Anticipation has been high for the augmented-reality (AR) game Pokémon GO! The monster-collection universe of Pokémon has been a phenomenon for years with the trading card game, Nintendo games, and other merchandise in all shapes and sizes. Now, Pokémon will be taking over our smart phones—and the world around us—with GO!
The captivating premise of the game is the idea that the various colorful monsters of Pokémon exist in real space around us. Just look through your phone, see one standing there, and toss your Pokéball to capture it. Suspend your disbelief for a moment, and you’ll find you’re a real Pokémon trainer capturing real monsers.
Opening up the app for the first time walks you through a short introduction reminiscent of the core videogames. You’ll choose a gender, some clothes, and hair and skin colors. You’ll be able to choose your username and birthday, and shortly, you’ll find yourself on a reskinned version of your Google Maps location.
The map shows your surroundings, giving you a view of nearby buildings, streets, bodies of water, and special Pokémon landmarks. But perhaps more prominently, you’ll notice the starter Pokémon: Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle. If you don’t see all three, stand up and walk around for a bit until you’ve found them all. Once you tap and capture one, the other two will be gone, so choose your starter carefully.
Capturing your starter will work just like the Pokémon you’ll capture later on. Just tap it while it’s on your screen, and the AR will finally come into play. You’ll see your surroundings on the screen augmented by the presence of the Pokémon. Swipe from the Pokéball icon at the bottom of the screen to toss the ball, and if you hit the Pokémon, it’s yours.
Those Pokéballs are in limited supply, however, and you’ll have to visit a PokéStop to pick up more. These Stops show up as blue cubes on the map screen, and they’re at physical, real locations that have been chosen for being works of art or other landmarks. Figure out a couple close by, as you’ll probably want to pass there somewhat frequently to pick up goodies.
Once you have your starter, finding additional Pokémon can be a little trickier—you’ll need to have your adventurer’s spirit ready. Unlike the starters, Pokémon won’t necessarily be showing up conveniently wherever you happen to load up the game. Tufts of grass on your screen will show you where the next Pokémon may be hiding, and that’s going to mean heading outdoors. The more heavily populated an area, the more likely it will be to have Pokémon pop up. This may not make a lot of sense when compared to real-world animals, but it does make a lot of sense for a game that’s encouraging exercise and community.
Pokémon’s tagline is, “Gotta Catch ‘Em All,” and that doesn’t seem to be changing with Pokémon GO! There are over one hundred monsters to capture, and that’s just the beginning. Some will have you wandering out into your community to find, some you can hatch from eggs you find at PokéStops, and some you’ll need to evolve from ones you’ve already captured. Evolving requires capturing a whole bunch of the same Pokémon and turning them in to the professor (whom you meet at the start of the game) for candies, so even when evolving, there’s no lightening up on the incentive to get out there and throw some Pokéballs.
There are microtransactions in the game, including more balls (PokéStop-free), incense to lure more Pokémon to you, and an egg incubator for hatching any PokéEggs you may find. Time will tell how essential these in-game items will be, but if you’re more interested in physical accessories, the Pokémon GO Plus will be coming soon. It’s a wristband-friendly clip that lets you catch Pokémon with one press of a button while on the go without having to keep your phone out and lit all the time. So when you see someone with a red and white circle on the wrist or backpack, you’ll you know you’ve found a fellow trainer.
Pokémon gyms and teams will add to the community elements of the game as players team up to control their local gyms. If you want to participate in the larger-scale elements of the game, you won’t be able to go it alone.