It’s been a while since Pokémon Go was first announced, but today we found out that the app was releasing around the world. It’s not out in the US yet, but here’s my report on the beta.
The first day the beta was out, the app was so glitchy you’d think they hadn’t tested it in the slightest. I went through three characters that were wiped (though the usernames remained taken) before one finally stuck. But, by the end of the day, a large portion of the bugs were worked out. I ended up playing it until my phone died on day two, and spent day three planning breaks to charge my phone. There are still some issues that are glaring, like sudden app closures and occasional basic operational issues, but they are easily overcome by the obsession love you’ll likely develop for the game.
A bit of a forewarning: Don’t go into this hoping for an augmented reality version of Yellow. The gameplay is vastly different from what most of us have come to expect from standard Pokémon games. Capturing pokémon doesn’t involve any actual battle—it’s been boiled down to aiming and throwing pokéballs at pokémon until you hit them. You can use your phone’s camera to set the scene, and make it feel more like you’re capturing a real Pokémon. There’s also an option in the capture mode to take a picture of the scene with the pokémon in it. The best way to find pokémon isn’t to walk through tall grass in remote areas, though. As far as I’ve been able to tell, there are more pokémon near checkpoints called Pokéstops, which are largely found in areas with higher traffic. You’re less likely to find pokémon walking around a rural neighborhood than you are walking through downtown San Francisco. The game practically demands you get up and walk around. This is a pretty positive change that’s been expected since the initial announcement, and has even had memes and comics made about it killing people who walk around staring at their phone instead of the world around them.
Which is pretty hilarious, because the initial loading screen overtly warns you to pay attention to your surroundings, and makes a small joke of it with some cute art of someone walking across a bridge into the mouth of a Gyrados while staring at their phone. I’ll admit to having run into a pole while playing on my old college campus, but I often run into things anyway. The game sucked me in, and it’s been hard to unglue myself from it once I’ve plugged in. It’s hard not to obsess over, as it requires much attention, but it’s still very important to let it run on idle if you’re in an area where you’re crossing streets. I won’t be surprised if there’s a Pokémon Go-related accident in the news sometime soon.
Another gameplay mechanic that’s a lot different from the standard games is the gyms. In Pokémon Go, gyms are more like gang turf wars, where you can station one of your pokémon like graffiti at a gym location, and you can add your pokémon to support locations where others of your team color have put up camp. You get back the pokémon you leave at a gym when that gym has been defeated. Some gyms take multiple defeats to take down—level 1 gyms take 1 defeats, level 2 gyms take 2, and so on. The battle mechanic is a three-move system, with a basic move, a special move that’s built up to, and dodging, all done through tapping, swiping, and charging. There’s an option to use your phone’s camera so you can pretend the battle is happening in front of you, but I feel gym battles are better done using the default background. So, it’s a turf war between the Red, Blue, and Yellow teams, where posting your pokémon is basically leaving graffiti to mark your territory.
The only way to level up your pokémon seems to be to battle at gyms, and to capture other pokémon of the same evolutionary chain. Pokémon that you gather give you “candy” to feed Pokémon that gives them more power, or you can saving up those candies to evolve your pokémon by using them all at once. You can also permanently transfer pokémon to Professor Oak to gain more candy. If you’re just powering up your pokémon, you’ll also need stardust, which is also gathered every time you capture a new pokémon, but you can use dust collected from one pokémon to advance one in a different evolutionary chain. So, in that way, the grind from the original games is back, in that you have to catch a lot of pokémon to level up.
Overall, the game is fun and seriously addicting. It’s ridiculously difficult to pry yourself from it once you’ve started. The time I promised The Boss that I’d spend on writing this article initially, I ended up spending out in the city playing Pokémon Go. The most addicting part is that every region’s pokémon are different, and if you’re gone from the app, you miss out on catching more. Pokémon Go drains your phone’s battery because you will have it open all the time, and it requires your GPS signal be on at all times. In four days of playing, I’ve used almost two gigabytes of data on my phone, and had to plan around charging my phone and playing the game. If you plan on downloading Pokémon Go and playing more than an hour a day, investing in a fast charger and a portable power bank may be a good investment.