Who doesn’t want to relive their youth? At 26 I already feel old, but while most people tell me that I’m still young I can’t help but let my mind wander sometimes to days gone by. I’d like to say I’m quite lucky in that I am a true 90’s kid (just), which is arguably the greatest decade for kids entertainment. Remember Pogs? Tazos? Micro Machines? All great for passing the time between finishing school in the afternoon and starting again in the morning. But they all pale in comparison to the phenomenon that is Pokémon.
Short for Pocket Monsters, Pokémon swept the entire
globe when it was originally released as a Gameboy game in 1996 in Japan. As popularity grew, it developed into a trading card game, but the video game franchise had a solid foundation, and still thrives to this day twenty years later. For those who have been living under a rock, the idea of the game is to travel far and wide, collecting, trading and battling Pokémon to become the ultimate Pokémon master. A great premise and one so unique to video games when the idea was first conceived. One feeling we all surely share about the entire franchise though: What if we could go out and catch Pokémon in the real world?
A gripping thought, but obviously flawed. Or is it? The team over at Niantic Labs have been slaving away over what is potentially the most exciting Pokémon game in history; Pokémon GO. As of writing this the game is officially available in Australia, New Zealand and the US, though several clever boots here in the UK (myself included) have found a way around the location barrier, so to speak. If you are in a country that can’t get Pokémon GO on the market just yet, click here if you are on Android or here for iOS for guides on how to get the game early. If you’re waiting for official release, the current date for release is just 2016. Not helpful.
The game begins with the iconic intro that has become a staple part of the Pokémon video games. You are introduced to Professor Willow, who explains to you the basics of the Pokémon universe. Then you are tasked with choosing your gender, with a new feature of being able to customise your character’s, albeit fairly basic, hair and clothes. Then it’s into the game itself. I should point out at this point that server loads are currently causing major crashes, intermittent connectivity and widespread inaccessibility. Apparently. Personally I’ve had very few issues with the exception of an hour or so where I couldn’t log in.
Staying true to the video games, you are presented with the choice of either Squirtle, Bulbasaur or Charmander. Bulbasaur was walking around my house and it was late, so I opted for the lazy choice and caught it. When a Pokémon is caught, it updates your Pokédex with information about it. As well as this, you have the option of increasing that Pokémon’s power or even evolving it. Word of warning; it’s going to cost you in the form of Stardust, which is collected by walking around and catching Pokémon, and Poké Candy, which you collect when you catch or trade a Pokémon. So that’s exactly what I went out and did.
It could be said that Pokémon GO is the closest way to “a real life Pokémon catching adventure”, but how does it achieve this? Firstly, the game itself is actually visually similar to Google Maps, in that your character is walking along a map of the place you live. As you walk, tufts of ruffling grass pop up: A Pokémon is near! When you are close enough to a Pokémon it will appear on your map. This is where it gets really fun. Pokémon GO has a built in Augmented Reality function; the Pokémon will appear in real life on your screen. To offer an example, this morning I woke up and caught a Weedle that was crawling along my bed. This AR function adds a whole new level to video game immersion, it really is the closest we have gotten to being able to catch a Pokémon ‘in real life’. It certainly will likely pave the way for a next-gen virtual reality Pokémon game.
That’s about as far as I’ve got with the game itself, as it is so new to the world. Hopefully a UK release is imminent, and I can look less weird walking around in public pointing my phone all over the place: the more people that are playing, the more accepted it will become.