The 5th July saw the launch of Nintendo’s latest Pokémon game and it is leaps and bounds beyond its predecessors, as it takes Pokémon capture into the real world with clever use of mobile technology and GPS tracking. While I’m not against mobile gaming, I will admit that most of my gaming is done on pc and console. This game however has grabbed my attention. I’ll admit to being a bit bias in terms of this franchise, as I’ve played all the Pokémon games up to and including black and white on progressive Gameboy systems. I only stopped bothering with mobile games consoles, when smart phones became almost as powerful but, finally, Nintendo seems to have discovered the potential of the mobile market as this latest Pokémon title co-produced with Niantic has been developed as a free mobile app for Android and Apple devices.
The app uses your phone’s camera and GPS to allow you to hunt down Pokémon in the real world. So you can be walking to work and stumble across a Jolten. There are also Pokémon gyms which can be claimed and challenged and Pokéstops to get supplies such as Pokéballs to catch all those Pokémon you stumble across. Also up for grabs are Pokémon eggs which like in the main franchise requires a certain number of walking paces to hatch, but this time it’s linked to both the GPS on your phone and its pedometer, so you’ll have to walk anywhere from 2km to 8km to hatch it, depending on the rarity of your egg. And don’t think you can trick it by getting into a car or taking a bus either, the distance won’t count unless you walk it.
Unlike in the Gameboy games, there is no battle when catching Pokémon in this app, you simply use items to catch them. However, Pokémon can escape if you don’t catch them quick enough and the Pokéballs, like in the others games, won’t catch them 100% of the time. There are items, Razz Berries, available which will raise the capture chance which can be used in addition to the Pokéball, if it’s a must capture Pokémon. There is also Pokémon lure or incense which will raise the encounter rate of wild Pokémon but after experimentation this appears to be limited in effect and only seems to attract fairly common Pokémon. The app will also spawn different types of Pokémon depending on the terrain the user is in. For example in a coastal location more water based Pokémon will spawn whereas an area like a park will yield more grass type Pokémon.
I’ve spent a day with the app and wandered 19 kilometres around the South Bank, London Bridge and Old Street areas, and it’s a great app for exploration. Pokéstops are always located at local landmarks, and these aren’t just the big ones like St Paul’s but can also be monuments, pubs, bridges and even just plaques in historic areas. Even if you’ve lived in an area for years, this app will still lead to new discoveries. Computer games have long been criticised for locking people indoors in front of their TVs or PCs and cutting people off from the real world, and this is one game which does the complete opposite. You can’t travel in this game without travelling in the real world as it is linked to your GPS co-ordinates. If you want that Pokéstop around the corner, you need to leave your house and walk there. If you want to capture Pokémon then you can’t do much sitting in your living room. You have to get out and explore which I think is a great thing.
There are downsides to this app, however. The first is that in order to play the game, you need to have your phone out while walking the street. Obviously, this might lead to you being a prime mugging target. You also spend a lot of time staring at your phone screen while navigating busy streets. Only time will tell if this will lead to an increase in accidents relating to road safety and other urban dangers. Niantic have also been having serious issues with server capacity, as the game, even though still limited in release, has proved vastly more popular than expected. They’ve announced that as a result, the remainder of the rollout releases have been postponed until the server issues are rectified.
This app has not been released in the UK yet, but there are ways to download it and play it, if you’re willing to take the small risk that playing early might result in a ban, which has been circulating in wild and as yet unsubstantiated rumours. I personally think that mass bans are unlikely but the chance is always there.
I’ve had great fun playing this game, but if you expect it to be the same experience as the traditional Pokémon franchise then you’ll be in for a disappointment. The game mechanics are drastically different and they have to be, as you don’t really want people standing in the street having protracted Pokémon battles in the middle of a busy pavement. If you want to battle Pokémon then you can do so at the gyms dotted around your area. It currently isn’t possible to challenge other trainers, but I hope that is a feature that will be added along with trading between players.
This is a great game and it is free to play, so you’ve got nothing to lose by giving it a try. If you can’t wait for a UK release then you can download it here, but just remember my previous warning.