From the first time I played Pokémon Blue I wanted to experience Pokémon in the real world. Given the sudden rush of popularity with Pokémon GO, I’m not alone in that sentiment. It’s as if the world has reawakened the Pokémon craze of the Red and Blue era. Surely anyone that’s gone at least five miles from their house has noticed a shocking number of people walking from place to place, staring at their cell phones and making mad dashes for their local places of interest. If you don’t leave your house, you’ve likely noticed that your Facebook wall has become dominated by screenshots of your friends finding Pokémon in hilarious places or situations. You can’t escape it!
Thanks to Niantic, the creators of Ingress, and the Pokémon Company, the childhood fantasy of every kid in the early 2000’s has come to life: we have Pokemon roaming our neighborhoods! The rush to get this game was so massive that the servers are still reeling. Pokémon GO has been long anticipated since the day we were all punked with an April Fool’s joke between Pokemon and Google Maps in 2014, but was the wait worth it? Well the long and short of it is: it’s complicated.
Pokémon itself is fairly innocent in regards to spirituality and religion. There are creation myths unique to the game, psychic and dark-type Pokémon n, and some rather disturbing implications within the context of the Pokedex entries regarding some Pokemon but overall it’s fairly tame. The Pokedex entries have been padded up for this release and the actual story of the application is really limited to the bare bones of every Pokemon adventure.
The bottom line of Pokémon GO is that you are fighting and capturing magical creatures. The purpose for catching Pokémon is to collect, train, and fight them against one another. However- the actual violence is extremely tame. The Pokemon don’t even make physical contact in the app. They throw attacks at one another, they take damage, they jump forward and jerk back but there’s more violence in Loony Toon cartoons than in a Pokémon battle.
There is absolutely none.
There isn’t any.
None is ever implied.
There are no in-game themes beyond, “Hey, you’re a trainer! Good for you! Here’s some Pokeballs—go catch all the things. Beat up the things too. Be the best! Have fun.” The content of the game as far as story, character, and actual content is barely existent.
The positive themes of this game will and do come from the players themselves. Walking around town, I found myself talking to perfect strangers with ease because we had something in common—we were playing —. We stood outside of a gym and battled for domination with our rivals standing just a few feet away and everyone parted ways with a smile and a, “Good luck!” The good will between players has been shocking. People see each other walking about looking at their phones and will give you a friendly shout out or a playful jab if you’re from a rival team. We’ve been directed towards good hunting grounds for certain kinds of Pokemon and have been given tips about how to get around glitches and bugs.
Secondly, Pokémon GO has people who would otherwise be sitting at home getting up and out. True to the name, people are going out to play Pokémon. I have personally walked over 20,000 steps a day (thank you, Fitbit) just so I can stock up on eggs, Pokeballs, and find those Pokemon so I can strengthen my team. If my gym is lost, I run out and re-claim it. People are getting out, getting active, seeing their town in a way that they never might have before, and engaging with other people. It’s a genius idea and while there are snags and situations that are arising, the good is by far out-weighing the bad.
To address the elephant in the room before getting into the finer points of Pokémon GO, game, it’s glitchy. When it first came out the first two days we, as a community, became very, very familiar with the cute little graphic informing us that their servers were down. This occurred almost every hour for at least twenty minutes. When the game wasn’t down, there were glitches and bugs that made it impossible to progress very far. Gyms were unable to accept challenges because both challenger and defender would not go below 1% HP. The gyms would freeze and boot the player back to the gym’s front page or the game itself would crash. Another bug happened randomly when the screen and music would display and play normally, but touching the screen to check on what was nearby would lock up the app. Restarting the app was the only way to get around most issues, but some (like the gym glitch) remained. Half the time the app was restarted, the player would have to log in again, wait through the loading screen, and hope everything displayed normally. While a lot of these glitches still exist, they’ve gotten much better within the last few days. There are still a few mechanics that aren’t working right (like seeing the leaf flurry where Pokémon should be and finding nothing) but let’s be fair: Pokémon GO is a massive undertaking. No one knew what to expect from it and it’s still fairly new. There are bugs, yes. There are glitches, yes. All these things will continue for a time but the developers are hard at work fixing and patching the heck out of this game.
All that aside, Pokémon GO is an addicting game with massive potential. As it is right now, it’s fairly under-whelming. Firstly, the visuals are very impressive. The Pokémon look fantastic, even up against real-world environments. You can tell that the Pokémon are cartoon characters but the 3D models are wonderfully executed, rendered beautifully, and have such weighted, realistic movements that they look alive within the real world. The map of Pokémon GO is a polished up version of Google Maps and for what it is—pretty well done. not hard on the eyes, it’s easy to use as a navigation tool, and you can easily see where the points of interest are. The trainers are extremely limited in customization and each of them looks pretty much like an any other trainer. This is something that will be worked on in the future, but for now it’s a little disappointing. That aside, the trainers move great. That’s kind of a random statement to make but when they walk, run, turn, and stand still they move like actual people. The age of the trainer also matches the age group of the original generation to have played Pokémon, so that little detail shows that the developers know exactly who they’re promoting this game to.
However, the sound in Pokémon GO is lacking horribly. There is only one song that plays over and over on the overworld. It’s annoying and generic, but it can be turned off. There is a different song for logging in, and a different song for gym battles. Overall, the soundtrack is less than impressive. The sound effects themselves are also pretty lackluster, but they get the point across. There’s a different sound for hitting a Poke Stop, encountering a wild Pokémon, or passing a gym so you can easily put the game in your pocket in power-saving mode and just keep an ear out for these sounds rather than staring at your phone as you walk about.
The gameplay is where the game is really shining through. When you begin, you customize (….sort of) at trainer of either the female or male variety. You pick hair color, clothing colors, and a name for yourself. Once you get through the tutorial, three starters appear: Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle. You select which one to engage and toss a Pokeball to catch it. (Now…there is a way you can start with a Pikachu but we’ll let you guys figure that one out for yourself!) From that point on, you’re left to explore, capture Pokémon, and locate all your local Pokestops. When you get to your first gym you are informed by the new professor of the game that you must be LV5 in order to participate. Once you reach that level, you must return to a gym in order to choose your team. There are three factions representing three teams that you can join: Team Instinct (represented by the color red and the legendary bird, Moltres), Team Mystic (represented by the color blue and the legendary bird, Articuno), and Team Instinct (represented by the color yellow and the legendary bird, Zapdos).
At this point, you have a new objective on top of catching all the Pokémon you can: Dominating your region. On the world map, you can locate gyms. These gyms will have colored beacons indicating the team currently holding dominion over that gym. In order to take a gym, you need to beat the occupying team down to 0 prestige and set one of your own Pokemon to guard that location. At this point you can challenge your own gym to up your gym’s prestige (which makes it harder for other teams to dominate) and gain exp. As the gym’s prestige and level grow, your gym can have more Pokemon set by other players to guard the gym and accept challenges from opponents.
Battles are fairly straightforward. At this point in the game (this may change in the future), you can essentially spam tapping on the screen to have your Pokémon attack the defender until one of them drops. You have a meter under your Pokémon’s HP that will charge as you land blows. When the meter is charged, you can hold your finger on the screen and release to unleash a special attack. You can also swipe left or right to have your Pokémon dodge attacks, but spamming the attack has by far proven to be the most effective strategy at present.
Other than gaining experience, holding a Gym for a certain amount of time allows you to earn Poke’coins, the in-game currency, along with a generous award of Stardust.
In order to dominate gyms you need the strongest Pokémon. They are found all over the world map but the rates are kind of random. You can use items to increase the encounter rate but it’s still pretty sparse the majority of the time. Regardless, you will find Pokémon just about everywhere and the game has been created in such a way that the Pokémon appear in areas that make sense to them and their typing. For example, I find tons of Majikarp by the lake near my house. I found Ponyta near the local baseball field called “Volcano Stadium.. This can help you know where to hunt down the type of Pokémon that you want or need to secure your next gym.
When you catch the Pokémon, you’ll get a chance to look at its stats, nickname it, or send it to the professor. In this version of Pokémon, evolution and power-ups happen using two items: Stardust and PokémonCandies. Stardust is obtained most easily by capturing Pokémon. Most Pokemon have 100 Stardust on them upon capture and 3 candies of their type. You can only use that Pokémon’s candies to level up that Pokemon. For example, if you want to evolve your Squirtle, you’ll need 25 Squirtle candies. In order to do this, you’ll have to catch at least 9 more Squirtles. Given that Squirtle is a little hard to find, this can be a little daunting.
If you don’t want to evolve your Pokémon right away, you can use candies and stardust to instead power up their CP. The CP is how much power a Pokemon has when they attack. The CP is found above an arch which indicates how much more you can power up a Pokémon before they are maxed out. Some Pokémon can max out fairly quickly (such as Pidgey and Rattata). These Pokémon are commonly seen as the dominant defenders of the local gyms for areas with lower level trainers.
As you level up, the Pokémon around you level up as well. A LV5 trainer will encounter Pokémon (generally) under CP100. A trainer at a higher level will encounter higher CP and Pokemon in later stages of their evolutionary line and/or more rare Pokémon. Unfortunately, these stronger Pokémon will be harder to capture. In the beginning it will feel like you are swimming in Pokeballs because low CP and common Pokemon take 1-3 to capture. Now that I’m coming up on LV14 I’m finding it harder to keep over 20 Pokeballs in my bag. You can, at this point, take advantage of the micro-transactions and buy your way to getting new Pokeballs or you can walk to your local Pokestops and stock up.
Pokestops are places of interest within your community. These are marked by cubes floating above little pillars on the map. When you come within range to these Pokestops, you simply spin the location “coin” and bubbles containing items will pop out. The Pokestop will turn purple after you use it, but it only takes about 5-10 minutes for the color to change and the prizes to return, so if you find a nice circuit with a few stops in it, you can easily stock up on what you need within a half hour. Normally, you can get at least a few Pokeballs (or Great/Ultra balls as you level up), potions, revives, and berries. On rare occasion you’ll be treated to something extra special at your local Pokestop- eggs.
Eggs contain Pokémon and require 2KM-10KM of walking to hatch. In order to hatch an egg you need to put them in an incubator and walk for however much is specified. And…yes. I tried getting in the car and driving. They don’t let you cheat—you gotta get up and walk as much as it takes to hatch that egg. These eggs give you the chance to get your hands on rare Pokémon, high CP Pokémon, or…just more Pokémon to use for stardust and candies. Either way, it helps motivate a nice, long walk.
Once you hatch your egg, toss another one into the incubator to continue on. You can get incubators as prizes for leveling up…or you can buy them through more micro-transactions.
Overall, Pokémon GO is a lot of fun, if not a little aggravating at times. It has a LOT of potential and the developers have promised to expand on the game while fixing the kinks that are present within the current version. We’ll eventually see more generations of Pokémon, but allowing us time to enjoy the original 150 that we grew up with is a blast from the past that’s appealing to a lot of people who grew up on these little Pocket Monsters. The game eats up your battery fast, but if you carry a charging cable and a battery pack or two, you should be able to get several hours of enjoyment out of it. Go out with friends, if only to make sure there’s one set of eyes on the environment while you hunt, and make time to put your feet up and take a breather. Even if you aren’t a fan of the Pokémon games, it’s well worth at least a day of play if only for the unique AR features and the excuse to go out and explore.
The Bottom Line
All things considered, Pokémon GO is off to a very strong start. You could easily get lost for hours exploring your city, town, or neighborhood just trying to find new Pokémon, stock up at pokestops, and challenging gyms. Bugs and all, the game is worth a download. As the servers are strengthened and the bugs are worked out, this game is going to be massive.