How Smeargle (Almost) Made Me Quit Pokemon Go
aka: Yes, people do still play Pokemon Go, you anti-nerd killjoy.
In late February of this year, Pokemon Go finally introduced one of the few Pokemon in the first four generations of the series that had not yet been released — Smeargle. While there were still other Pokemon that hadn’t been released in the game to this point, Smeargle’s omission was both peculiar and understandable, all at the same time. On one hand, most of the Pokemon that had featured slow releases in Pokemon Go had either been legendary/mythical Pokemon1Mewtwo, Lugia, Articuno, Mew, Celebi, Dialga, etc., had unique ways of evolving2Evolving via trade with an item, evolving when leveling up while knowing a certain move, evolving while in a certain location, or Feebas’ weird double evolution possibility., or were Spiritomb3The idea behind this — doing a series of tasks based around Spiritomb’s lore — was amazing. The actual quests themselves were tedious as all hell, as everything around Spiritomb revolves around the number 108.. On the other hand, Smeargle feel into a small subset of Pokemon whose entire gimmick in the game wasn’t covered in any way in Pokemon Go. The best parallel was Ditto, which uses the move Transform prior to changing into whatever Pokemon it’s facing.
Smeargle only learns one move in the main series games — Sketch. The move Sketch allows Smeargle to copy whatever move was last used on it and permanently learn that move to its moveset. This means that Smeargle can learn nearly any move in the entire game, save for the moves Chatter, Struggle4Even though Smeargle can’t learn Struggle via Sketch, it can use the move if it depletes the uses of all of its known moves, just like any other Pokemon., and Sketch itself. Considering the largest movepool in Pokemon Go prior to Smeargle’s release was Mew at 39 total moves, Smeargle certainly could have proven to be a challenge for Pokemon Go developer Niantic.
The way Niantic chose to implement Smeargle in the game was ingenious. In another recent update, Niantic introduced its AR camera feature. This feature allows you to take photos of Pokemon already in your inventory with those mons projected in the real world. This feature was already present when you encounter wild Pokemon5Though quite unwieldy, as most players I know completely shut off the AR catching mode to make catching easier., but because Pokemon Snap is a fandom that just won’t die6I adore Pokemon. This blog has plenty of evidence of that. But where I break from the Pokemon fan base is in my distaste for Snap. Not only should Snap not be remade, it’s proof that just because you slap Pokemon on something doesn’t mean that thing will be good., this was a hotly requested feature in Go as well. Smeargle will randomly photobomb your picture with whatever Pokemon your taking pictures of, giving you a chance to capture Smeargle after the event.
Notice I said randomly in that last sentence. Yes, your encountering of Smeargle is at the mercy of RNGesus. This is where my rage-fueled story begins. Most times below are estimated, though I have a few exact time stamps from pictures.
- Monday, 4:14 pm: I learn that Smeargle is in Pokemon go and how to acquire it. I load the game, take one AR picture of my Alolan Vulpix, see I didn’t find Smeargle, and close the game. I find the feature and encounter mechanic really cool, marking the last time I have this thought.
- 7:45 pm: After dinner and cleaning up our kitchen, the wife and I begin trying to encounter Smeargle in earnest. My father-in-law texts saying he found his in around 60 photos, so this seems like a fun way to kill twenty minutes or so before I start editing.
- 8:00 pm: Both the wife and I are around 100 photos without seeing Smeargle. We’re having fun seeing what stupid pictures we can take, so it’s fine.
- 8:15 pm: After some searching on Reddit and Discord, we learn that Smeargle’s appearances are completely RNG based. While some people are finding them quickly, others are literally in the thousands of photos with no encounters. My heart sinks a little, but we keep going.
- 8:30 pm: As part of our last search, we learn that Smeargle can get moves from Community Day Pokemon. This leads me to taking the next 100 or so of my pictures of an Espeon I have that knows Last Resort.
- 8:50 pm: I am now quite tired of looking at Espeon’s face. Both my wife and I are growing frustrated with the process. She’s at around 250 pictures, I’m just over 300.
- 9:05 pm: My wife wants popcorn and House Hunters. She has since the Smeargle search started. We’ve both grown angry at the lack of HGTV in our lives. We resolve to spend five more minutes trying to find Smeargle before we give up.
- 9:06 pm: My wife’s mundane super power kicks in and she encounters Smeargle within 60 seconds of the previous discussion. I decided I’m going to finish out our pre-discussed five minutes, go make popcorn, and continue searching for Smeargle, as the asshole has already ruined my editing time.
- 9:12 pm: Popcorn in hand, my photo taking resumes as we watch a young couple with a $900,000 budget look for a home in rural Ohio. She’s an avant-garde perler bead artist while he invented hand sanitizer for blockchain. They agree on nothing, yet want a place where their pets — which they insist on calling fur babies — can roam free. The pets will be picking the house. Somehow, this infuriates me less than Smeargle.
- 9:35 pm: My wife goes to bed. The struggle continues.
- 10:15 pm: Now at over 500 pictures with no Smeargle, I pause for a few minutes to do some research on how Smeargle works. Apparently you’re limited to getting one per day. Which is great, as I still have zero. I find a Reddit post where someone says they’re over 2,500 pictures with no Smeargle. I consider going to bed, but I’m committed at this point.
- 10:45 pm: After another half hour of failure, I open Smash Brothers to kick the crap out of something out of rage. I go to Spirit Board and Smeargle is one of the first things that pops up. Fuck you.
- 11:25 pm: I finally relent and decide it’s time for bed. I’m over 780 pictures at this point. I try taking a picture in the dark to see what happens, but Pokemon Go’s AR function can’t recognize a flat surface in the dark. Which is great, because it seems to have a hell of a time doing the same thing in the light, so at least it’s consistent.
- Tuesday, 7:50 am: I get to work and have a little time to kill before my shift starts. Smeargle hunt, round two.
- 7:58 am: Eight minutes later, Smeargle finally shows up. It photobombed a Shuckle, because you don’t fuckle with Shuckle. I didn’t get the moveset I want, but I don’t care. I’m done. I’m fucking done.
Listen, I get it. Some games have RNG-based grindfests. And if that’s your thing, awesome. But Niantic? This was genuinely the worst thing I’ve had to do in Pokemon Go. And I was around when the original gym system existed. If you’re going to give us Smeargle in this way, at least bring back the footstep Pokemon tracker. That was the best.