After a limited release in Australia and New Zealand, it’s finally here — Pokémon Go, the augmented reality game that populates the real world with Pokémon, is out in the United States for iOS and Android. The choice between Bulbasaur, Squirtle, and Charmander has never been more personal.
So, how is it being a real-world Pokémon trainer? Well, I’ll level with you — this is a free app developed by a third party (Niantic) with Nintendo’s blessing, so if you’re expecting something that resembles a full Pokémon game, you might want to revise that down. After a brief intro from Professor Willow (hey, there are some callbacks to the main games) and a probably much-needed warning to stay aware of your surroundings while playing, you get to choose your starting Pokémon from the generation one starters, who happen to be hanging out near wherever you are. Point your phone at where your choice (Squirtle) is, and you’ll be able to capture a Pokémon! Which is, well, it’s Paper Toss. Like, the app where you throw paper into the wastebasket like basketball? The paper is the Pokéball, and the wastebasket is the Pokémon. You kinda feel bad for the Pokémon, really.
While it’s not necessary to use AR (you can just tap on a Pokémon on the map if its in your immediate vicinity), that kind of takes away from the charm of walking around the city looking like a fool. Whatever you prefer, finding Pokémon will be the same — you’ll be able to see silhouettes of nearby Pokémon, along with indicators showing how far away they are from you (one paw print for near, three for far). From there, it’s just like playing Pokémon — walk around the streets until a wild Pokémon appears.
As thrilling as catching them all is, you can’t completely ignore battling in a Pokémon game. There are Pokémon Gyms that correspond to real world locations that you’ll be able to fight for control over, once you’ve reached level 5 as a trainer. The battles — well, again, temper your expectations. You launch attacks, then dodge enemy attacks by swiping left or right. You’re not going to be min/maxing stats to get a Charizard with an unbeatable flamethrower, I’ll tell you that much. Still, it’s fun to fight over gyms, even if I was a little disappointed to learn that my local gym is a small park instead of the 7-Eleven a block over.
Now, to catch Pokémon, you’re going to need Pokéballs. You can pick those up at PokéStops, which are also real world locations altered through the power of augmented reality. But, there is another way to get items (incense to attract Pokémon is also available). I’ll bet you’ll never guess how — microtransactions! You can pay money to get more in-game currency or items, and oh, will people pay money.
The main draw of the game is catching them all, although Niantic and Nintendo both warn that’s not going to be easy. While features could always be added in the future, it’s not possible to trade Pokémon, so you’re really going to have to find them all to catch them all, and it’s already been revealed that some Pokémon will only appear in certain countries.
Oh, and speaking of draw, watch your battery meter. There have already been early reports that Pokémon Go absolutely savages battery life, something I can confirm to be true. You’re going to need a bigger external battery pack. But, if that’s what it takes to catch a wild Snorlax in the corner store candy aisle, so be it.