Pokémon Go celebrated its big annual Go Fest event over the weekend with entertaining gameplay and some great storytelling flourishes. In-game and in the real world, developer Niantic has dropped a number of teasing about the game’s future and seemed to be clever at avoiding the technical pitfalls of the past when millions of people logged on to play at the same time.
Go Fest 2021 was supposedly about Meloetta, the Mysterious Pokémon that supposedly inspires music. The first day of the event was spent putting together a group of Pokémon creatures through a Choose Your Own Adventure-style experience that ended up calling Meloetta to catch them.
The second day of the event, Sunday, was supposedly all about raids – although Niantic had a few other surprises in store. When the first day ended at 6 p.m. local time, a new mythical creature suddenly appeared on the Pokémon Go loading screen. Then, starting at 2 a.m., the game’s skybox suddenly turned into a galactic backdrop littered with mysterious animated portals.
In Chicago, home of the infamous Go-Fest and many more annual pre-pandemic gatherings, Niantic began live-streaming a giant and very real 15-meter egg in Maggie Daley Park. A countdown timer began when the egg that appeared to have come in through one of the game’s portals began to glow.
When it hatched a few hours later, a small number of players who had applied for free tickets to a nearby gathering were faced with animated raid battles projected from the egg and the arrival of mass raid battles the second day announced worldwide.
The story of the second day in the game then began the next morning with Pokémon Go’s good-natured professor Willow, who alerted players to the arrival of Hoopa, the next mythical creature, believed to be behind the appearance of the many legendary creatures of the day. Some of this had leaked, but it came as a complete surprise to most players.
On the first day of Go Fest, players had mastered global challenges to unlock the next stages in this storyline, in which Hoopa Break Time (revealing the shiny versions of the fossil creatures Cranidos and Shieldon) and space (creating the traditionally regional Heracross becomes available worldwide) and for the first time in its shiny form) before it presumably appears itself.
Go Fest 2021 wasn’t perfect – fans found Shiny Unown so infrequently that there was debate as to whether it was accidentally unavailable. Finding a Shiny Unown was certainly harder than last year, and no change to its chances of appearing was announced beforehand. And on day two, those without a reliable raiding crew reported that they were struggling to organize raids within the shorter time limits. It was necessary to have a physical group of players to raid with or a friend list of people willing to invite you to raids remotely.
Overall, however, the Go Fest 2021 was probably the niftiest ticket event the game has run, with the best parts of the past year returning alongside some smart additions. There were fewer rotating juggling habits and the challenges of collecting were easier than with Kanto Tour. The focus on just catching and mugging, meanwhile, has been less fiddly than last year’s Team Rocket gimmicks. Finally, the players I spoke to seemed delighted to have two days of entertainment with this year’s £ 5 discounted ticket – it will be interesting to see if it stays that way in the future.
Personally, I was impressed with the little flourishes of the event – the various story threads associated with the changes in the game, the elaborate Pikachu costume designs, and the ability for players to win spare parts to trade with friends, as well as the special music that was composed for the event. (99 percent of Pokémon Go fans play with the music off, but as an Easter egg, Meloetta is added as your buddy Pokémon to re-enable your rock / pop selections of the game’s main theme.) Finally – I completely missed that – one another new version of Pokémon Go with texts that will be played for some people after the first day is over. Fans recorded the track and it’s now available on YouTube. If Pokémon Go ever gets credits, it will be this song: