Nearly a year after the original teaser video was released, Pokémon GO is finally available for iOS and Android devices in at least certain parts of the world. I haven’t talked all that much about the game around here, but I’ve been really excited for the prospect since it was first announced!
So, since it’s available now in the United States and I’ve had a few hours to mess around with it, I figured I’d share some of my first impressions on the experience and aesthetics of Pokémon GO in it’s current Day 1 form. Keep on reading if you’re curious to see what I think, but honestly it’s also plenty easy enough to go check it out yourself – considering it’s a free download out of the app stores of the mainstream phone market. It’s something I highly encourage you do if you get the chance!
I did take all of the pictures I’m about to show off my own iPhone, but just in case there’s some sort of legal concern since we’re only on the initial release day for the game – all Pokémon content and characters and so on are property of Nintendo and Game Freak, and Pokémon GO related things are also property of Niantic.
Now that that’s out of the way…
Pokémon GO starts you off by letting you customize your player character. There aren’t a huge amount of options as far as clothing and things like hair styles go, but there’s certainly enough to make you look individualized. Once your character is brought into the world, you get the help of Professor Willow (as per Pokémon’s tree naming convention for professors) in catching your first Pokémon: Bulbasaur, Charmander or Squirtle – Kanto’s iconic starters. I’m assuming you’ll be able to catch the others, but they’re probably extremely rare all things considered, so I went with my usual fire-type favorite.
On the subject of Pokémon you can catch, so far only the original 151 Kanto Pokémon seem to be available at the moment. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, it’s honestly pretty nice as a way to get everyone who hasn’t played Pokémon since the first generation adjusted to the game without overloading them. Sure I’d love to see some of my favorites like Gardevoir or Scolipede appear, but I also get the feeling we’ll have generations come out in large updates over time to keep interest in the game going.
Just in the couple of hours I’ve gotten to play, I already have a good amount of Pokémon caught, so there’s a good amount of variation in who arrives in each area. Beyond the ones above, I’ve also caught a Growlithe and a Zubat. I don’t know how much influence the day-to-night transition has on which Pokémon appear, but I assume I wouldn’t have been able to catch a Pokémon like Zubat during the day, as an example of how I believe it works.
Let’s backtrack a bit though, shall we? Time to talk about actually trying to catch a Pokémon.
Your player character walks around on a map that’s simply based on the actual layout of where you live, as if walking around on top of Google Maps. There’s an icon in the bottom right hand corner of the screen that lets you check which Pokémon are nearby, indicated by little paw prints (the more there are, the farther away a Pokémon is). My main problem with this feature is the fact that, from what I’ve found, is that it doesn’t tell you which direction the guy you’re looking for is in. Therefore, you essentially have to play a game of hot or cold styled hide-and-seek, walking in one direction to see if the Pokémon you want is getting closer and turning around if it isn’t. I suppose this encourages more exercise, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing… But it is a little annoying to mislead yourself with very little guidance in my opinion.
When you find a Pokémon nearby, it’ll have a model of that Pokémon pop up on the map your character is traveling over. There’s a pulsating circle that continually emanates from you, a circle that acts as a radar of sorts, letting you activate and find things within it’s range. When you select the icon, that Pokémon (in the case below, a Growlithe) will appear in augmented reality on top of whatever your camera is looking at after you initiate the battle.
The act of catching Pokémon is a much more interesting experience than I expected it would be. When I loaded up the game for the first time and discovered I had 50 Pokéballs in stock I was shocked. “Why would they give you this many? Why would I ever need to buy more?” I naively thought to myself. My friend Samantha, who tried out the beta when it was available, quickly let me know that I’d be using them all very quickly.
And boy was she right.
In Pokémon GO, battling isn’t like it is in the main games. You don’t send out your own Pokémon to weaken it, you simply throw Pokéballs at it to try and capture the target of interest.
Capturing the Pokémon isn’t quite that simple, however. When you flick the Pokéball, you actually need to take into account your distance from the creature at hand. If you flick the ball too softly, it’ll miss and you instantly waste a ball. If you flick it in the wrong direction it will miss and you waste a ball. Then, even if you hit the Pokémon in question, there’s still a chance it will break free, also wasting a ball. In short: be careful, because it’s very, VERY easy to waste Pokéballs.
They aren’t really that hard to replace though, thanks to Pokéstops.
Pokéstops are locations on the map – usually pieces of art or notable places like park entrances – which can be activated when you walk close enough that allow you to get a few extra items. Essentially, selecting the stop will zoom in on the center of the Pokéball icon, which will feature a picture and description of whatever location you’re at. When you spin the image, a few collectable items will appear in bundles of 3-4 from what I’ve been able to get so far. I’ve gotten Pokéballs and Eggs, so I’m not sure what else you can get just off of personal experience.
Probably the coolest thing about the Pokéstops, and Pokémon GO as a whole for that matter, is how quickly personal it becomes. Because the game is based in real world locations, everything you do pretty much happens in the neighborhood you’re used to looking at from your usual travels.
For example, today I was out at the Library with my Mom when I found out the game was released. So, on the walk home from there we took a few shortcuts to check out areas that were considered Pokéstops, places that we’d been to many times that suddenly had just a little bit of extra significance.
This is a sign that’s up in my Elementary School alma mater, one of the many Pokéstops that we ran into on the way home from the Library. We also got extra goodies from a few murals that I’ve walked past many times throughout my life here in Redondo Beach – in fact, I lamented the fact that Pokémon GO didn’t exist back when I was in Middle School, where I walked the same route home everyday and could have used a bunch of the Pokéstops that appear on the path I used to take.
The Pokéstops also recharge rather quickly, with each being able to activate again about 5 minutes after you use it. Obviously this is intended to be a feature for traveling, where you wouldn’t be next to the same spot for an extended period of time, but it seems a little exploitable if you happen to find yourself in the same place for a while.
Also, it’s an incredibly fun and novel moment when you happen to be walking along on the way home and suddenly have a Mankey blocking your path, if you ask me.
So far, my pride and joy is this Pidgeot. This little guy isn’t only my most powerful Pokémon, I happened to catch it right outside my house! A Pidgeot was actually just flapping away in the middle of the street when I got home from the Library, and I spent a good amount of time catching the flying-type. I’m hoping Mega Evolution could potentially be a thing in Pokémon GO in the future, cause if it is I’m more than ready to model my Pidgeot after the competitive one I bred in Alpha Sapphire. Sure it doesn’t have Hurricane and Heat Wave but… Oh well.
Luckily, there’s a way you can improve a Pokémon with candies you get when you catch them and stardust you get through the course of playing, so there’s a way to keep Pokémon you like relevant as you start to come across other, typically stronger Pokémon.
As I mentioned before, one thing you can get out of Pokéstops are Eggs. So far I haven’t hatched any, so I don’t know if you can get really rare Pokémon out of them, but I did find out that you have to manually set up an Egg in the incubation chamber. I wish I’d been told that you have to earlier on however, since I had to figure it out on my own and missed out on potentially hatching some of these guys as a result.
Because I’m only Level 3, this seems to be just about all I’ve been able to do in GO. Gyms aren’t unlocked until you reach Level 5, and you can only level up with points you get from catching Pokémon and visiting Pokéstops. There are medals you can unlock by completing certain goals that seem to come with titles I’m hopeful you’ll be able to activate, but because I haven’t caught a lot of Pokémon I haven’t unlocked any of them yet. It’s things you’d probably expect – the Black Belt medal for catching 10 fighting-types,the Bird Keeper medal for catching 10 flying-types, the Breeder medal for hatching 10 Eggs, so on and so forth. I also haven’t messed around with coins and the micro-transaction system yet, so I have no grasp on how fair or not the prices might be.
Just based on first impressions, Pokémon GO is a very fun game. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of content just yet, but at the same time I’m not at the right level to unlock a large chunk of the game. Having Pokémon appear in real life isn’t quite as magical as it’s shown to be in the concept trailer, but at the same time it certainly has a really heartwarming charm to it no matter what.
It’s certainly not perfect yet, as there’s quite a bit of lag to things like catching Pokémon and the Pokéstop images don’t totally load all the time. I’ve noted a few strange graphical issues, such as the image received from your phone camera getting cut off at the bottom in place of a pure white screen when a Pokéball is shaking to see if you’ve caught who you’re trying to catch. There’s also been at least one point where the servers went down, presumably for maintenance now that everyone has access to the game rather than a select few Beta testers.
Though it isn’t perfect, it’s still a very fun little experience even for just the small amount of time I’ve put into it. I’m looking forward to watching the game get even bigger and more dynamic than it is, and I’ll definitely be sure to keep playing for some time, checking in whenever a Pokémon shows up in my general vicinity.
If you’ve downloaded it, let me know what you think of Pokémon GO! Do you like it so far? Are there any elements you particularly enjoy? Anything you feel should be different? Tell me about it in the comments below, as always I love to hear what other people have to say!