Pokémon Go pulled off its big annual Go Fest event at the weekend with enjoyable gameplay and some excellent storytelling flourishes. In-game and in the real world, developer Niantic dropped an array of teases for the game's future, and seemed to nimbly avoid the technical snafus seen in the past when millions of people have logged on to play simultaneously.
Go Fest 2021 was ostensibly about Meloetta, the Mythical Pokémon said to inspire music. The event's first day was spent putting together a band of Pokémon creatures via a Choose Your Own Adventure-style experience which summoned Meloetta to catch at the end.
Day two of the event, on Sunday, was supposedly just about raiding - though Niantic had some other surprises in store. As the first day wrapped up at 6pm local time, a new Mythical creature suddenly appeared on Pokémon Go's loading screen. Then, from 2am, the game's skybox suddenly changed to a galactic background, dotted by mysterious animated portals.
In Chicago, home of the infamous original Go Fest and many subsequent pre-pandemic annual meet-ups, Niantic began livestreaming an enormous and very real 50-foot egg in Maggie Daley Park. A countdown timer began, as the egg - apparently dropped in via one of the game's portals, began to glow.
When it hatched some hours later, a small number of players who had applied for free tickets to gather nearby were treated to animated raid battles projected from the egg, heralding the arrival of the second day's mass raid battles worldwide.
Day two's story in-game then kicked off the following morning with Pokémon Go's hunky Professor Willow alerting players to the arrival of Hoopa, the next Mythical creature, which was supposedly behind the appearance of the day's many Legendary creatures. Some of this had leaked, but for most players it came as a complete surprise.
Over Go Fest's first day, players had completed global challenges to unlock the next stages in this storyline, which will see Hoopa interrupt time (releasing the Shiny versions of fossil creatures Cranidos and Shieldon) and space (making the traditionally region-exclusive Heracross available globally and in its Shiny form for the first time), before presumably making an appearance itself.
Go Fest 2021 wasn't perfect - fans found Shiny Unown so rare there were discussions on whether it had been accidentally made unavailable. Finding a Shiny Unown was certainly tougher than last year, and no change to its chances of appearing had previously been announced. And on day two, those without a reliable raiding crew reported struggling with organising raids within the shorter time limits. Having a physical group of players to raid with, or a friendlist of people willing to invite you to raids remotely, felt necessary.
Overall, though, Go Fest 2021 was probably the most refined ticketed event the game has pulled off, with the best bits of last year returning alongside some smart additions. There were fewer rotating habits to juggle and collection challenges were more straightforward than Kanto Tour. The focus on simply catching and raiding, meanwhile, was less fiddly than last year's Team Rocket shenanigans. Finally, players I spoke with seemed delighted to get two days' worth of entertainment from this year's cut-price £5 ticket - it'll be interesting to see if that sticks around in future.
Personally, I was impressed with the small flourishes in the event - the various story threads it tied together with in-game changes, the elaborate Pikachu costume designs and ability for players to gain spares to trade with friends, as well as the special music composed for the event. (99 percent of Pokémon Go fans play with the music turned off, but as an Easter egg, adding Meloetta as your buddy Pokémon will re-enable your rock/pop choice of the game's main theme.) Finally - I completely missed this - another new version of the Pokémon Go with lyrics played after the conclusion of the first day for some people. Fans recorded the track, and it's now available on YouTube. If Pokémon Go ever gets an end credits, it'll be this song: