I don’t know how useful this review will be, as I’m pretty sure anybody who was between the ages of seven and 30 during the Pokémon craze of the late 90’s downloaded this app.
Yet here we are.
What Is It?
Developed by Niantic, Pokémon GO is a location-based free-to-play augmented reality game available on iOS and Android devices. The game’s initial release revolves around players catching the popular “pocket monsters,” discovering various landmarks called PokéStops, and conquering Pokémon Gyms along the way.
Most importantly, it’s about “catching ’em all.” Pokémon are literally hiding all over the place, and if you’re stuck in the comfort of your own home, you’ll be lucky to find a creature or two in the area.
When you first use the app, in typical Pokémon fashion, you’ll be introduced to your professor who will then ask if you’re male or female. After customizing your custom avatar, you’re treated to a very brief tutorial about how to catch a Pokémon (you literally just swipe up to throw your PokéBall at it), and before you know it, your life as a Pokémon trainer begins.
Why Should I Care?
If you’ve played Niantic’s previous game, Ingress, it’s technically the same thing except Pokémon obviously gives it more widespread appeal.
The game’s biggest highlight is the fact that players must be active in order to actually enjoy the game. So while it might be possible to catch a creature or two from home or at work, Pokémon GO is best experienced when venturing away from your comfort zone.
That means actually going outside. Whether it’s taking a trip to the mall, a stroll at the park, or long walks at the beach, odds are you’ll see some Pokémon and PokéStops during your travels, and the area definitely matters. For example, at night you’re more likely to find ghost Pokémon. At the beach? You’re bound to run into some water types.
As far as how the game is played, on your screen you’ll see a GPS representation of your current location. Aside from the streets and buildings plotted on the map, you’ll also see Pokémon (if you’re at a location close enough to one) or PokéStops which are marked by blue diamonds. When you get closer to them, the blue diamond becomes a blue PokéBall symbol, and you can touch them and flip the signs that come up to unlock items such as additional PokéBalls, berries (which make it easier to catch Pokémon), incense to make more Pokémon appear, or potions that’ll make battles easier. After you visit a PokéStop, the symbol becomes purple, but they become blue again after about five minutes, so you can visit it again as many times as you want for more items.
Players can also leave what’s called a lure module at any PokéStop, which brings more Pokémon to catch in that general vicinity for a half hour. PokéStops with a lure module are shown as your typical PokéStop, except with confetti falling all over it. Well populated areas, such as shopping centers or parks, normally have a wealth of PokéStops, so it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to see stops that are closer together both have lures on them.
This phenomenon has resulted in “lure parties” happening everywhere, making it quite the social experience. For the past few days, I’ve actually been spending an hour or two a night at my hometown’s city hall, because they have six PokéStops always treated with lure modules, making these times a catching frenzy. Not only have I been catching a lot of cool Pokémon, but I’ve been meeting a lot of people that use the app as well, so it goes to show how many people Niantic has inspired with these ideas. Businesses near PokéStops have also been leaving lure modules in the hopes of attracting customers, so it goes to show the variety of their uses.
If you happen to be at a position where you can’t do any walking, you can equip an incense. The incense will make an aura float around you that can bring Pokémon to you, much like a lure module at a PokéStop does. In fact, I was at a meeting the other day that seemed to be going on forever, so when I decided to pop an incense, I ended up entertaining myself as Pokémon started appearing for me to catch.
One of the main reasons why you’d want to walk is to hatch your Pokémon eggs. The eggs come in three types, each type corresponding to the distance you must walk in order to hatch them with your incubator; 2km eggs, 5km eggs, and 10km eggs. You have one incubator immediately available to you from the get-go that you can use as many times as you want, and you also have the option of buying additional incubators through microtransactions, though they’re limited to three uses. Of course, the bigger the egg, the bigger the Pokémon you’ll get. My brother was lucky to have a Snorlax come out of his first 10km egg. Unfortunately, steps are only counted when you have the app on, so it should be no secret that the game is quite a battery drainer.
In addition to PokéStops, the biggest destinations in the game are Pokémon Gyms, where trainers can battle the gym leaders to take over each gym.
You gain access to these gyms once you reach experience level 5, and from there, you have to pick which team to side with; Team Instinct represented by the color yellow, Team Mystic (blue), or Team Valor (Red). None of these alliances really affect the actual game, but there is a lot of pride to be had within the Pokémon GO community when all the nearby gyms are of a certain color. This isn’t unlike siding with Iron Man or Captain America in Civil War or Jacob and Edward in Twilight. We just hope it doesn’t lead to any gang fights.
As far as fights go, unlike the flagship Pokémon games, Pokémon GO isn’t turn-based. Attacking is as simple as tapping on the screen, and you can hold on the screen for a stronger attack. Outside of battle, you can buff up Pokémon using the stardust gathered when catching any Pokémon, so that shows the depth the game has regarding battles. Right now, battles are limited to gyms, but there have also been rumblings of adding the ability to battle anyone as well as trade Pokémon in future versions of the app.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
As fun as it all is, the app isn’t without its annoyances. One of the reasons why this review took so long to get done is because the servers have been annoyingly on and off. While it’s understandable due to Niantic’s small size as a development team and company, it’s something Nintendo shouldn’t have let them overlook. The game was in beta for a couple months before its public release, and it really could’ve used more beta testers to make the app’s problems more apparent to the developers.
In addition to the spotty servers, the game has been known to glitch and fail quite a bit. One of the most annoying glitches happens when you’re catching a Pokémon, as the game just freezes after you throw your PokéBall, resulting in you having to close out of the app, open it again, and then sign in. There’s been an update since the original release that allows you to open the app without repeatedly signing in, but the freezing PokéBalls do still rear their ugly head from time to time.
All that said, despite its annoyances, Pokémon GO is still a joy to play. But if you couldn’t stand Pokémon before, Pokémon GO isn’t going to change your mind.
The game is free-to-play, so it’s not like you’ll be spending any money… at least not right away. Microtransactions do exist, and using some of your own money will make some aspects of the game easier, but it’s far from necessary. Nintendo will also be releasing a bluetooth accessory called the Pokémon GO Plus (pictured below) that’ll allow you to be notified of nearby Pokémon, PokéStops or Gyms while your app isn’t on for $34.99, but as of now pre-orders are sold out.
Like Miitomo before it, it didn’t take long for Pokémon GO to reach the top of the charts on both iOS and the Android Market, but it also didn’t take long for Miitomo to become obscure either. Pokémon GO has become almost as big as Pokémania was in the 90’s, and while the hype died, it lasted longer than most fads and it’s still one of Nintendo’s most important IP’s in their portfolio. Now the app sees more usage than Twitter on the Android market, and as of this review’s publish date, the game isn’t even available in Japan yet.
We don’t know how long the craze will last, but there’s a lot to like about something as simple as an app bringing so many people together, while also being a boon for small businesses. It’s a win for everybody involved with the app right now, and we can’t think of a better way for Nintendo and their fans to celebrate Pokémon‘s 20th anniversary.