The Pokemon franchise has been around 20 years now, spanning every Nintendo platform since in some capacity, including countless spinoffs. While the next generation of Pokemon games that we are accustomed to are coming later this year with Pokemon Sun and Moon for the Nintendo 3DS, a different kind of adventure has begun with the mobile game Pokemon Go.
Pokemon Go isn’t Pokemon’s first foray on mobile, as we’ve already seen Pokemon Shuffle, but this game is a whole other monster entirely. For a little backstory, Pokemon Go comes from developer Niantic Labs, who is best known for their augmented reality mobile game Ingress, which is exactly what this new game is built off of.
The premise of Pokemon Go is to do exactly what you’ve been trying to do for years, catch them all. However, this is very different, as you’re actually doing so in the real world, rather than just a game world. This is done by utilizing GPS tracking, just like Ingress, with Pokemon found in different areas all around the world.
When first starting up the game, you will be introduced to Professor Willow who has you design your character with very limited options. After this, you get to choose between one of three starters as per usual with Charmander, Bulbasaur, and Squirtle. You might think they would be used to help you catch Pokemon, but that is not the case.
After getting your Pokemon, you will notice an area on the bottom right of your screen that shows all Pokemon that are currently nearby, with an indication of just how close they are. The disppointing part here is that it doesn’t actually display how far they are in feet or meters, but rather a very basic step system with four levels. If a Pokemon’s picture is there with nothing under it, that means it is right where you are, so make sure to turn the map and you should see them. From there, there are 1, 2, and 3 what appears to be step markers that signify how far away they are from you currently. These greatly fluctuate as well, as the Pokemon themselves are constantly moving also. Many times you will be hunting after them, but sometimes they can just walk up on you.
What is helpful is that if you have the volume turned up, you will be alerted when a Pokemon entered your personal area. This is especially good for those that may have their phone in their pocket or are not paying attention while out running or something.
Once you actually have a Pokemon in your vicinity on the map, all you have to do is tap them with your finger, which sometimes is easier said than done if it’s near a marker on the screen. Once you click on them, they will appear with a 3D model on your screen, which will be rendered over the real world environment that your phone sees in front of it, as long as you have AR activated. This is really neat and really makes it feel like you’re catching a real Pokemon.
The catching itself though is a little lackluster for the most part. Once they pop up, you must start chucking Poke Balls at them. You start off with 50 of these, but you can easily get more, which will be explained below. The game now essentially becomes a mobile basketball game where you flick your finger over the Poke Ball to throw it at the Pokemon to where it will hit it. If you make contact, it will open and start to catch the Pokemon. Most Pokemon I’ve come across were caught on the first try, but there are some that gave me a good bit of trouble, including Pidgeotto and Zubat, where they would keep escaping, and there is nothing you can do about it but try again. Pokemon can also move a bit and even deflect your ball, so it’s important to watch what they are doing before throwing. If you do that, you really shouldn’t have too much trouble catching them, though I can imagine stronger Pokemon being much harder.
This actual catching is without question a lot of fun, but it feels like it could have taken it a step further and made it even better. If you could actually use your Pokemon to battle them and then capture after getting their health down, it would feel much more like the classic games. They could have even added Safari Zone like mechanics in to give a little more depth to the capturing, but perhaps we’ll see some advancements on that in the future.
Catching Pokemon is not the only goal in this game, as there are also PokeStops to explore and Gyms to conquer. PokeStops and Gyms are actually built off of the existing Ingress system, where people previously submitted images of monuments and building that have been turned into landmarks. PokeStops are typically places like statues, small parks, memorials, and plenty of other places. By visiting one of these, you can earn items and XP that levels your character up. These items include more Poke Balls, as well as some other interesting items that you can get here or purchase with microtransactions.
Eggs can be collected at these, which can be put in an Incubator that you have that then adds a walking element to the game. From what I’ve seen, there are 5 km and 2 km eggs, which will hatch after you walk the specified distance, as long as they’re in an Incubator. PokeStops also reward items like Potions and Revives, which come into play with healing your Pokemon for the one battling part of the game, Gyms.
Like PokeStops, Gyms are found on the map and typically are located in fitting locations. For instance, the place where I work happened to have a gym right on top of it. You can’t enter a gym until you reach Level 5, which happens by continuing to catch Pokemon and/or visiting PokeStops for XP. The first time you do this, you’ll have to pick which of three teams you want to join that have different ideals about Pokemon, which are Team Instinct, Team Mystic, and Team Valor. After this, if the gym has no leader yet, you can choose a Pokemon of yours and place them there. At this point, others can come and challenge you and once your prestige level is brought to 0, you will be kicked out and they can take your place. Prestige level can also decide how many trainers can be housed at that gym to protect it as well.
I haven’t really got to dive into the gym part as much yet, as with the game just launching, there aren’t too many gym leaders. This is something I will definitely be exploring further over the weekend as I will make sure to travel around and take on some gyms.
Pokemon Go may have just been released last night, but it is already incredibly addicting and something that could really hit it big. Download numbers are very high right now and hopefully the allure of catching Pokemon will keep people coming back. The game definitely could use some work with adding more content to where you could battle or trade with friends or something, but Pokemon Go has a lot of potential to be something really special as players strive to the very best.