Somebody rubbed innovation on my Pokémon
As great of a franchise as it is, Pokémon barely strays from the mechanics it started with in 1996. There are tweaks, and they've added almost 500 more creatures since the first game, but ask yourself does the series feel more modern or nostalgic? While Geomon, at first glance, is just a mobile game trying to copy the monster-catching formula of Satoshi Tajiri's brain child, it's not quite an off-brand Ditto.
Geomon puts you in the shoes of a new Espercorp agent. Did you know there are actually tons of invisible creatures born of emotions that reflect the everyday happenings of the world all around us called espers? Well, there are. And thanks to Espercorp we now have the technology to not only locate these monsters but capture and control them. Nifty, huh?
There's a dragon in my living room and she shall be mine. I shall call her Cuddles.
To put it simply, Geomon's hook is that it uses GPS along with weather information to shift the gameplay. Certain physical locations have a higher chance of certain 'espers' showing up. If you fire up the game somewhere other than your house, you'll have a higher chance of finding different creatures. Your chances will also be affected by the time of day, phase of the moon, as well as weather conditions. In some ways, it injects the real time mechanic from Animal Crossing into Pokémon that rewards you for firing up the game throughout your day.
The goal of Geomon isn't really to 'become the very best', as you are not honing a team to ultimately take on your rival. You will train your espers, you will have battles, and they will gain experience points and levels. However, the main game is more mission-based. You will be asked to defeat a certain number of a specific monsters in battle, or you'll be asked to capture espers of a certain type. Like most quests, they are used to teach you the mechanics as well as give you goals and rewards. There are also online multiplayer duels you can compete in, but you have to play through the single player portion to hope to be able to have the levels you need to succeed in PvP. The quests give the game a focus that is necessary for gaming on a mobile device.
The espers you're capturing do largely follow the time-tested formula of animal plus element. These designs, however, are pretty amazing. Instead of pixelated sprites, these look hand-drawn and are alive with bold colors and dynamic poses. There are no "evolutions", so a large majority of the 157 different espers are all very unique from one another. These things are simply cooler looking than any other creatures found in this genre. The pre-set names might be a bit cornball, but you can call them whatever you want once you capture them.
I called my Buster, Dust Bunichu. Shut up, I think it's funny.
The gameplay often differs to Nintendo's franchise. First off, there are no truly random battles; you can see what you will be facing and how strong the enemy is before deciding to engage it. This alleviates the problems of having to fight a hundred common enemies in the search to capture one rare one. Since it lets you know how strong the opponent is, you don't have to waste time battling low-leveled trivial creatures if you're trying to gain experience. You also won't blindly run into a battle against a massively high-leveled creature of a type your main esper is weak against that you have no choice but to run away from.
The rock-dynamite-scissors (I use dynamite instead of paper... makes more sense) style of strengths and weaknesses is here, of course, but it's much simpler. Every type has exactly one weakness and one strength. So instead of a giant grid with fractions and multipliers you must memorize, there is a simple circle. Light defeats Shadow which defeats Mental which defeats Physical, and so on. Most espers are dual types, there are the few rare ones in which both types are the same, but by and large no one esper is specifically better than another. Having a three creature team that balances strengths and weaknesses is the best way to survive. When in battle you can see exactly what elements each creature has and you can even pull the type guide up at any time to remind yourself what exactly defeats Toxic (it's Fire).
The battles themselves are actually refreshing once you get beyond the training period. Instead of each ability having its own number of uses before it must be recharged, you have a pool of special ability tokens. You always start every battle with the maximum amount of these tokens. If you use an elemental attack it will use up one or more of these tokens. If these are used up, you will not be able to use your special moves, however your basic moves (think tackle) will replenish these tokens. In tougher battles it quickly becomes important to develop a strategy beyond just spamming your most powerful attack over and over.
Oh wow, it's like that drug trip I saw in that movie while I was on that drug trip.
Another nice touch is that all members of your party share experience whether they battle or not. This helps keep your team balanced, or allows a new weaker member of your team to gain levels without constantly having to switch them in and out of battles or waiting until you gain an experience-sharing item.
On top of this, you have status effects to worry about. Many special moves give status effects that can be either positive or negative. An esper can have five of these at a time, so it is completely possible that your creature can be suffering from five cases of poison at once. These do wear off in a few rounds and it is actually common to have both positive and negative effects active on a single creature at once. There are many dozens of these and learning how to master and counter them is often the difference between winning and losing important battles.
There are, however, negatives to Geomon. While I do find the music a little generic and the menu system a tad confusing to get around, most of my main negatives gravitate towards the common critiques of the free-to-play model. Yes, the game is completely free. This means that in order to survive it also has its own virtual currency that you can buy in order to unlock and upgrade certain features.
Your initial storage area for captured espers is not very large. You will gain more as you work your way through the game, but the temptation to buy more slots is very strong due to the addictive "gotta catch them all" nature of this genre. Every character has an ability tree and there is a way to reposition those points, if you pay to open that feature. Similarly, you will often be forced to wait an hour or two before more quests are unlocked ... unless you pay to expedite the process.
Again, you don't have to pay anything. You can have a lot of fun without using the virtual currency. I'm also not saying that games like this shouldn't exist. I know some people really enjoy these kinds of games. I am, however, not the biggest fan of this model and I know there are others who feel the same way. It is far from game-breaking, but it is something to be aware of if you are thinking about giving it a try.
And really, you should give it a try. First off, it's free. Second off, its creature designs are easy on the eyes. Third, its battle system is actually quite fun and quickly becomes quite deep. Fourth, it removes a lot of annoyances I have with other games of this genre. Lastly, if you're holding your breath for Nintendo to release their monster-capturing game on mobile devices ... I hope you aren't a fan of breathing.
Catching digital monsters on my iPhone? Geomon, I choose you.
This review is based on version 0.9.7 of Geomon, played on an iPhone 5.