Lets You Catch Pokemon and Discover the World
There have been plenty of games that tried to get gamers (who generally tend to prefer staying indoors) on the move, but nothing has come close to the epic effectiveness of Pokemon Go. This augmented reality app is an extremely simple game that features a hundred plus cute Japanese designed monsters randomly spawning in real life areas. The whole game revolves around throwing balls at the monsters to capture them and then capturing even more. There are also factions, and gyms, and stops, and eggs, and all other things, but the main gameplay of Pokemon Go is the fact that it makes people suddenly want to explore the world around them.
Not What We Expected, But Surprisingly Just as Fun
When Nintendo and Niantic first announced Pokemon Go back in 2015, it had the promise of being able to explore the world and seeing wild Pokemon for people to catch. The whole gameplay concept focused on the excitement of hunting down rare Pokemon and having a strong companion to bring to battles. It had a lot of people, Pokemon and non-Pokemon fans, totally excited. And now that the game has released, it is obviously not what we thought it would be.
Servers constantly blanking out, AR animations not in-sync with the world around it, no motion detection for trying to 'throw' Pokeballs, no trading, no active player battles, and so far, no major raid-style boss encounters (shown in the trailer as an epic Times Square battle where Mewtwo faced off against what appears to be thousands of trainers all at once). Normally, this would be enough to get the general gaming community up in arms about a major game release. And yet, the general consensus towards Pokemon Go is unbelievably positive.
Pokemon Go is all about exploration. Sure, you start off with a good volume of Pokeballs and other items. But pretty soon, you will run low on supplies. The game does have in-app purchases that allow you to acquire more resources. Or, you can walk over to the nearest "Poke Stop" and get new items for free. This means that players are encouraged to get walking and seeing more of the word around them. And of course, there is always the great likelihood of running into other players.
So yes, Pokemon Go not only shows you the literal community (as a place), but you also build a community with other trainers in the area. We have seen this happen in (on scale) in America, Australia, and other places where the game has launched, and it is remarkably amazing to see.
How Do You Even Play Pokemon Go?
The short summary is that Pokemon Go is an augmented reality mobile game app that uses GPS to facilitate gameplay. Players must use the mobile device to find and acquire Pokemon as well as find nearby areas of interests such as Gyms and Poke Stops. The main goal of the game is for the player to "catch them all" (referring to the 151 Pokemon featured in Go).
The long of it is that Pokemon Go is a game that requires you to get walking and travelling in order to progress. To play, you must first create a Trainer account. This is linked to either your Google Account or a Nintendo Pokemon account. If you have neither, the game allows you to register for either service. As of the time of writing, it is better to create a Nintendo account since the app allows a little too much freedom of access for Google users (though developers Niantic is currently working on changing that for the better). Your trainer's name and gender can be customized, as well as a few aethestic details. Once you do that, your are ready to go.
Once you are in, a new NPC named Professor Willow gives you the standard welcome to the game speech. Traditionally, in the game series, this is where you are given a freebie "starter" Pokemon to choose. In Go, players are instantly sent on a quick mission to capture either Charmander, Squirtle, or Bulbasaur (who all appear nearby after you start the game). If you choose to walk away from all three, they will just reappear in the new direction you are walking towards. The cool thing is that is you keep avoiding them (about 4 or 5 times), they will eventually reappear with a fourth Pokemon, Pikachu.
This encounter allows you to grasp the basics of the game: you see a Pokemon, you throw a ball at it. The higher your trainer level, the more the wild Pokemon likes you, and the stronger your Pokeball type is, the higher the chances of you catching a Pokemon. Increasing your trainer level is a simple matter of constantly playing the game. To become more liked, it helps to have some in-game consumables that you can give to the Pokemon to increase their affection. Finally, getting stronger types of Pokeballs becomes possible as you level up and visit more Stops as some of them may provide players with better balls.
This is pretty much all there is to playing the game -on the surface. There's another layer to all this: Pokemon Gyms and the three Factions. Those are the closest players can get to doing battles, but otherwise, the game focuses mostly on getting players to keep capturing Pokemon. And the best way to capture Pokemon, is to go out there into the world.
The Pitfalls of Realistic Visuals
Pokemon Go has the most realistic looking backgrounds of all Pokemon games, by virtue of the fact that you really are looking at the real world. As an augmented reality game, you point your camera and see Pokemon super-imposed on the real world. This is pretty cool. But like everything else in real life, there is also danger when you are not paying attention. There have already been cases of players getting into various accidents (like walking into a busy highway or falling off a cliff), most of these are cases of sheer negligence where the players are too focused on the game. But there are also times when some players prioritize the chance to catch Pokemon over being sensible (in the case of the ones who fell off a cliff, the two men directly broke past the barrier blocking and warning people to stay away from the unstable cliff edge). Thankfully, there have been no fatalities related to playing Pokemon Go, and it would be very much appreciated if you avoid being the first one.
Those playing the game will realize that the camera view is not the scene most often seen by players -that award goes to the huge map view (Protip: download all the Google Maps data you can possibly get while plugged into a charger and from a WiFi access point in order to save up on both battery power and mobile data). On the map, players get to see their avatar and arrows pointing to the general directions of the nearest Pokemon, gyms, and Poke Stops. This mode basically guides you to where you may want to go, and like most games, travelling manually is the part that takes a lot of time.
Gym Battles and Factions
As you get more Pokemon and eventually learn that candies for evolution drop only from the same type of Pokemon you want to evolve, or that stardust has a lot of sources but is still generally a much needed resource, or the important fact that maxing out a Pokemon's stats is preferable over just evolving them straight away; you eventually wonder what the HP bar and CP ratings are for. These two numbers are for gameplay mechanics not involving capturing Pokemon but for dealing with other trainers: battles. Currently, there are no trainer versus trainer battles that can be held in the game. But you can visit the nearest gym and have battles there. But before you get to do that, you need to join a faction.
Once a player reaches level 5, they have to choose between three factions: Instinct, Mystic, and Valor. Each faction is represented by a color, has a general discipline, and has one legendary type Pokemon as part of their emblem. Instinct, yellow (Zapdos), literally relies on sheer instinct when it comes to dealing with Pokemon. Mystic, blue (Articuno), are all about making Pokemons evolve. Lastly, Valor is all about "being the best there ever was" and is represented by red (Moltres).
After selecting a faction (a choice that as of the current game's version, is a permanent choice), you will be able to interact with gyms. And all gyms will be in one of three possible states. The first state of any gym is unoccupied or empty. This means that you are pretty much the first level 5 Pokemon Trainer to reach that gym. You then have the option of taking that gym for your faction and assigning one of your Pokemon to guard it.
The two other types of gym are occupied: either occupied by your own faction or by a rival faction. When a gym is controlled by your faction, you can battle with current gym-assigned Pokemon. These battles will earn you experience points and can potentially strengthen your Gym. Should your gym have open slots (6 slots are available) you may leave one of your Pokemon there to help defend the gym against other factions. It is not recommended to leave your strongest though (use the second strongest instead) since leaving the Pokemon at the gym means not being able to access it until it is defeated by a rival player.
The reason you need to have your strongest Pokemon with you instead of defending the local gym is so that you can deal with gym occupied by rival factions. You can have battles with the defenders of rival gyms and if you manage to beat all defenders (there are 6 maximum per gym), then you can claim the gym for your own faction. These battles are exclusively for gym control and will not increase your experience points or any other game related stat.
Aside from the prestige of having a gym, this factor matters in the game since gyms also serve as deluxe Pokestops for members of that same faction providing much better items than normal Pokestops. Also, players whose Pokemons serve as defenders get a few extra bonuses as well.
As much as the Pokemon series is all about finding monsters in the wild or in other exotic places, the reality is that most of the spawns occur in urban areas. You can walk over the nearby river or forest and probably chance upon a critter or two. Or you can head over to the city park and find dozens in under an hour (maybe even more). But the good thing is, that park is likely to be full of other players as well, and it makes for a more interesting experience.
Thus we go full circle with this amazing, and highly ambitious game. There is no doubt that Niantic and Nintendo still want to deliver a gaming experience not unlike the one they have shown on the trailers. And technology still has a long way to go from mobile augmented reality to possibly having raid boss battles against a holographic Mewtoo projected over an open field. We already have lures and egg hatching systems built into the game, but it seems like it will be a long time before we see anything regarding breeding or trading. Simply put, Pokemon Go is still in its early developing stages and with time and experience, will also grow and evolve to keep up with the needs of its loyal fans.