Pokemon GO is the new free-to-play mobile game developed by Niantic. Any person born in the 90’s will see Pokemon GO and immediately be drawn into it. Simply put, Pokemon GO has a genius hook: use your cell phone to examine the world around you to find and capture Pokemon (Here is the Pokedex). For long time fans of the game series, this idea is something that we dreamed about as kids. The fantasy of becoming a real life “Pokemon Master” is a day dream that almost every 90’s kid has had. Fortunately, Pokemon GO also excels for newcomers to the series, or even people who have no gaming experience. That is because (at its very base ideal), Pokemon GO is more of a social experience than a game.
Before we get into the actual review, let me tell you a short story that captures the essence of Pokemon GO. Nearby where I live, there’s a strip of bars and restaurants that is always busy on the weekends. When Pokemon GO released, there was more people roaming the strip playing Pokemon GO than there was patrons in the bars. This was also on a weeknight. When college students are more interested in playing a game on their phones than drinking, you know it’s something special.
Without further digression, let’s discuss the actual “gameplay” of Pokemon Go. When you boot up the game for the first time, you pick a name for your Pokemon trainer persona, and then set out to “catch them all”. Using your GPS location, the game then populates the area around you with invisible Pokemon that you track using their tracking system. Since the game’s release, this tracking system has changed dramatically, and may still change. Consider this an overall truth for this game: it’s constantly changing and adapting for a (hopefully) better play experience. Once you’ve caught enough Pokemon to raise your trainer level to level 5, you pick between three teams. Your options are Valor, Mystic, and Instinct. These align with the original US Pokemon game “colors”, Red, Blue, and Yellow. This is cosmetic, but comes into play later when attempting to capture gyms.
From this level 5 mark, you’re free to explore your town to find new Pokemon, “PokeStops”, gyms, and the like. PokeStops are landmark locations that give you random items, such as more Pokeballs (to give you more attempts at catching Pokemon) and other stat boosting items. Gyms are contestable locations, with each team’s players (Valor, Mystic, or Instinct) attempting to overtake the landmark and claim it for their team. You battle the current gym leader’s Pokemon (the last person to successfully claim the gym) in a basic mini-game. Most Pokemon has the same types of moves, but there’s variations as well.
Beyond that, you can evolve your Pokemon by capturing duplicate Pokemon, and building up a supply of candies. These candies can then be used to evolve your Pokemon to its next form. Currently, there’s 140 Pokemon (with a few extra special Pokemon) to catch and play with. There’s special “Legendary” Pokemon that will be released into the wild when the developer wants. There's a constant amount of updating and patching to keep the game fresh and interesting.
At its heart, however, Pokemon GO is a social game. You can drop “lures” at landmarks, which increase the rarity of the Pokemon that appear (Of course, buying a rare pokemon is the easiest way). This usually draws other players to your real life location, encouraging social interaction. Most of the fun of the game is getting together with your friends and going out to hunt. Even if it’s not the focus, Pokemon GO makes a casual night of dinner and a movie exciting and fun. I’ve seen more of my friends go hiking and park walking than ever before. It’s a mobile game that is making people literally more mobile. That’s fantastic on its own in my opinion.
Overall, Pokemon GO is more than just a fad. Sure, like any popular app or game, there was a flash of popularity that has since dwindled. But the game is constantly updated and adjusted, preventing a stale experience. Due to its easiness of use and social focus, even non-gamers have started to enjoy the fun. The bottom line is this: even if you have no clue what a Pikachu is, you’ll still find Pokemon GO entertaining. The amount of fun you will have with it (and how long you will enjoy it for) is completely dependent on your interest in the hook of the game. However, whether you play it for a couple of hours and then uninstall, or play for weeks on end, Pokemon GO will entertain you. Thankfully, the micro transactions aren’t intrusive, and you can enjoy the game without paying a cent.