Game Review: Pokemon GO

Pokemon GO is a new mobile app from Nintendo and Niantic that uses your phone’s GPS and camera to make everyone’s favorite virtual Pocket Monsters pop right into reality, but what is this Pokemon GO and is it worth all the hype?

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For the past few days, my entire newsfeed has been 75% Pokemon GO-related posts. People all over the world are playing and talking about Pokemon GO. I’d be VERY surprised if you haven’t heard about it or seen at least a little something about Pokemon GO pop up during the past few days if you use social media in any way. In this post, I’ll tell you just what Pokemon GO is, what’s so great about it, and how it could be improved.

The Premise

Pokemon GO is an augmented reality game for your iPhone or Android mobile phone.

What does that mean?

Augmented reality is similar to virtual reality. Except, virtual reality takes your movements and inputs them into an artificial environment that you completely immerse yourself in (probably via some headset). Augmented reality keeps you in the real world, but adds artificial things to it that you can interact with.

13627084_10156998026480315_1331339466556222029_nPokemon GO uses your phone’s GPS and puts Pokemon at semi-random locations around the world. You can walk to these locations (in the real world) and then use your phone to search the area for Pokemon. Once you are near enough to a Pokemon, you can use your phone’s camera and attempt to capture the found Pokemon by throwing Pokeballs at them (in a mini game very similar to Paper Toss).

The game places Pokemon in real world locations using a semi-random algorithm. I say semi-random because the area, climate, weather, and even time of day affect which Pokemon appear and where. For example, you will only find Water-type Pokemon near bodies of water; and if you live in the city you will find plenty of bird and rodent Pokemon.

The app also uses an algorithm to pick out specific spots in the real world. These locations are spots that are typical gathering places, like churches, artistic statues downtown, important landmarks, and even the local coffeehouse. These pre-selected locations can be one of two things: a Pokestop or  a Pokemon Gym.

13615117_10153721602427596_5553683186431051847_nFirst, a Pokestop is a location that players can visit to get free items and maybe even encounter Pokemon or other players. Second, a Pokemon Gym is an interesting place because of the competition it inspires. Players can join one of three teams when they reach a certain level in-game. After joining a team, your primary purpose is to visit these Pokemon Gyms and use the Pokemon you have caught to claim control of that Gym for your team. Claiming a Gym gives you and your affiliates numerous items and bonuses. So, contesting and defending Gyms is a big part of the game and Gym ownership can change daily, if not hourly.

Why Should I Get It?

13567263_10209227855871973_4293279309141971361_nI am really very, very impressed with the product Nintendo and Niantic have released. Even though the game contains Pokemon and allows players to live out the dream they’ve had since they were eight years old, at its basest form Pokemon GO is a game about being physically active and social.

I’m sure some people will dismiss the game as just another virtual reality game that the kids are losing themselves in at the expense of their social skills.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I have been amazed at the social groups and conversations that have popped up around the release of this game. People are talking to people they wouldn’t normally talk to, they are making allegiances, trading information, and even arranging meetups to go walk around the neighborhood to “hunt” for Pokemon.

Virtually overnight, there arose this culture around the world of Pokemon GO players, all talking and all working together. I woke up to numerous group requests on Facebook and people from all different walks of life coming together to talk about a similar subject: Pokemon. This game is getting people out of their house and exercising and talking to other human beings in the real world. I have never seen a game be able to do this before, to unite so many people in a way that is healthy for them socially and physically, and it makes me very excited.

13592563_10209227855991976_3968348390494454414_nI’ve found myself (a pretty regular homebody) eager to get out, to visit new places, and just to see what I can find. Just yesterday, I drove to a nearby small town a few miles from where I live for a completely unrelated errand. As I arrived to town and casually checked the Pokemon GO app, I saw that the town I was visiting had a ton of Pokestops. So, I parked my car at their town square, bought a Gatorade, and took a hike up and down Main Street checking in to Pokestops and catching different Pokemon. It was a good 30 minutes of exercise that I would have otherwise passed on. And I got to see parts of that town that I would not have otherwise seen or taken notice of before.

As I said earlier, to download the game is FREE! However, the game does offer in-app purchases (as basically every smart phone game does nowadays). A few people have expressed dismay at having another “pay-to-play” game, but I have been playing for the past three days and I have dropped no money on it. The items offered are admittedly helpful, such as giving the player more Pokeballs (which can be found for free by visiting Pokestops), Incense to lure Pokemon to your location (which can be occasionally gained by leveling up), and various other upgrades to make the game a little easier for you. As I said, I have not spent any money on this game yet and I feel I am progressing pretty well. If you have children that are going to be playing this game, disable in-app purchases if you haven’t already, lest you find yourself with a substantial phone bill and your child with a surplus of Pokeballs.

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How Can They Make It Better?

13557915_10209227855951975_720860896603490015_nIncrease Server Strength – If you talk to anyone currently playing Pokemon GO, the first complaint out of their mouth will probably be the servers. The amount of people playing this game is unprecedented. This game is not just being played by people in the US or by people with a specific game console. It’s being played all around the world by anyone with a smart phone (which is the majority of the civilized world). That’s a lot of people! As such, Niantic’s servers are maxed out. Yesterday, for more than half of the day, the servers were down. Connection to the game’s client has been spotty simply because of the amount of people downloading and playing the game. However, everyone must remember that this game was just released AND IT’S FREE. As time goes on, I’m sure Niantic will increase the amount of traffic their servers can handle. Already today, the servers are acting better than they were yesterday.

image1Add more Pokemon – As it stands, Pokemon GO features only the original 150 Pokemon from the Red and Blue versions of the game released in 1995. These 150 Pokemon will provide weeks, months, and possibly years of entertainment as people comb the world for them all. There are currently more than 700 Pokemon in the Pokemon franchise. I may seem greedy for saying this, but I’d love to see Pokemon from other versions of the game make their way to Pokemon GO.

Of course, the original 150 are the best anyway, so I’d be happy if no other Pokemon are ever added outside of them… Maybe the Pokemon from Gold and Silver too…

Incorporate Current Exercise Technology – Pokemon GO rewards you for being active. Using your GPS location and speed of travel, the game calculates the amount of kilometers you have walked and gives you various rewards for your distance traveled. My biggest complaint with this is if you do any stationary exercise (such as on a treadmill) the distance you run is not added to your Pokemon GO steps (because according to the GPS, you’re staying in one spot). I would love to see Nintendo and Niantic partner with already implemented exercise tracking technology such as the very popular FitBit. If the companies could figure out a way to take the information that FitBit already records and sends to your smartphone, the game could encourage people to become even more physically active. Also, it’s the middle of summer and it is as hot as a Magmar’s den outside. Staying inside and running on a treadmill is a safe alternative to having a heatstroke in the midday sun.

13567282_10209227855591966_8575670303926084510_nA Better Tutorial – The game kind of throws you into everything with very little explanation. There are many things about the game that I had to learn just by intuition and guessing. While this is great in some ways, some people may just not get it. Some people may not be able to put together that the steps next to nearby Pokemon silhouettes denotes a distance between you and it. Or they may not understand that in order to interact with the Pokestop, you have to tap and then spin the photo icon. A little hand holding never hurt anyone and maybe just having friendly reminders from the Professor pop up during your first few days playing will be enough to create a comprehensive “tutorial mode” for new players.

Decrease The Battery Drain – This game will drain your phone battery like a vampire; a sexy, wonderful vampire, but a vampire nonetheless. I’ve found myself carrying around an external battery charger just to keep my phone going throughout the day. With the amount of data that the app has to process and the fact that you must leave the app open and running (meaning you can’t close your phone or put it into sleep mode) means that the app will eat up your battery. The game does have a Battery Saver mode that puts the app into rest when you place it upside down in your pocket. In this mode, the app will vibrate or sound an alert to let you know when you’ve arrived at a Pokestop or to tell you a Pokemon is nearby.  I have not had a lot of success using the Battery Saver mode and found the game freezing and becoming unresponsive after putting it in BS mode.

4de86895d9633269426838886efc9299-650-80Alternatively, I’d love to see the developers create a way for the app to run in the background without having to be constantly open to work. I know there is supposedly a bracelet accessory on the way that may very well do that, buzzing and lighting up to give you alerts. I’m not sure when this accessory is set to be released or even where it can be found, but maybe this will solve the problem of the app’s drain on your battery.

BE SAFE!!!!

I am almost certain that there will be a rise in vehicle accidents because of people trying to drive and play Pokemon GO at the same time. Be smart, people. Do not play Pokemon GO or any game on your phone while you’re driving. It can wait.

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Also, don’t go walking around a strange neighborhood or even at night around a familiar neighborhood. Just because you’re playing a game doesn’t mean there aren’t predators in the real world. Team up with a group of your friends and plan a fun night out looking for Pokemon together.

The Grade

Pokemon GO is a wonderful new app that encourages players to be social with real live people and to be active. I’m excited for the possibilities that this game brings with it and despite a few rough days with server issues, I can only see PokeGO improving from here on out.

I give Pokemon GO a grade of…

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Well, have you started downloading it yet? Are you already playing? Get out and go catch em all, Trainers!

 

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