Pokémon Go has lived up to the hype around it, shattering expectations and becoming a world phenomenon, proving that Pokémania never disappeared. Many games have tried to bring their own experience to the real world, from the racing games in the arcades of old to the most recent Wiimotes and Kinect. While the actual sword swinging, be it with Link’s Master Sword or Star Wars’ lightsabers didn’t feel totally fulfilling, Pokémon Go did the unthinkable: they brought Pokémon catching to the real world. To a point, at least.
You start the game meeting this game’s Professor, Willow. You then get to customize your character and catch your first Pokémon before starting your adventure. It’s then when you can explore your streets, parks and other sections of the city to complete your Pokédex as in any previous games. The main difference is that, this time, you’re the one personally doing the catching, not acting through whatever main character that gen’s game had.
Whenever you find a Pokémon, you tap them on your phone screen, then aim and throw your pokéballs by swiping the screen. This will determine the power of the throw, its arc and distance travelled. If you hit them, you’ll see the scene of the usual three shakes before catching them. Be way, though, since even if you don’t miss your Pokéball throw, the Pokémon can get out of the ball, like in the other games. Not only that, but they can also flee the catching. You don’t actually use your own Pokémon to fight these wild Pokémon; it’s just you, your Pokéballs and berries to make it easier to catch them.
You will know the Pokémons that are in the proximities thanks to the grid on the lower right corner of your screen. The up to nine Pokémon shown act like a numpad on a phone; the top left one is the closest of all, while the one of the top bottom right is the farthest, and probably close to being out of the radar. Each Pokémon also have footprints under it, determining the actual proximity. From no footprints, meaning the Pokémon is visible, to three, which can be as far as one kilometer away. If there’s nothing of your interest, walking to different city blocks, or even waiting a few hours and going back, can have different results.
To catch all these Pokémon you’ll need many Pokéballs, which you can get from PokéSpots. These are real-world locations. Every few minutes they’re recharge and will give you Pokéballs and eggs at first, then adding potions and revives as you unlock new content by leveling up. City centers or well populated areas can have many of these spots, while more rural areas won’t have that many. You get between three and six items from every PokéSpot. If you have a few spots you can patrol through, it’s very hard for you to run out of Pokéballs.
The other way of getting Pokémon is via hatching eggs. There are three kinds of eggs, divided in how long they take to hatch: two, five and ten kilometers. Be wary, though, that you must put them in an incubator for the walking to actually count towards that particular egg. You start with one incubator with infinite uses, but you can get more, though many of them have limited uses. There seems to be a pattern where the eggs that take the longest to hatch have rarer Pokémon, but the exact math seems to have a few more factors into account.
You level up by getting XP, which you acquire by many means. Catching Pokémon, hatching the eggs, activating PokéSpots and evolving your Pokémon are many of the ways you gather XP. The main advantage of leveling up is that the cap of your Pokémons’ Combat Power, or CP, increases. You will also find wild Pokémons with higher CP from the very beginning. Each level up also grants a bunch of free goodies dependent on the level, most of the time a large amount of Pokéballs. As you reach higher levels, you also get egg incubators, potions and revives among other things.
When it comes to fighting other players, when you reach level five you can join one of the three Teams and fight in gyms. This is currently the only time you’ll be using your Pokémons to fight. You can challenge gyms owned by the other two teams and fight there or train in your team’s owned gyms, or even leave a Pokémon there for added defense. These will have an effect in the flow of the gym’s Prestige, for better or for worse. You and your allies will probably need to win many battles at the same gym before you can stand a chance at claiming it. Even veterans might have trouble with this, since Pokémon Go, unlike any other title, requires a more active gameplay, swiping the screen to dodge and holding the finger to charge a more powerful attack instead of normal ones.
To ensure victory, you will need to make your Pokémon as powerful as possible. As mentioned, leveling up ensures that you can reach much higher CP levels with your Pokémon. However, you can actively improve them with certain consumables. Whenever you catch and hatch a Pokémons, you get stardust and candies, which are named after the first evolution of that species. This means that whether you catch a Pidgey, Pidgeotto or Pidgeot, you will always get Pidgey candies, which will work for all three of them. Every time you “power up” one Pokémon, you spend a slowly increasing amount of stardust and one candy. Evolving them requires a varying amount of candies, from twelve to the hundreds depending on the Pokémon. If you catch several copies of one Pokémon, you can transfer them to Professor Willow, getting one candy per Pokémon.
One of the strongest points of Pokémon Go is the music, which includes tracks from the first games you can listen to while walking around town. Pokémons will also appear in 3D versions of themselves around town, and the game allows you to take pictures of them. Even if you’re not one that ventures too far away from your usual locations, the map can allow you to return safely home. While there’s an option to pay real money for an in-game currency, most of the times you can get for free in the game. Paying might ease the path a bit, but as of now there’s no pay-to-win situation.
The biggest problems Pokémon Go currently has are the server issues and crashes that prevent people from playing most of the time. Truth be told, these issues are being slowly dealt with by Niantic. These issues, however, seem to be having an unexpected effect that has glitched the tracking feature. While the numpad-like grid still is reliable, Pokémons always have three footprints regardless of distance. This makes tracking specific Pokémon much more difficult.
Another problem the game has is the grinding required. Every Pokémon caught gets you 100 stardust, but powering up a high CP Pokémon can reach 1000 Star a pop. It’s true that this isn’t that much of a problem with common Pokémon, since you can get the stardust and candies pretty easily. However, with rarer Pokémon, it’s going to take much longer to raise one to become a decent challenger, especially if it’s one with evolutions.
The lack of tutorial can make parts of the game confusing for many people. For example, Pokémong Go never tells about the grid part of the game for tracking Pokémon. It can be figured out by intuition, but this isn’t a feature seen in other Pokémon games. This isn’t a tutorial for a game that has the same playstyle and functions; Pokémon has always been about random encounters with specific Pokémons in each area.
One thing that it’s missed from the original games is the social options; fighting other players outside of the gym or trading Pokémon. It is true, however, that unlike the classic Pokémon, you’ll need either lots of the same Pokémon traded or an already “maxed up”, so to speak, to make it suitable. This doesn’t sound doable for now, however, since there’s the CP cap related to a player’s level. Perhaps there could be something done about it similar to what they did in the originals when you got a trade Pokémon of way too high level. Maybe a Pokémon with CP way too high for their character level would disobey or ignore their orders from time to time. This means the player will have to reach the level in which the Pokémon’s CP is in their character’s threshold to be completely obedient.
Pokémon Go has surely become a sensation, but there’s room for improvement. This will require not only server and crash fixes, but also constant updates to keep people playing. It won’t be long until people run out of things to do and want more. The most obvious idea is adding all the Pokémon from the following generations, starting with Johto, then going to Hoenn and so on. The world loves Pokémon Go, and it’s certainly lived up to its expectations. They worked around a way to make one of the biggest childhood fantasies doable, and it’s a great success. Whatever mistakes the game has will be polished in time and more content will be pumped in. Gyms add competitiveness, but that can only stretch the game’s life so far.