the game so far was available for players around the world to catch. This was actually the better day for me. I wound up coordinating with local Pokémon Go and friend groups to take part in raids and help each other catch legendaries we’d previously missed. The thrill of celebrating when a friend (or myself, of course) encountered a shiny legendary was unmatched.
This wouldn’t have been possible without the ”invite” feature on raids — which allows players near a raid to invite others on their friends list to take part, regardless of where they are geographically. This tool was added last year, partly due to the pandemic, but was also very buggy during last year’s Go Fest. The company clearly did some work on it for this year. It functioned pretty much flawlessly throughout the day.
Then, of course, there were the global challenges. Everyone participating in the festival had to contribute towards one massive goal. If they could achieve it, then bonuses were unlocked to give players extra experience, more stardust, or extra Pokémon candy. Which all add another fun aspect of teamwork.
Niantic also deserves a lot of credit for how this year’s Go Fest carefully considered players that might be playing from home, like I ended up doing. Not only did it make the festival more accessible by lowering the price, but the developer also provided any player playing from home the ways and means to fully participate.
Pokémon Go is really a resource-based game, after all. You need Pokéballs and berries and revives and potions to get the most out of it. Niantic deliberately made it so that every step of the way — every research task and challenge — rewarded you with plenty of every resource available. The company even gave away a whopping eleven remote raid passes on the second day for free.
Given that the game is designed to encourage players to part with their cash to keep up to date with their resources like incubators, Pokémon storage, item bag space, and raid passes, Niantic didn’t need to be quite so generous with what it gave out. But the fact is that I felt enabled play from home without worrying I would miss out just because I couldn’t go and spin a Pokestop to replenish my resources.
There were lots of neat little elements to this year’s festival that showed that Niantic really took lessons from last year’s festival , too. It was much more engaging and kept players hooked for the full weekend. That’s something last year’s festival failed to do, particularly on the second, Team Rocket focused day.
It also felt much more like a fully thought-out event. There were fun additional elements like the in-game music changing depending on which Pikachu you chose, and a unique cutscene for the Meloetta encounter. These small pieces of additional polish really helped to make the festival feel different to playing the game normally. Which in turn really helped to justify spending money on the technically free-to-play game.
There was even a tease of things to come with the mythical Pokémon Hoopa being added to the intro picture. The Pokémon’s mysterious rings appeared in the sky during the game as well. Niantic hasn’t really done a tease like this during a Go Fest before, and while some will be disappointed they couldn’t encounter Hoopa during the festival, it’s certainly a welcome one.
But it’s the community element that is Pokémon Go’s true strength. That’s never been truer than at this year’s festival. As the event began, and I looked out of the window of my home at the sun, it was hard not to be reminded of the brilliant “Summer of Pokémon Go” when the game first hit mobile phones in 2016, and yearn for it all over again.
However, by the end of the festival on Sunday, I was buzzing with adrenaline and excitement. My phone was literally buzzing with message after message on various social media platforms as friends I’d had for years and people I never knew existed until this weekend excitedly shared their achievements. I need not have yearned for that Summer in 2016, because this year’s Pokémon Go Fest brought back that childlike feeling in me.
I can’t wait to see what they do next year when (fingers crossed and knock on wood) we’re all allowed and safe to properly interact with each other in real life again.