Even if you've been living under a rock, you will have heard of Pokémon Go, probably because someone has rummaged under that rock to look for rare Pokémon.
Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm, and after a delayed/staggered release due to server problems that has it coming online (officially) in territories around the world, the long-awaited game is now finally available to download from UK app stores.
In this, the newest instalment of the hugely popular Pokémon franchise, you meet Professor Willow. After a short introduction, you pick a gender and customise your avatar from the limited options available. Professor Willow then teaches you the basics of the game by letting you capture your first Pokémon: Charmander, Bulbasaur or Squirtle. After that, it's time to start your Pokémon adventure and venture out into the world. Literally.
Utilising GPS and the camera on your mobile device, Pokémon Go uses augmented reality to make Pokémon appear in your surroundings. No tall grass is required here: Pokémon can appear anywhere, from the middle of the street to your bathtub. All you need to do is walk around until your device alerts you of one nearby. If you want to engage it simple tap its icon on the screen, after which a close-up of the Pokémon appears. Augmented reality will make it seem like it's directly in front of you, however you can also choose a pre-rendered background if you want to be gentler on your battery.
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Unlike regular Pokémon games, you don't battle the wild Pokémon you encounter. To capture pocket monsters here you simply aim your device towards the Pokémon and throw a Pokéball in its general direction. The better you aim and the better balls you use, the better your chances of capturing Pokémon. However, if the Pokémon breaks out of the ball, you can simply keep throwing more until successful. Due to the fact that they can pop up anywhere, it was likely a smart move to make the capturing of Pokémon quick and easy, rather than having people engage in long fights and have them lingering around on busy roads.
As you physically walk around in the real world, your avatar will move along on the game's map. Befitting Pokémon lore, certain species will more likely appear in areas suitable to their type - for example, water types are more likely caught in areas near the sea.
On your map, you can locate PokéStops, and, once your level allows it, Pokémon gyms. PokéStops are mostly located in public places such as monuments or libraries. As per July 14 players are able to request places for new PokéStops through developers Niantic's website. PokéStops appear as a blue icon on your map, and when close enough you can tap and collect the items you need to progress, such as Pokéballs and Potions, and if you're lucky you may even get Pokémon eggs! You can collect the items by tapping the bubbles that appear, but simply walking away from the PokéStop also automatically puts the items in your inventory. Leaving turns the icon purple, and then after a five-minute cooldown, the icon will turn blue again and you will be able to collect new items.
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Despite battles being made mostly redundant (most likely a mixture of safety and accessibility), you can still level your Pokémon. Instead of XP your Pokémon has CP (Combat Power). By feeding your pocket monster copious amounts of candy and stardust, you can boost its CP. If you've collected enough candy, you may meet the requirements to trigger an evolution for your Pokémon, drastically increasing their CP. Candy and stardust can only be obtained by playing the game; for example, each time you capture a Pokémon you're granted 100 stardust and three pieces of candy. As of yet, there's essential resources can't be bought in the in-game shop, preventing a 'pay-to-win' system.
For the first time in franchise history, your avatar now levels up, and is even required to do so in order to progress. You earn XP through a variety of activities, such as visiting PokéStops and of course capturing Pokémon. The higher your level, the rarer and stronger the Pokémon you encounter.
When your avatar hits level 5 you unlock new features in the game. First, professor Willow introduces you to three of his assistants who each lead a team: team Instinct (yellow), team Mystic (blue), and team Valor (red). You must pick a team, after which you can train at your team's gyms and challenge opposing gyms. You can even claim gyms from other teams, making it property of your faction until your team gets bested in return. You can become leader of your gym by owning the Pokémon with the highest CP of all members.
Gyms are the only place in the game where battles take place, however they differ from the average Pokémon scuffle. In Pokémon Go battles are not turn-based, but instead feature short, snappy encounters where you tap and swipe to attack and dodge. There are, however, other aspects similar to previous Pokémon games; you fight with a team of no more than six, the type of your Pokémon plays a factor (water > fire, and so on), and you battle your way up to the gym leader by first taking on weaker opponents. However, you don't have to fight alone - there's even a multiplayer option available.
Of course, taking on gyms grants you plenty of XP. Then if you successfully take over one, and successfully defend it from players of opposing teams, it's also a great way to level your avatar.
Pokémon Go currently only has the very first generation of 151 Pokémon available to collect and train. Although it's not required to progress, one of the main goals for many will undoubtedly be to fill up their Pokédex, after all, you've "Gotta Catch Em All."
Overall you'd have to say that it's a more simplified version of the standard instalments, and the RPG systems that underpin the game aren't as deep as they might have been. However, augmented reality adds a whole new layer to the experience; never before has a Pokémon game felt so real. If Pokken Tournament gave us a taste of what the Pokémon League would feel like, Pokémon Go gives us a very realistic experience of capturing Pokémon in the wild. Given the reception it has received, it's obviously something many players have been yearning for.
There have been games in the past that have attempted to get players moving, such as Wii Fit or Zumba Fitness with Kinect. But after a while, even your Wii Fit trainers seemed bored with the routine and you can only dance in your living room so many times before questioning your life choices. Pokémon Go keeps players interested by providing a different experience every time they play; Pokémon can pop up anywhere, and you will have to travel and level quite a bit to find different and rare ones. Games revolving around walking and exploring aren't new either (think Geocaching or developers Niantic's previous game, Ingress). However, adding Pokémon to the mix has proved to be the golden formula: never before has a game pushed so many players to actually venture outside, even bringing people together to defend gyms or hunt for rare pocket monsters.
Another perk is that players of all ages can join, the game's systems are simple and accessible, and previous experience with Pokémon is certainly not required. It is of course highly encouraged to go outside in order to fill your Pokédex, but the developers have also thought of players physically unable to walk far and wide, by providing items via the in-game store to lure Pokémon to your location. With no restrictions to age and only mild restrictions to immobility, even your 92-year-old grandmother could become a famed Pokémon trainer. All you need to play Pokémon Go is a compatible device and an internet connection.
A big but likely unpreventable downside of Pokémon Go is the heavy strain on your battery life: on our first day spent playing we found ourselves charging our phone more times than we would normally do in a week. Portable power banks to charge your phone on the go may be a good investment if you're planning on playing a lot.
So far the game has been praised for making players more active as well as creating a friendly, welcoming community. However, despite being only recently released, Pokémon Go has already sparked controversy (head to our sub-page to read a selection of anecdotal stories). It is, however, much more than a glorified walking-app. Intertwined with augmented reality and worldwide connectivity, this game sets a solid base for hopefully much more to come. We're just waiting for the day Pokémon Go becomes compatible with Google Glass, something which could change the fortunes of the device.
It's free on iOS and Android, so naturally there are in-game purchases. You can pick up PokéCoins with real money, which are used to buy items in the shop such as Pokéballs, extra storage space for Pokémon (you can store up to 250 as standard), Lure Modules to lure Pokémon to you, etc etc. Many items in the shop can be obtained for free or aren't necessarily needed to progress the game, but if you have disposable income or plainly don't want to walk to a PokéStop for new items, you've at least got options. However, if you're prepared to move and don't want to play, you can still have a good time.
The future of Pokémon Go seems assured, and with so many players interested in capturing pocket monsters, we expect more generations of Pokémon to be released over time. We also expect more customisation options (such as clothing for avatars), and maybe the option to battle trainers encountered in the street (as seen in several DS Pokémon games). Of course, this is all speculation, but looking at the immense success enjoyed after such a short time, it's clear that it's only going to expand from here on in.
Sure, the game has its bugs with screen freezes, servers timing out due to heavy traffic, or the GPS not always working accurately. At the moment, it can even feel a bit limited thanks to shallow RPG elements, and with just 151 of the more than 700 pocket monsters in existence available. It certainly doesn't help that there's only a few items and customisation options. It's not a perfect game at launch by any means, but we're extremely hopeful that this is just the start and that it's going to grow over time.
If the Pokémon Company hadn't already grown enough this year by celebrating their 20th birthday, releasing several new games (as well as handing out free mythical Pokémon), then Niantic's new take on their franchise has certainly taken them up to new heights. Pokémon Go isn't without its flaws, but what's there is engaging, innovative, and most importantly, fun. It's a natural extension for the franchise, and the marriage with Ingress-style systems works well enough. And to think that all of this Pokémon Go madness started with a Google Maps April fool's joke.
7 / 10
New experience makes Pokémon real, initiates exercise, social, good base to grow from, accessible.
Kills battery life, not the same experience in every town, lots of server blackouts, limited customisation, RPG elements lack depth.