Are you looking for a free-to-play smartphone game that lets you live your fantasy of being the next greatest Pokémon trainer like Ash Ketchum? Kids of the 90s—and everyone else—are loading their Android and iOS devices with Pokémon GO, an app that uses augmented reality tricks, map location data and tons of nostalgia to trick people of all ages into walking through their local parks at all hours of the day just to catch 'em all.
It all started in 1996 when a man fascinated by insect collecting twisted his own obsession into a virtual phenomenon that spawned video games, a cartoon series, movies, a collectible card game and enough merchandise to block route 66 for an eternity!
Pokémon are the fictitious little critters that popular the tall grass, caves and other locations in the virtual world. Originally, there were only 150 pocket monsters and you were tasked with finding every single one. Over the years that number has now grown to over 700! Fortunately, there are only 250 pokémon to track down in Pokémon GO (at least, at the time of writing this).
Let's Get Started
When you successfully log into Pokémon GO for the first time you will get to change your avatar's appearance. After the initial scripted introduction, you will see a simplified, and cartoony, birds-eye view of your immediate area.
It's like Google Maps only it looks like you're playing on a Game Boy or DS. If you're lucky there might even be pokémon in your vicinity.
Augmented Reality is Fun
Have you heard of augmented reality? It's a neat trick that smartphone cameras are capable of. When you encounter a pocket monster in the wild they will appear as an animated creature lurking in the real world. Players have taken screenshots of magikarps floundering in the toilet, pidgeys perching on branches and digletts sitting proudly on people's laps.
Entertain yourself for hours by posing with your virtual friends. You have the option of using your camera display to hunt pidgeys and pikachus or you can switch the AR off to simulate a cartoonish three-dimensional backdrop. I recommend that you play with AR off because it is much easier to actually catch pokémon this way.
Catch, Loot, Repeat
When you do encounter a Pokémon you will have an opportunity to throw pokéballs at it; that's how you capture them. There is a bit of an art to throwing pokéballs though. When you hold the ball you will see concentric circles. It's all about timing and knowing when to flick—or run away.
I wasted too many pokéballs trying to nab powerful raticates and doduos early on in my playthrough. And pokéballs are sometimes hard to come by. Look at creature's CP rating. A 10 is super weak whereas anything over a hundred might be tricky to pursue.
There are items that you find along the way that help you attempt to capture the more difficult ones. Eventually you will run out of gear and you will be looking for places to re-fill. The map is also populated pokéStops, locations that drop precious pokéballs, eggs, potions and other useful items.
Don't be surprised if you find yourself walking around your local suburb just to find more pokéStops. Without pokéballs you can't capture anything and you'll be eyeing off the items in the shop contemplating whether it's worth shelling out. There is no need to pay to win when a bus ride or a brisk jog through a busy population centre should sort you out.
Training Ain't Like it Used to Be
And now we depart from the classic method of training our squirtles, bulbasaurs and charmanders. To train your army you don't fight everything that moves. Instead, you convert your surplus zubats into candies. Score enough candy and you can evolve that zubat into a golbat.
Another important resource that you obtain with every capture is stardust. If you'd rather improve the combat prowess of your pidgeot then sprinkle a little stardust with your candy and see that majestic beast soar.
This is where the game grinds. There are people out there playing non-stop for hours, upgrading their menagerie.
For every pokéStop you visit and for every successful critter capture you will earn experience points. The real fun starts when you crack level five. You will be able to incubate eggs, participate in gym battles and most importantly represent one of three teams: Mystic (blue), Valour (red) and Instinct (yellow).
Yes, you can incubate eggs. You have to walk, and your device has to maintain GPS tracking, in order for it to count for anything. The better the egg, the greater the distance you need to cover before it will hatch. Breeding pokémon is a great way to get the kids active.
If you try to cheat by using a train or a car to fast-track progress, you will lose GPS tracking and you'll just have to walk the old fashioned way.
Gym battles are exciting. Before you commit to a duel you can see all of the pokémon standing guard. If you think you have a chance go for it. Unlike previous games, the combat is real-time. Swipe to dodge, tap to attack and hold to perform your special attack.
This morning I secured the local railway station however an hour later another trainer came along and bumped me off. The idea is that you earn your team prestige for owning a gym and other trainers will try to lower your prestige and take control. Yes, this is a virtual turf war over fictitious animals.
Showered with Gifts
As you level up you will be given items like incense and lure modules. Incense is ideal if you are in an area where Pokémon are scarce. Drop some incense to encourage rattatas and other species to parade themselves on your doorstep for 30 minutes.
Lure modules are similar to incense only you deploy them at pokéStops.
You get a taste of the offerings from the shop. It is tempting to pay to win when these items improve your experience. Would you throw down real currency for this?
The Future Looks Bright
Pokémon GO has only been out in the wild for a few days. And there are exciting announcements about new features that are yet to come like being able to trade pokémon with friends. I think this game will transform into something even more amazing when the developer, Niantic, introduce proper trainer battles. Just be mindful of your mobile data usage. What's your favourite Pokémon?