If you're even remotely interested in the wonderful world of Pokémon (and why wouldn't you be?) then you're probably aware of the mega-hyped Pokémon Go smartphone game, which essentially uses AR technology to allow fans to catch Pokémon in the literal wild. Very exciting stuff, especially for unapologetic nerds such as myself. I will admit, however, that until last night, I had completely forgotten about the game. It was only when a few of my fellow man-child Facebook friends started posting photos of themselves catching wild Squirtles in their kitchens that I suddenly remembered this was a thing, and apparently it was already here.
Technically, however, it isn't here yet, at least not in the UK in any official capacity. Check the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store on your mobile devices in the UK and it will still tell you the app isn't available in your country yet. No this isn't Nintendo protesting against the Brexit, it's simply Nintendo rolling out the title in stages so as to put less of a strain on their servers. A wise move, but if you're like me and you can't wait, you can simply download the APK file HERE (you can thank me later). Android users only though for now.
For those who haven't been following the title's development, the game uses your smartphone's camera and sensors, as well as some rather nifty location-based algorithms, to place Pokémon in the real world around you. So as you travel (either to landmarks and notable locations in a famous city, or to your local pub) you can catch the adorable creatures and then train and battle them at gyms, just like in the classic Gameboy game! It was created by Niantic, the maker of a similar AR mobile game called Ingress, in collaboration with Nintendo and The Pokémon Company. While it's a free app, Pokémon Go does contain micro-transactions (shudder) and you can also purchase a wrist-worn wearable, which is due later this month. This portable Pokémon watch lets users play the game without having to reach into their pockets and unlock their phones, and, if Nintendo have their way, it will be THE must have Christmas gift of 2016.
I've spent the better part of an hour with it so far and, to be honest, I'm underwhelmed. I booted it up, signed in using my Google account, named and customised my trainer (though don't expect any grand customisation options here, it's pretty bare bones) and took a stroll to my local corner shop. Within minutes I discovered a Charmander frolicking in the middle of the road (apparently the green cross code doesn't apply to these creatures. Unlike the original games, I didn't have to fight it either. All I had to do was use my finger to flick a Pokéball at it and bobs you're uncle, the Squirtle was mine. So it transpires the only actual battling you can do in this game is against other trainers (eventually) or Pokémon Gyms. I couldn't be bothered to get that far. Not yet anyway.
In terms of where certain Pokémon actually appear, the game is supposed to be smart enough to ensure water type characters spawn near water, grass type character spawn near grass and so on and so forth. I had a Magikarp spawn at the foot of my bed last night. It was terrifying. Scattered around the rather dull-looking map you'll also find PokéStops attached to certain locations represented by a blue marker. Clicking on the marker shows a picture of the building, monument, park or what have you. Swiping that picture will often net you a handful of items, like some Poké Balls or a Pokémon Egg that, when hatched, could add a new Pokémon to your collection. These instances are rare, however, and rarely amount to anything exciting.
So yeah, it's certainly a neat gimmick, and has potential if some of its core ideas are expanded upon, but I'm unconvinced that Pokémon Go will be able to hold my attention for more than a week. It's also a major battery hog. I had the game open for just under an hour and my battery plummeted from 90% to 45%! I was also thrown out of the game a few times after being told that it was experiencing server issues, which is to be expected. It also presumably uses quite a fair amount of data, so if you haven't got a decent data plan on your phone, expect some pretty hefty bills. These are technical quibbles that can be ironed out in later iterations of course, but the base game itself will probably remain unchanged, and the base game honestly doesn't have that much to offer anyone over the age of 12.
Micro-transactions are also scattered around the game like land mines, which is potentially worrying to anyone with small children who know how to access mummy and daddy's credit cards. It's also frankly a little intimidating to imagine hoards of children wandering the streets with their phones held up to their faces, especially near busy roads, and whilst it's been suggested that the game isn't actually geared towards very young children, it's very young children who will ultimately get the most out of it.
And this brings me to my chief concern regarding Pokémon Go. I understand the idea behind making the game as approachable as possible, but millions like me in their twenties and thirties have been playing Pokémon for more than 2 decades now, so it honestly seems like a bit of an oversight to make the game so simple when there are so many fans out there yearning for something with a little more substance. Pokémon games were never traditionally easy to get into. They required patience, commitment, and a complete lack of a social life. There was also so much charm in those original games, which is almost completely lacking here. For the foreseeable future then, I'll be sticking with my 3DS for my Pokémon kicks. Now Nintendo, where's that console-based Pokémon MMO we've all been asking for? Give us that and all will be forgiven.
In related news, the classic Pokémon FireRed game is now playable through Minecraft. Creator Reqaug designed a version of Pokémon FireRed to run on a virtual Game Boy Advance within Minecraft. Reqaug created the Pokemon replica using Minecraft's structure blocks, which were introduced in update 1.10. The map (which took three weeks to make) currently allows players to move around and interact with objects. Dialogue and actual Pokémon are still in development, and these features are expected to make it into the game as a later update. If nothing else, this proves not only how flexible a creation tool Minecraft is, but how dedicated Pokémon fans are!
Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and struggling musician from Kidderminster in the UK. His favourite Pokémon is Snorlax.