Imagine for a moment: the year is 1999. Kids everywhere are firing up their state-of-the-art 15-bit, 160×144 pixel Game Boy Colors to unleash the beginning of something incredible. To start a brand new journey.
To catch ’em all.
We’re talking, of course, about Pokémon. About the days when “Bulbasaur, Charmander or Squirtle?!” was the hot topic in every school playground. Now, 17 years later, those same kids are finding that they’re asking that very same question all over again with the release of the highly anticipated Pokémon Go.
If you’ve been living under the shadow of a Snorlax for the past year, here’s a quick catch-up. Pokémon Go is Nintendo’s latest attempt to get its players out of their bedrooms and off of their sofas by sending them into the great outdoors. This time, Nintendo has teamed up Niantic – the creators behind revolutionary game Ingress – to produce the very first augmented reality Pokémon game. Using AR and Google Maps technology, players can walk around their neighbourhood and encounter Pokémon that show up on their cameras, placing Pokémon in the real world for the first time ever.
Since the first trailer release last year, the hype has been steadily building, and last week the game was finally released in Australia, New Zealand and the US. To say it was well received is an understatement; even with its infuriating server issues, in its first five days alone, Pokémon Go users surpassed Tindr and Twitter users, and now it’s looking to take on Snapchat and even Google Maps itself!
Now, finally, Pokémon Go has had its official release in the UK. We’ve jumped on the bandwagon to give you a taste of a day in the life of a Pokémon Go player.
Firing up the game gives you a Public Service Annoucement straight off the bat: be aware of your surroundings! It’s a good motto to keep in mind whilst you’re wandering the streets glued to your phone screen. But the first port of call is catching your starter Pokémon, offered to you by Professor Willow, the silver fox of the Pokémon Professor line-up if ever there was one! Currently, Pokémon Go only offers the first 150 Pokémon, so of course the choice is between Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle.
Unlike with the original Pokémon games, once you’ve caught your starter, there isn’t much else you can do with it. Right now Pokémon Go doesn’t offer wild Pokémon battles – instead, once you’ve found a Pokémon on your map, you toss pokeballs at it until one sticks. It’s not always as easy as it sounds, especially when it comes to pesky Zubat! And don’t worry – if, for whatever reason, you missed being bombarded by Zubat in Mt Moon, that’s an experience that’s replicated faithfully in Pokémon Go.
In fact, it doesn’t take long to realise that Pokémon Go has a vermin problem. On your travels, whether it’s through towns, fields or suburban areas, you’re bound to come across a downpour of Pidgeys, Rattatas and Zubats, especially at a lower trainer level. It’s not all bad; Pokémon Go makes catching multiples of the same Pokémon essential to training and evolving them (which is why your starter isn’t much use – you aren’t going to find many of them in the wild!). Plus, every Pokémon you catch and evolve gives you trainer XP, so those hundreds of Pidgey aren’t entirely useless. And don’t worry, you’ll soon start to find other species – in a day we found Drowzee, Jynx, Abra, and lots of others besides!
By the way, those paw prints represent how far away a Pokémon is from you in real life. If you think you can get away with sitting around on the sofa and playing this game, you’re not going to get anywhere quickly. This game makes you walk, and more importantly, makes you want to walk. Introverts and gamers everywhere (us included!) have suddenly found that there’s a real purpose to getting outside and taking that walk that’s looked so unappealing before. Whether it’s to scout out new and rare Pokémon, replenish pokeballs at pokestops (local landmarks, normally pubs and churches from our experience!), reclaim your local Pokegym or hatch that 10km egg, there’s a whole host of reasons to actually get up and go outside.
Aside from the obvious physical health benefits Pokémon Go can provide, it’s also already shown huge benefits for those with mental health problems. For people with depression, gearing up the motivation to so much as step outside can be a monumental task, but Pokémon Go has provided them with a real reason to do it. A quick search on Twitter pulls up a huge amount of people with depression or similar mental health issues praising Pokémon Go for getting them outside and giving them a reason to socialise.
Niantic has also implemented ways to increase social interaction whilst you’re out and about; we talked to people we never would have before on our Pokémon travels, primarily because of the Pokémon gym system. When you reach level five, you can start challenging your local pokegyms, which can manifest as anything from a church to a gazebo! You’re given the option of choosing one of three teams: Team Instinct (Zapdos), Team Mystic (Articuno) and Team Valor (Moltres). Teams work together to capture Pokémon gyms; for example, if a fellow Team Mystic player has taken a gym, you’re likely to be able to place one of your own Pokémon in there to help defend it.
We often found that there would be other players hanging around the Pokegyms, making for a good conversation starter where normally there would be awkward eye contact and moving on. Cries of “Team Instinct!” or “Team Valor!” are common, inciting camaraderie when you find a complete stranger who’s on your team, and so not a stranger anymore.
After a long day of walking, catching, evolving, battling and egg hatching, our final port of call for the day was to settle down at a poke stop and drop a lure module. Lures last for 30 minutes, and are visible to all Pokémon Go players in the local area. Supposedly they allow for a higher Pokémon drop rate, but we saw a higher rate of trainers lured to the area than Pokémon! It’s quickly becoming a common sight to see a massive crowd of people gathered around a lure with their phones out, with the occasional cry of, “There’s a Scyther over here!” inciting mass panic. It’s surreal not only to passers-by with no idea what a Pokémon is, but to players themselves. It’s a phenomenon unlike any that’s been seen before, and it’s incredible to witness.
Niantic and Nintendo have got something good here – something really good. The gameplay is deceptively simple for something that’s so addictive and potentially lifestyle changing – we can see ourselves getting out daily using Pokemon Go! It’s proven to be a huge hit globally, but the question on everyone’s minds is whether or not Niantic can keep the hype going. It’s got a lot going for it –– it’s already the top grossing mobile app ever in the US –– but without updates, it’s going to get stale.
There’s already talk of trading on the cards, so hopefully that means Niantic have no shortage of ideas up their sleeves. Whatever happens, for the moment the Pokemania wave has hit globally, and it’s a fun wave to ride.
5 Things We Hope Niantic Will Update Pokémon Go With Soon
Pokémon Go is the augmented reality mobile gaming hit of the year, hitting record numbers in its first week of release alone! There’s no denying that it’s an addictive game, with a simple playing style that’s easy to pick up so you too can quickly get on your way to becoming the next Pokémon Master. That said, it’s almost too simple! There are so many things Niantic could take from the main Pokémon franchise to implement into Pokémon Go, and more besides! Here are our top five suggestions.
1 Implement a friend system!
Number one would be “trading” but rumour has it that Niantic is working on that one already for an upcoming update. What we hope comes with it is a friends system. With everyone and their dog playing Pokémon Go (seriously – dogs are likely getting walked more than ever!) it’s a shame we can’t keep up with what our friends are doing or interact with them more when playing together. Friend systems are a huge part of Nintendo games, with one of their newest apps Miitomo focused primarily around gathering as many friends as you can! It would be a surprise, and a disappointment, if something similar wasn’t implemented into Pokémon Go in the future.
2 Casual battles
Following on from a friend system, casual battles are the next logical step. Gym battles, even with their unconventional “tapping” mechanic, are proving to be a huge hit, but many are itching to battle their teams they’ve lovingly spent time building up with other players. Battling is such a core part of the Pokémon franchise, so it’s probably safe to say we’ll see this implemented at some point.
3 Interacting with your Pokémon in AR
There’s no doubt that one of Pokémon Go’s biggest draws is being able to see Pokémon in augmented reality. From Magikarp appearing in a frying pan to Diglett showing up on a toilet, taking photos of Pokémon appearing in real life in the strangest places has proved to be one of the biggest Pokémon Go memes in its first week – but these photos can only be taken whilst you’re catching a Pokémon. What we would love to see is a ‘Pokémon Ami’-esque feature, where you can send out your captured Pokémon and interact with them in AR. Nintendo has done similar things before using the 3DS’s AR features, so it’s not beyond the realms of impossibility, and would add a personal touch that isn’t quite there yet.
4 More rural spawns
For those who are stuck out in the middle of nowhere, Pokémon Go has its downsides. Pokemon spawn far less frequently, and pokestops and pokegyms are hardly anywhere to be found. If you live in the middle of a town, you’re going to be levelling up and reaping the benefits far, far quicker than those in the countryside. It’s already caused a bit of an outcry amongst fans, so hopefully this is something that will get addressed soon enough.
5 More Pokémon!
Probably an obvious one, but with Pokémon Go currently only spanning the first 150 (or maybe 151? We’d love to see Mew!) Pokémon, Niantic is bound to update with Pokémon from other regions in the future. There’s a rumour floating around that Niantic may be throwing the Johto generation Pokémon into the ring by December, but whether or not that’s true remains to be seen.