Release Date: 14th July 2016 (UK)
As per usual, I’m always a little late to the party. The day I bought a yo-yo, the yo-yo’s were banned at school. The day I bought a birthing alien, everybody else had moved onto something else. The day I brought my first set of Pokemon cards to school, they were also banned. And now I’ve finally got round to writing a little bit about the new mobile app Pokemon Go, and no one else is really talking about it anymore. Ho hum, you never do catch up on fads if you couldn’t catch up with them as a kid.
Pokemon Go kind of exploded back in July, with millions upon millions of mobile phone users downloading the game to take part in the hunt for the generation one monsters. Even without an official UK release, many went out of their way to download the American version, setting up US accounts to trick the system. It wasn’t just the hardcore Pokemon fans either doing this, I saw many friends on my social media accounts asking and talking about playing the game before it was officially out in the country. That’s not the sort of thing you get with any old app, and thus, Pokemon Go was a phenomenon even before it was available officially in numerous countries.
As for the app itself, it’s an interesting novelty. Upon booting up the game, your location is highlighted on a map not too dissimilar to Google Maps, with nearby Pokemon displayed in the bottom right of the screen, and Pokestops and gyms scattered about nearby. Options allow the player to view currently caught Pokemon, which can be evolved or powered up with special candies, or items such as pokeballs can be purchased from the store. With real money of course. It’s nothing too fancy, and makes it easy for anyone to start walking to find the monsters hidden in the wild.
As long as the app is still displayed whilst walking, a vibration will alert the player that a Pokemon is on screen, ready to tap and catch. Tapping the creatures takes the player to a close up view of whoever it is they’ve found, and it’s a simple case of swiping Pokeballs to snag the thing. A mixture of accurate swipes, and moving the phone around to keep the Pokemon on screen is all there is to it, and with the powers of augmentation, the monster might be standing on a bench, or sitting in the middle of a crowd. Unless you have a cheapo Samsung Galaxy J5 like I do, so you have to settle for catching Pokemon on generic grass backgrounds, taking a lot of the appeal away. Le sigh.
It isn’t just a game of catching Meowth’s and Pikachu’s though, the Pokestops and gyms are also important to making the most out of it all. Rather than paying real money for more balls, you can simply walk to a Pokestop, which are typically churches, shops and statues, then swipe the information to attain some goodies. Levelled up Pokemon can also be taken to a gym, though by the time I downloaded the game, the current gym Pokemon laid waste to anything I could possibly muster up.
That’s all there is to it really, and it can provide a few minutes fun after the initial loading, in between the frequent crashes, and once you’ve escaped the part of your town which only ever brings in Pidgey’s, Caterpie’s and Drowzee’s. Is that just my street?
Everyone knows all this though, Pokemon Go isn’t much of a game, and it is limited by a number of poor design decisions. It wasn’t long before the app was left to rot on my phone, along with Miitomo, and I’m not sure what it would take to get me back hunting. More Pokemon? More features? Less Pidgey’s? I don’t think any of these would pull a lapsed player back in, because it won’t change the core experience. It’s just Google Maps with a novel twist after all.
But to say the game is just a throwaway gimmick and leave it at that would be a disservice. The culture and news which has being created since the release has been incredibly fascinating. It’s been used to get sick kids active in hospitals, it’s brought large groups together to hunt the rarest monsters, and it’s got people walking more. A local gym around where I live has even set up a Pokemon Go walking course for people to take part in. It’s provided some real positive vibes that can’t be ignored. Even the cynic in me can see that it’s done some good, even if I did swiftly run away when some stranger started asking me if I had seen a Snorlax.
Obviously positive news isn’t the only thing fascinating about the app, it’s all the stranger stuff that has happened too. Videos have surfaced on YouTube of crowds of people running to certain locations when a rare Pokemon has been spotted, people have been robbed with specially planted lures guiding them to their doom, a group of kids found two adults in pig masks with lasers, and there has even been a few deaths.
One free download has brought people together, created pests, helped those who suffer, and even if play figures have dropped, there are still millions playing, so the powers of Go won’t have ended just yet. It baffles me how such a basic thing can create all this. All I see is swiping and clicking, which is probably the problem I’ve always had. Can’t Pokemon Go save me?