Pokemon Go has seemingly taken over the world. Though it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out why that is. Pokemon Go simplifies the Pokemon experience and brings it to the fingertips of anyone with a cell phone. While that simplification does come at the cost of some of the series’ depth, it does make Pokemon Go an appropriately addictive app.
Pokemon Go brings the Pokemon series back to basics, with only Pokemon from the original lot of 151 showing up in the game. The original 151 were always the most iconic, so no doubt they’re presence has helped the game’s universal appeal, while simultaneously providing a good dose of nostalgia for those who have grown up with the series.
Players take control of a Pokemon Trainer, who is sent on their Pokemon-collecting adventure by Professor Willow. Where this adventure differentiates from the main series, however, is how it uses your phone’s GPS to merge the real world with that of the Pokemon games.
By linking with your phone, Pokemon Go turns your neighborhood into the world of Pokemon. The titular creatures might show up in your own home, or you may go on a quick walk to find them. You may even find yourself going for a jog just to find a rare Pokemon nearby. Additionally, public buildings and local landmarks become either “Pokestops” – where players can get more items – or gyms, where players battle the current gym leaders to gain control of it for their team.
The augmented reality is emphasized all the more when trying to catch Pokemon, as the game syncs with your phone’s camera to place the Pokemon within the real world. It’s an amusing feature, made all the more memorable by the ability to take a photo with the Pokemon in place (the closest thing we’ve got to a Pokemon Snap sequel). On the downside, the augmented reality makes things incredibly shaky, and you’ll quickly find that catching Pokemon is more enjoyable with the feature turned off.
Catching Pokemon is a far more simplified process than in the main series, as there are no battles between Pokemon. Instead, players need to throw a Pokeball with a swipe of their phone, with their swipes helping to dictate whether the ball hits or misses the target. Some Pokemon may prove difficult to catch, in which case players may have to use items such as berries to help win them over. This streamlined Pokemon catching does remove much of the depth of the tried-and-true formula, but it works for the series’ transition to cellphones.
As players catch Pokemon and find Pokestops, their trainer will gain experience points. As players level up they will be able to catch stronger Pokemon and gain access to better items. Upon reaching level 5, players gain access to one of the game’s three teams: Team Valor, Team Instinct and Team Mystic.
By aligning with one of these teams, players are effectively allies to anyone else of the same team, with their goals being to maintain power over the aforementioned gyms. Gyms are in constant contention, with each team battling for supremacy. Should you be able to defeat a gym leader, your team then takes over that gym, and anyone else who belongs to your team can leave a Pokemon at the gym to help defend it from the opposing teams.
Unlike the trainer, Pokemon do not gain experience points to level up. Instead, players are left to catching multiple Pokemon from the same evolutionary chain, which can be traded to Professor Willow in exchange for candy which can be used to level up Pokemon from that chain. So if you want a Charizard, be prepared to catch Charmander after Charmander after Charmander in order to get enough candies to evolve them to a Charmeleon and then finally to a Charizard. It’s a bit of a tedious process, but an addictive one as well.
Another fun aspect to the game are Pokemon eggs, which are slowly hatched by walking. After finding Pokemon eggs, you can place them in incubators. So long as the app is on, your walking will bring your Pokemon eggs closer and closer to hatching. This, along with the constant searches for more Pokemon, makes Pokemon Go a game that not only encourages exercise, but requires it.
Aesthetically, Pokemon Go looks and sounds pretty solid, especially when one considers this is a cell phone app and not the next main Pokemon entry on a Nintendo handheld. Though it can’t compete with the visuals and sound of the Pokemon titles on the 3DS, it does mimic them with some pretty impressive results.
Not everything is great in Pokemon Go, however. The game suffers from some severe server issues, with total freeze-ups being an all too common occurrence. Worse still, these freeze-ups will often happen as you’re catching a Pokemon, and you won’t know whether you caught it or not until after you’ve exited the app and restarted it. Similarly, there are times when your character doesn’t move along with you, leaving you unable to interact with Pokestops and gyms even when you’re standing right in front of them. And you’re likely to run into lag issues at an annoying frequency.
In the end, Pokemon Go is a fun and incredibly addictive experience, even if it is shallow when compared to the main series, and it is plagued by technical issues all too frequently. Still, Pokemon Go is a rare gaming experience that has – because of the social and physical activity it asks of players – become bigger than what the game itself provides.
Also, Team Mystic for life!