It may not surprise you that the mobile game I’ve played for the longest stretch of time has been Pokemon GO, which I’ve stuck with over the course of the past year, hence my continuing to write about it every week. But the second longest? That would not be Clash of Clans or Candy Crushor any of the other usual suspects, the answer is Marvel’s Contest of Champions.
It’s a mobile fighting game based on a sprawling roster of Marvel heroes. You move around a board game-like map fighting AI enemies, and then do challenging quests and large-scale PvP tactical fights with your clan against other clans. It’s the only game I play regularly with some of my college friends, as sitting down to all play something on Xbox or PlayStation these days with everyone’s busy lives is too tall an order.
But it isn’t my love for Marvel or even my friends playing that’s gotten me to stick with Contest of Champions for months on end now. It’s the actual gameplay, and this is one area where I think Pokémon GO can learn a lot from a fellow mobile title.
What impresses me the most about Contest of Championsis how well it’s managed to translate the complex controls of most fighting games into an ultra-streamlined mobile format, but still manages to feel challenging and like your skill can grow significantly over time. Not only that, but it’s strategic, as each hero has their own “kit” of special moves and buffs and debuffs in addition to the actual mechanics of fighting you need to learn.
There may not be air dodges and intricate combos, but dodging, blocking, parrying, light and heavy strikes and specials all play into combat, in addition to the unique perks of each character.
The point I’m making is that Contest of Champions has taken the usually very complex control scheme of fighting games and slimmed it down expertly for a mobile experience, turning into something that suits its own purposes.
Pokémon GO has done a terrible job of doing the same thing, and that needs to change. GO’s battle system is now the most pressing problem holding the game back. The one aspect of the game that has been rotten from the start and really has not changed much at all since launch.
The handheld Pokémon games are famous for their turn-based, menu-based battle system that uses a ton of moves in addition to different special moves that have status effects. There’s more complexity in the stat system as well, as you try to train and cultivate the most powerful monsters you have. The handheld games are complex but accessible, and the resulting system is a lot of fun.
GO didn’t just reduce the handheld battling system to its base elements, it atomized it. There not even a hint of complexity with the current battle system. You tap until you build a special move, then hold it down to unleash it, and sometimes you can dodge enemy attacks until lag makes that impossible. That’s it. The system in place is one almost purely based on power level and fatigue alone.
Do you have the amount of potions and revives needed to slam through a completely full gym of powerful Pokémon? Do you have the sheer amount of numbers needed so that 8-15 players can furiously tap their way past a raid boss? That’s ultimately what it comes down to, and the fact remains that the actual act of battling Pokémon in GO is simply not fun for most people.
This is not a call to return to turn-based battling. I think that ship has sailed, as it’s likely The Pokémon Company has not allowed that system to be used as they fear it might cannibalize the handheld games (get over it, seriously), but more pressingly, turn-based battling would clearly not work very well in a raid system that requires everyone to all wail on the boss at the same time during a short five minute window.
While I’m also not suggesting that GO copy the Contest of Champions fighting system exactly, giving every Pokémon its own move set and specials like a super-sized version of Pokken Tournament, I am saying that some serious work needs to be done to make battling more fun, and that probably means making it more complex than what we’re seeing now.
I would…not actually be opposed to some sort of “live fight” system that had you playing GO like a fighting game to a certain extent. Again, nothing quite as involved as MCOC, but something that would require actual skill to master, in addition to taking into account the power level of your Pokémon (No Pidgey is going to take down a Mewtwo, no matter how much you dodge and weave).
Or the game can just expand on its current system rather than doing a total revamp (though this is not my ideal scenario). The next logical step I can see would be introducing status effects into the game, as that’s been such a huge part of the handhelds for so long, it’s bizarre you can’t paralyze, confuse or poison your enemies, or raise or lower attack and defense. It’s all just button mashing with a cursory amount of dodging and some basic type matching.
Something has to change. The current battling system is so dull that it’s easy to barely even care about legendaries because A) fighting them is the same old experience as fighting anything else, they just hit harder and B) usingthem is also the same experience, and again, they just hit harder and look cool. When MCOC release a new hero, everyone scrambles to try and get it as soon as they can and to figure out its new kit to see how it can be used strategically in the game.
But now in GO we’re about to see the release of Mewtwo who will…what, exactly? Be very hard to catch and take down other raid bosses 10% faster than other Pokémon? That is so, so boring.
The entire battle system needs a top-to-bottom rework in my opinion, but if that can’t happen, it needs to expand in scope dramatically and pull in more elements from the handheld games. While I like almost everything about Pokémon GO, and have for the past year, the battle system has been the one constant that has never felt right, and the effect is only worsening in time.