A bit about me: I’m 22 years old, which means I grew up eating and breathing Pokemon. Whether it was the Pokemon TV show, the Pokemon trading cards, or Pokemon Red Version on the Game Boy Color, Pokemon played a huge part in my childhood. And, while I perhaps haven’t kept up with the latest games on Nintendo DS, I’m sure you can imagine why a free-to-play Pokemon game that I could simply download on to my phone peaked my interest.
Pokemon Go is really the first real Pokemon game for the smartphone, and as such has the potential to be a huge hit. In fact, since it was released just last week, the game has become a phenomenon, almost as much as the original games were way back in the early 2000s. But just how good is the game? I spent a few days playing it to find out.
Pokemon Go is actually a very simple game to play. You start out by creating an account, either through Google or by making a new account. After that, you’ll be able to create an avatar, or character, for yourself. You can pick your gender, hair style, skin color, etc.
Once you’ve created your character, that character will show up on a map, which you’ll notice looks like your street. That’s because it is — the map is powered by Google Maps. And, immediately next to you, you’ll see three Pokemon to catch — you guessed it — Charmander, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur. To decide on a Pokemon to catch, you simply tap on the one you want, at which point the screen will change to an augmented reality-type screen, taking in the scenery from your device’s camera, and placing the Pokemon in the area. If the augmented reality approach is too much for your phone, it can be turned off at the flick of a switch.
Catching a Pokemon is actually very easy to do — simply hold down on the Pokeball at the bottom of the screen, and once the circle around the Pokemon zooms in a little, flick the ball towards the Pokemon. Pokemon can be placed at different distances from you, so you’ll need to flick it hard enough to reach the Pokemon, but not so hard that it goes too far. Pokemon can dodge the Pokeballs or hit them away, however the majority of the time the Pokeball will capture the Pokemon, and you’ll have caught that Pokemon. Of course, Pokemon can escape from the ball too, and you’ll have to throw another Pokeball to recatch it.
That’s really the gist of the game. You wonder around your area (yes, you’ll have to go outside!), and wild Pokemon will show up for you to catch. You can also collect extra Pokeballs at Pokestops, which are located at landmarks around the map. You might also find other items, like Potions (for healing your Pokemon), or Incense, which draw Pokemon to your location. And, you could be given eggs, which will need to be placed in an incubator, and will hatch after you’ve walked a certain distance.
So why would you need to heal your Pokemon? The goal of the game is to capture gyms, which basically consists of going to the gym and battling whichever Pokemon is placed at the gym, as long as it’s a Pokemon from another team — that’s right, there are three teams in the game, and you’ll choose from Valor, Instinct and Mystic when you reach a certain level. If your team currently holds the gym, you can simply place one of your Pokemon there as backup, or, if another team holds the gym you can battle it out to try and take over.
Once you take control of a gym, you can opt to keep one of your Pokemon there, which will defend the gym against others trying to take it over. You’ll also gain rewards in the form of the in-game currency, which can be used to buy items from the store — like extra Pokeballs, more egg incubators, and so on. The only other way to get that in-game currency is, you guessed it, by paying real money.
Of course, the real goal of the game is to catch Pokemon — the more you catch, the higher level you’ll get. Also, just because you’ve already caught a Pokemon doesn’t mean you shouldn’t catch it again should you come across it. Each time you get a Pokemon, it will come with the “candy” for that Pokemon, and extra Stardust. Each wild Pokemon comes with three of its own candy, so if you catch 3 Rattata’s (you’re going to catch many, many more), you’ll have 9 Rattata candy. That candy can be used to level up the Rattata you want to level up (the strongest one is usually the best way to go), or even evolve it if you get enough. To level up, you’ll also need Stardust, which will also come with each Pokemon. Also, don’t worry about having a million Rattatas in your inventory — you can transfer Pokemon to the professor and you’ll keep that Pokemon’s candy, and even get an extra one from the professor.
Unlike previous Pokemon games, battling is not turn-based. Instead, you simply tap on the enemy Pokemon really fast and you’ll attack it. You can also dodge by swiping left and right, or perform a special attack by holding down.
There are a few things that make Pokemon Go an awesome game. First of all, not going to lie, I’ve done a ton more walking than I otherwise would have thanks to Pokemon Go. The game is truly addictive — especially if you grew up with the game. While you can certainly spend money in the game, so far I haven’t felt like I need to — you’ll get plenty of Pokeballs at Pokestops, and if you’re a good enough shot when you’re trying to catch Pokemon, you shouldn’t go through those Pokeballs that quickly.
The game also looks pretty nice. It’s great that you can switch augmented reality on or off, especially considering not all devices will be able to handle using the camera all the time, and it eats up your battery a lot quicker.
As a fan of the classic Pokemon games, I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more battling in the game. It would have been cool if you could battle wild Pokemon to get their candy instead of having to catch each one, as it wastes Pokeballs and makes it seem like collecting Pokemon is simply for the sake of collecting them, not to get stronger.
Of course, even if you can’t battle wild Pokemon, the fact that you can’t battle friends except in the context of gyms seems like a pretty big omission. You really should be able to battle those nearby, and while there are whispers that feature will be added in the future, the fact that it’s not there yet is a problem for me.
Another fairly obvious omission is that the game doesn’t save your settings — I like to have my Pokemon ordered by number so it’s easier to find duplicates, but when I close the game and reopen it, they’re ordered based on recently caught Pokemon instead.
Also, too many Rattatas and Weedles. I get that it has to be hard to catch them all, but a little more variety would be nice.
The game is seriously buggy. Expect to experience a crash at least a few times per day if you play a lot. That’s assuming you can actually get in and play the game — many often experience a notice saying that there are problems with the game’s server, and telling them to come back later. We can only hope that will get fixed over time, but it’s a pretty serious issue in the meantime. Sure, the game is quite possibly a far bigger success than anyone anticipated, but that’s not really an excuse.
Pokemon Go has recaptured my 10-year-old imagination, and has me wanting to be a Pokemon master all over again. Yes, there are things that need to be fixed, and some features that would be nice to have, but this is an excellent starting point for a game that will no doubt evolve (pun intended) over time. If you’re a Pokemon fan, chances are you’ve already tried the game, but if not download it now — you’re a little behind in catching them all.