Children of the 90’s rejoice! Our long yearned dreams of a reality where Pokemon exist are beginning to be fulfilled. It’s time to dust off your unused walking boots and brace yourselves for a tidal wave of “too many damn Zubats” memes, because the free to play Pokemon GO is finally out.
The augmented reality game has users walk around outside, essentially following a glorified Google maps, as a GPS tracks your position. Walk enough and, ‘pop’, a Pokemon will appear. This is where the much hyped augmented reality comes into play. The player must use their phone’s camera to find what is probably their 10th Pidgey standing right in front of them. Once found, it’s time to throw poke balls until the little bugger stays inside. And there you have it, you’ve caught your very own Pokemon. At the moment, the augmented reality really isn’t much more than a gimmick, but it’s a well appreciated one at least.
Though the exact details are still very up in the air, there are at least some rules which dictate how Pokemon spawn. Basic Pokemon like Rattata and Weedles (so many Weedles) are common, whereas Pokemon such as Jynx are far harder to come by. Different places on a map will feature different Pokemon of varying rarity; for example, Sheffield may be full of Nidorans, but I have yet to see one in Manchester. Add to this some ‘zones of interest’, where Pokemon are more likely to spawn, and the whole process gets far more interesting. Water Pokemon are, as you’d expect, more likely to spawn around bodies of water, and some Pokemon are even supposedly limited to the ocean. Slap a day and night cycle on top of all this, where Ghastlies and Clefairies become far more common after dark, and you have some fairly nice intricacies.
While journeying around the world you will inevitably run into a point of interest. These are usually landmarks, but anything from churches to your local homoerotic book store have been flagged as points of interest. While you can technically pay real money for items, these points of interest will generally provide you with everything you need: Pokeballs, HP sprays, revivals and even the occasional egg if you’re lucky. Unfortunately, there are some discrepancy between rural and urban areas, with big towns having a point of interest every 30 seconds down a high street. Rural areas are another matter, with some rural Poke trainers claiming that they can go miles without a single stop, ultimately leading to a frustration as their supply of Pokeballs begins to dwindle.
Now before we go any further, let’s address the elephant in the room. No, the trademark Pokemon battle system is not in Pokemon GO – this is without a doubt the game’s greatest weakness. In its place is an uninspiring series of left and right swipes to dodge blows, and tapping on a screen to fight back. It’s clunky, unreliable, and frankly, not the Pokemon we all know and love. Currently, the only place fighting is permitted is in gyms, which can be controlled by one of three teams that you may join at any given time. Rewards for personally controlling the gym include currency that otherwise you have to pay for. Considering the rewards are so important, it’s sad that they’re only obtainable through the most enjoyable feature of the game.
The important thing about Pokemon GO is that it is a half-decent starting point. Only the first generation, excluding legendries (and poor little Ditto) are included, and player favourites like shinnies and evolution stones are, at least for now, tossed aside as well. With more Pokemon, a social and trading system and a revamped battle system, this game could stick around for the long run. The success of Pokemon GO ultimately depends on whether the developers continue to support the game and add new, sorely needed features in the future.
The big question is, if this game wasn’t based on Pokemon, and instead on some newly concocted franchise, would it still be generating the hype it currently is? Simply put: no. When you look at it, Pokemon GO, in its current state, is very minimal. While the GPS aspect might be something new, there really isn’t much there. Add on top of this the hot mess of technical problems, stability issues that the game is currently experiencing and the radio silence from the development team, and you have a game that would be getting critically slaughtered if it were under any other name.
Despite everything, at the end of the day, this isn’t under another name. This is a Pokemon game, and while it may be hypocritical to say, the simple fact that I am able to live out my childhood wish of going out into the world to catch Pokemon makes the game infinitely more enjoyable – flaws and all.