Game Review: Pokemon Go (Mobile)

“Dragonaire!! There’s a Dragonaire here!!” someone yells as I am on the other side of a park’s pond. I run as fast as I can, one hand on my phone, the other holding my battery pack. Out of breath and quite winded, I make it, but it had already left the spawning zone. Dozens around me chat about the CP strength of their catch as I simply walk around to see if anything else should spawn. Minutes later a Dratini, the Pokemon that can eventually evolve into Dragonaire, would spawn and we all throw our virtual Pokeballs and catch ourselves the adorable Dragon Pokemon.

Pokemon has always been a cultural phenomenon, regardless of whether you have even played the games or watched the cartoons. It’s a brand that is nearly as popular and recognizable as Disney or Looney Tunes. A solid percentage of the average work force grew up with Pokemon and while none of us really ever thought we would become real life Pokemon Trainers at any point in our lives, that is exactly what Pokemon Go allows you to be, at least in the digital form.

Pokemon Go is an augmented reality GPS virtual scavenger hunt of epic proportions. Each and every location privy to Google Maps is a playground to throw Pokeballs and catch virtual monsters to train up and do battle at various Gyms that litter the surrounding areas. While the game is fairly bare bones in its current state, there is boundless potential to add to this game like the upcoming player vs player battles and trading systems.

You’ll create a male or female trainer, selecting different hats, clothes and hair color and be on your way. I wish there was more diversity among the creation tools, but sadly that is not the case. For a game that millions are currently playing, the fact that nearly every trainer looks identical is a bare minimum effort at best.

So now that you have made your character, it’s time to quite literally step out into the world. As you walk around and catch Pokemon, the surrounding environments will be shown through your camera. You’ll battle Pokemon while seeing them right in front of you, standing next to that tree, on the fence post, cupped in a friend’s hand or even on the counter of your bathroom. Should you not want to use the camera feature, you can catch them in backgrounds that look like they are ripped right from the cartoon. I wish there were more of these pre-made backgrounds, but with the fact that we can catch them in our own environments, I can see why they didn’t include more.

Playable environments aside, the Pokemon themselves look great. Each of the first generation Pokemon are modeled well and look the part. While you are attempting to capture them they will do some basic defense to avoid the Pokeball, like swiping or jumping while you try to aim and throw the ball. The map itself has a cartoonish flare that works well here and while I would loved to have seen more detail to the surrounding locations, this is a mobile game that already taxes your battery, so that’s probably why the map can look a bit simple and it’s probably for the best.

The audio in the game is a bit simplified as well, with the Pokemon’s virtual cries being taken from the portable version of the games and sadly not from the cartoon. I would have loved to hear “Piiiiika!!” and “Geodude! Geodude!!” but I’ll just have to imagine it.

In the traditional Pokemon RPG games on the various Nintendo handhelds, you would encounter a Pokemon and a battle would ensue. You would use the current roster of critters resting in those Pokeballs to lower the HP of a Pokemon you find in the wild and then throw a Pokeball at it in an attempt to capture it. What Pokemon Go offers is much simpler and removes the need to battle the approaching Pokemon altogether. You’ll simply tap on the Pokemon you find in the wild and throw Pokeballs in an effort to capture them. I wish that the game had some form of battle to it for capturing as just tossing Pokeballs can become a bit repetitive after a while.

Throwing Pokeballs can be simple, or depending on your skill, quite complex. You can simply flick the ball towards the Pokemon or spin the ball and perform a curve ball. If your aim is good enough you can earn Nice, Great or Excellent tosses, each with a EXP reward. The longer you hold down on the ball, the catch window will shrink, making that shot harder, but more rewarding. Sometimes the Pokeball will naturally curve to the left or right, I am not sure if it’s the Pokemon doing this themselves, server lag, or some kind of in-game wind. You start with regular Pokeball’s and eventually gain access to Great and Ultra balls, and I am sure at some point, the Master Ball.

Should you want to sweeten the deal with the Pokemon before you, you can offer them Razz Berries. A Razz Berry lowers their restriction and can calm them into the ball a bit better. Should they escape and not run away, you can offer another Berry to further your chances. Once the Pokemon is in the ball, it will rock three times and click, at least if you are successful. I’ve caught many a rare Pokemon with using up to 3 or 4 Razz Berries before my Ultra Ball clicked shut.

Now that you know how to capture Pokemon, it’s now about finding them. Water Pokemon will appear closer to areas with water, grass Pokemon in parks and fields and so on and so on. It is still possible to find Pokemon not in their natural area, but it can be fairly rare. Most of the Pokemon you will add to your Pokedex will be from evolving the ones you currently own. Only certain ones will evolve and you’ll use Star Dust and Poke Candy to do so. Candy can be a confusing item as many are not clear when and how to use it. I recommend only using Candy when you want to evolve or make a high CP Pokemon even stronger.

Pokemon have a strength system called CP. This is a way to show how strong that little monster of yours is, essentially. You can still have a 900 CP take down a 1200 CP, but that depends on a factor of things like moves, types and individual stats. Early on you will capture Pokemon at low CP levels and as you yourself level up, so will the chances of finding higher CP Pokemon in your travels. At first you will be tempted to level up your low CP Pokemon, but it can be a bit of a waste doing so. Let’s say you start with a low level Squirtle, with a CP of 75. At level 10 or so you may capture a 300 Squirtle with no need of spending Candy. At level 21 I caught a 625 Squirtle, again with no need to spend Candy or Star Dust. It is these high CP Pokemon that you want to invest your Star Dust and Candy on as pushing them past their high values is essential to taking your Pokemon to the next level. It’s by no means wrong to want to level up low CP Pokemon, it’s just not resource efficient and you’ll waste a lot of Star Dust and Candy doing so.

Each time you capture a Pokemon you will gain three candy specific to that breed and you’ll also net 100 Star Dust. When you transfer a Pokemon that you no longer want, you will earn one additional candy, meaning Pokemon you catch and don’t want are worth four Candy. When you hatch Pokemon from the various eggs you gain in your travels, you will earn additional Candy from those as well.

For those struggling with leveling up, here is some advice: Catch Pidgey’s and Weedle’s, every one of them you come across. Once you have around 120 Candy of each, use the Lucky Egg item you eventually earn, or buy in the store, it doubles your EXP earned for half hour. Evolving Pidgey and Weedle is only a cost of 12 Candy, so evolving a whole slew of them at 1000 EXP, thanks to the Lucky Egg, will level you up in no time. You can also use the Incense item to cause Pokemon to flock to your own location, these will be only shown to you and won’t show up on another player’s screen.

There are a few things to look out for on the map while you attempt to Catch’em all; Pokestops and Gyms. Pokestops are areas on the map where you can gather items or place down Lure’s to attract more Pokemon to that specific area. Pokestops are usually monuments or areas of cultural significance, but that may vary in your area. What is interesting about using real world locations is it gives you the ability to learn more about your city as well as explore areas you just never knew existed. When you approach a Pokestop, its icon will change to indicate you are close enough to it. When you tap the icon and then spin the location’s picture that shows up, random items will drop. Pokestops refresh every few minutes, making it easy enough to stock up on Pokeballs, Razz Berries and other key items.

Gyms are currently the only way to use Pokemon in battle, so making sure you pick the Pokemon with the best stats and moves can be crucial. There is a huge amount of information regarding Pokemon and their individual stats and weight classes that I’m not going to get into as it is extremely complex. Combat in the gym is easy enough by simply tapping the screen to use your basic move and holding down to execute your special attack, providing you have the bar for it filled. You can dodge left or right with a simple flick in that direction.

There are three teams that you can eventually pick from: Mystic, Valor and Instinct. These are Blue, Red and Yellow, respectively. If you come across your own team’s Gym, you can battle it to increase the level and the amount of Pokemon that can be left to defend it. When taking on another team’s Gym, you can bring a team of six Pokemon to attempt to take it over, you can also as a team battle the Gym at the same time, taking it down faster. I have seen some Gym’s last days, where some only last a few minutes. Be sure to watch out for people who will snipe an empty spot when a Gym has been taken over.

For each Pokemon you currently have in a Gym, you’ll earn a coin reward. You can collect these coins every 21 hours. You’ll spend these coins in the store on various items. You can also spend real money and purchase more coins in a variety of bundles. These coins allow you to buy more Pokeballs, Lure’s, Backpack space and more. I’ve spent probably around $30 so far buying more bag space for items, Incubators for my eggs and a few Lure Modules.

Eggs are given to you upon leveling up and visiting Pokestops. These eggs are ranked from 2km, 5km and 10km and upon walking that distance, they will hatch Pokemon that are within those km distances. So only 10km Pokemon will hatch from a 10km egg and so on. These eggs have a 20km/hr speed maximum, so driving isn’t the best method to hatch them unless you are slowly creeping through an alley or a street late at night.

As you capture Pokemon and visit Pokestops, you’ll earn badges that grant you EXP. I’ve completed half a dozen badges that consist mostly of capturing a certain type of Pokemon, visiting a required amount of Pokestops, or attempting to capture 100 different breeds, which I am just 1 away from doing so at the time of this writing.

Pokemon Go requires consistent use of your GPS and therefore can be extremely taxing on your battery. Just simply walking about my block my phone will drop almost eight percent. I recommend having an 8,000-15,000 MAH battery bank plugged into your phone to keep you up and running for hours. It’s pretty easy to tell who is playing Pokemon Go by the constant viewing of power cords going into people’s pockets, well, that and the huge groups of people swiping at their phones.

Pokemon Go hasn’t had the smoothest launch, but considering how many players have been downloading the game, regardless of it being available in their area, it has held up fairly ok. You can log in via your Google account, or Pokemon Trainer’s Club, with PTC currently being the worst way to connect with, mostly due to server issues. The game has been launching in new territories almost every week and it can lead to server woes and connection issues. My experience has been better than most, with some people unable to connect for hours. There is also the issue of the game freezing when you’ve trapped a Pokemon, locking up when the Pokemon enter the ball, which can cause much frustration and a massive loss in items.

One feature I haven’t talked about yet is tracking, and I wanted to discuss it here in my ‘Issues with the Game’ section. When Pokemon Go first came out, tracking used a hot and cold system. The closer you were to Pokemon, the less ‘steps’ it was, indicated by tiny little monster foot prints. If there are no steps below the Pokemon’s image in the tracker then it is pretty much right in front of you, one to two steps is close and three steps is a fair distance away. Currently, the system is broken and all Pokemon, regardless of the one sitting right in front of you, is stuck at three steps. This is pretty game-breaking and has lead to much frustration worldwide. With the tracking system down, it has lead to many community tools being made to help ease the tracking woes, like Pokevision, which shows exactly where Pokemon will be as well as their de-spawn times.

Pokemon Go, despite its simplistic offerings at launch is incredibly addicting and deeply socializing. You literally can’t go anywhere without seeing someone flicking virtual Pokeballs at digital monsters or swiping left or right at a Pokestop. I’ve stopped and chatted with dozens of people and have seen local events hosting hundreds of Pokemon Go players. I am by no means a social person, so Pokemon Go has been a pretty interesting experience for me thus far. Many Pokemon Go players, including myself, still get a few people that make fun of us, or consider our capture obsession to be ridiculous, but I mostly chalk that up to just sheer ignorance and a failure to understand that Pokemon is something people are quite passionate about. I’ve also read stories of people with extreme anxiety actually being able to go outside, converse with people and share in all things Pokemon, which is pretty life changing if you ask me.

Despite how fun and addictive Pokemon Go can be, it currently needs to iron out the server and tracking issues if they plan on keeping players interested. New content and features will come, so there’s no need to feel like the game will get stale. Trading, player vs player battles and the talk of new Pokemon being added to the game this December, well, it just sounds exciting. Will the Pokemon Go hype die down? Of course it will, all things do, but with Pokemon Sun and Moon being released later this year, it’s a good time to be a Pokemon fan.

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