The World is Your Safari Zone
Pokémon GO takes the evergreen Pokémon series and converts it into an accessible and addictive mobile game. The free-to-play app has already affected the world in such a unique way, bringing millions of people outside to capture creatures using their smartphones. Interesting news headlines have emerged detailing unusual events regarding Pokémon GO’s widespread popularity. Pictures and stories of trainers’ journeys have gone viral through social media. The app has even brought people together, with players meeting up to look for Pokémon and making new friends along the way. Pokémon GO is a special breed, and the big question is what about this game makes it work.
The premise of Pokémon GO is simple: travel across the land, searching far and wide for creatures known as Pokémon. Pokémon GO uses a smartphone’s GPS tracking functionality to locate where you are in the real world. Your character appears on a simplified map on your screen and walks wherever you go. Based on where you are, a Pokémon may appear, which you may touch to initiate an encounter.
Unlike in the main Pokémon games, you don’t battle a Pokémon to catch it. You flick a Pokéball towards a Pokémon using a simple upward swipe. When your Pokéball lands a hit, it sucks in the Pokémon and shakes a few times. If the Pokémon does not escape from the ball, then you have successfully captured it. If it breaks out, then you can try again with another Pokéball. For those familiar with mainline Pokémon games, the most similar comparison to these mechanics is the Safari Zone, which focuses on catching rather than battling.
This simplistic system works due to its intuitiveness. While Pokémon GO doesn’t tell you what to do with the ball, it’s easy to figure out. You don’t need to deal with any menus or health meters. Just flick the ball and hope it hits. As you catch more creatures and gain experience, you can perform more options. For example, you can feed Pokémon berries and use upgraded balls to increase capture rates. You can also perform curveballs and “excellent” throws with careful technique and timing.
What truly brings the Pokémon world to life are the GPS tracking and augmented reality functions. Pokémon GO follows you in the real world, and different Pokemon appear depending on your location. Water Pokémon appear more frequently around lakes and oceans, whereas Ground Pokémon are more common in drier climates. This distribution of Pokémon makes the game feel more authentic. Trainers may find themselves seeking out new locales near and far to find rare Pokémon. A handy tracker informs you on which Pokémon are nearby and how close they are.
The location dependency’s downside is you may not find much beyond the most common creatures such as Pidgey or Rattata. In a smart move, the app rewards you for catching repeats of Pokémon. Every time you capture a Pokémon, you receive candy exclusive to that species. By amassing enough candy, you can evolve your Pokémon into stronger creatures. While some Pokémon like Pidgey take only 12 candies to evolve, a Magikarp requires a whopping 400 candies. Through this clever evolution mechanic, the developers have turned the flaw of too many repeated creatures into a strength.
Pokémon GO also takes advantage of augmented reality (AR) by using your smartphone’s camera to superimpose the Pokémon onto real-world backdrops. You can take pictures of your AR Pokemon and share them online via social media. This small feature doesn’t affect the game and can be turned off, yet it goes such a long way in bringing Pokémon to life. With most of the original 150 Pokémon available for capture, this app will appease nostalgic fans.
Pokéstops and Microtransactions
Though you may be tempted to catch every Pokémon you see, Pokéballs are in limited supply. Running out can be devastating, especially when you see a rare creature nearby. Luckily, there are some features that make it easy to restock these commodities. One option is to travel to Pokéstops, which are located at areas of interest, such as churches, museums, and train stations. You can refill on Pokéballs and other items by spinning the medal at the Pokéstop. Although you only get a few items at a time, you can respin the Pokéstop after about five minutes.
You may also receive Pokémon eggs at Pokéstops, which you can hatch by walking a certain distance (2, 5, or 10 km). This is a smart move that encourages exercise by taking advantage of the app’s portable nature and your desire to search for Pokémon.
If you are unable to get to a Pokéstop, you have the option to buy Pokécoins with real world money. These coins are used to buy any of several items, including Pokéballs, Lure Modules that attract uncommon Pokémon to a Pokéstop, and incubators for hatching more eggs. This fare is typical for microtransactions, with slight discounts offered for bulk purchases. Buyer beware: most items for sale only increase opportunities for catching Pokémon but do not guarantee capture.
Leveling Up and Gyms
For every important action you take, such as catching or evolving Pokémon, your character gains experience points. By leveling up, you can find Pokémon with higher Combat Power (CP). CP is an indicator of strength and factors in a Pokémon’s health, attack, and defense. A Pokémon’s CP can be increased using candy and stardust, both gained by capturing Pokémon. The higher your trainer level, the stronger the Pokemon you can obtain. Strong Pokémon matter for a key feature of Pokémon GO: Gyms.
Upon reaching level 5, you choose one of three teams to join: Instinct (yellow), Mystic (blue), or Valor (red). These teams act like factions, introducing a competitive multiplayer aspect. The goal of each team is to claim gyms, which are scattered around the world, usually at places of interest. Claiming a gym is as easy as depositing a Pokémon into it. However, if a gym is already claimed, it becomes trickier.
In order to take another team’s gym, you must battle the Pokémon deposited there. Much like catching, battling is simple and intuitive. Tap the screen to attack, and swipe to the left or right to make your Pokémon dodge. Unlike mainline Pokémon games, your Pokémon only has two attacks. The first is your basic attack, activated by tapping. This builds up a gauge for your second stronger attack, unleashed by holding your finger on the screen. The battle system isn’t as satisfying as in traditional Pokémon games, but it fits the mobile platform well. If you defeat every Pokémon, the gym’s power level, known as prestige, decreases. If you win enough times and lower the gym’s prestige to zero, the gym becomes unclaimed, and you can place your Pokémon in the gym. You can increase your own team’s gym prestige by challenging it. If you raise the gym’s prestige enough, your teammates can add their Pokémon to the gym’s ranks, building up its defense. You also gain bonuses for having Pokémon at gyms such as valuable Pokécoins, so the incentive is huge.
This engaging gym warfare is made possible through the developer Niantic, who previously made the multiplayer location-based game, Ingress. By adding this competitive element, Niantic has made a game that can keep going even after you’ve caught ‘em all. When many people are playing nearby, you may unfortunately find that gyms switch owners within minutes. Keeping Pokémon at a gym can be difficult unless you are actively building up your gym’s prestige. Nevertheless, gyms make for exciting showdowns between teams and is a welcome addition to the already addicting catching aspect.
Pokémon GO is inherently fun, but it would be remiss to not mention the frequent glitches that plague this app. Servers tend to go down during big releases, and it was especially problematic when the app first launched. While servers have been better since then, this is an ongoing issue. Other problems that have afflicted the app include glitches where it is nearly impossible to reduce a Pokémon’s HP to zero during a gym battle and inaccuracy of the nearby Pokémon tracker. If you pay for anything using real money, be aware that any number of server issues or bugs may render certain purchases useless.
The Social Factor
There is a huge positivity that outweighs any negativity regarding this app. Pokémon GO is a highly social game that allows for unique experiences with people around you. This is one of the best outcomes of this app. Pokémon GO is a shared experience, meaning that people in the same area will encounter the same Pokémon. If ten people are looking for a Bulbasaur, they will eventually end up in the same place. Whether this was intended by developers, these people can then talk about the Bulbasaur they’re tracking and share leads on other nearby Pokémon. Because strategies for catching and fighting are only vaguely explained by the game, trainers can get together to share tips, similarly to how people shared Nintendo game secrets decades ago. Finally, the presence of teams leads to friendly competition, with people banding together to take down gyms and finding camaraderie. This app also lends itself to meetups, from small parties to citywide gatherings.
Graphics and Sound
Each individual Pokémon’s design looks good, as if they were lifted from Pokémon Stadium-like games. The designs aren’t as beautiful as those of more recent titles. The map lacks details or labels, showing your character on a flat terrain with only a vague indication of where you are.
The music is catchy, with a fast tempo to get you pumped up to walk. The app has the same composer as the mainline Pokémon games, which leads to authentic music that is similar to the original’s tunes. Although it’s nice to have the song running as your personal walking theme song, it can get repetitive. Luckily, you can turn it off at any time. The iconic Pokémon cries are also authentic to the original.
Pokémon GO has an addictive gameplay loop, encouraging players to catch them all. It is a time consuming but satisfying goal for anyone who has grown up with Pokémon. A medal achievement system provides incentives to catch many Pokémon of different types. Even though the game is entertaining, the drive to keep going will differ for each person. Your interest in the game may vary depending on which Pokémon are nearby. If you are in a densely populated area, you may find more Pokémon, Pokéstops, and gyms. If you are in a less-populated area, you may find less things to do overall.
Pokémon GO can also take a toll on your phone’s battery life. Possible solutions are to keep the brightness down, music off, and the handy Battery Saver mode turned on. Surprisingly, Pokémon GO doesn’t use a lot of data, which is great considering most of your adventures will likely take place outside of Wi-Fi zones. If Niantic can maintain a steady update schedule and keep players interested by adding more features and Pokémon, then this app is sure to have longevity.
No matter what you think of Pokémon or the app itself, it is undeniably clear that this game has the potential to make positive impacts on players’ physical and mental health. Pokémon GO encourages exercise and leads to meeting other players around you. Without social elements, Pokémon GO is still a highly addictive game, with the broad appeal of a popular franchise, intuitive mechanics that simplify traditional Pokémon gameplay, and the allure of rare Pokémon encouraging flocks of people to leave the comforts of their home. Server issues and glitches can impair the ability to play this game. Nevertheless, the addictive “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” gameplay loop warrants any Pokémon fan’s attention.
If you have even a passing interest in Pokémon, I highly recommend Pokémon GO. The best time to get into the app is when others are also playing it. Pokémon GO creates communal experiences, where you can make new friends, travel with comrades conquering gyms, and share stories and pictures. Pokémon GO has the ability to bring very different kinds of people together. The best part is that everyone’s story is unique. The friends you make, the conversations you have, the pictures you take, the places you go; these are all parts of your personal Pokémon adventure. An app’s features can be rated, but your own personal experience throughout your journey is priceless.
What are your thoughts on Pokémon GO? How has your experience been so far? Do you have any fun stories to share about your Pokémon journey? Who are your favorite Pokémon that you’ve caught? What team are you on? Please share any thoughts in the comments section below!
Note: Please remember to always watch your surroundings when playing Pokémon GO. Please do not play while driving. Stay safe and remember that it’s all about having fun! Take care, Pokémon trainers!