Pokémon Go, the free-to-play Augmented Reality app developed by Niantic and the latest entry into the Pokémon series, is taking the world by storm. Since its initial launch on July 6, Nintendo’s stock has jumped by 70%, it’s biggest weekly share price gain in more than 30 years. 10% of Android users now have the app installed on their mobiles, thousands of mobile owners have changed their location settings in order to download it and it surpassed 65 million downloads the first week of its release in the U.S. alone. Pokémon is back and bigger than ever before.
If, like me, you’re based in Europe, you’ll be familiar with the extraordinary lengths people are going to just to download the game. Thousands of people have had to change their default location settings to U.S., Australia or New Zealand and create new email accounts just to download the game. A couple of days later and in-between a variety of server issues and other bugs, I finally had the game running.
The game finishes loading and I’m greeted by Professor Willow. Willow gives me the option to alter our appearance and then lets us choose between three starter Pokémon: Bulbasaur, Charmander or Squirtle. Everyone knows the only right choice here is Charmander: Squirtle takes an easy second place and Bulbasaur dead last because who wants a grass-type as a starter Pokémon, right?
I open my front door and I encounter a Pidgey. If this was any other Pokémon game, I’d be hitting run – no one wants a Pidgey – but I’m primed with nostalgic glee and I start throwing Pokéballs. It’s mine. My Pokédex gets a new entry and I’m rewarded with experience. With Charmander and Pidgey by my side, I head down the street to hit up my first Pokéstop.
Pokéstops are map locations that reward players with experience and new items, such as Pokéballs, eggs or battle items such as potions or revives. I manage to get a couple of Pokéballs, and lose my shit as I get my first Pokémon egg. What’s inside? I need to walk 10km to hatch it. Challenge accepted.
You level up Pokémon with their respective pieces of candy – essentially Rare Candy from the video games, but unique to each Pokémon. Every time you catch a new Pokémon, you get pieces of candy and also stardust. Together, these are used to level up your Pokémon. You can also get an extra piece of candy from depositing Pokémon to Professor Willow – but there is no way to get a deposited Pokémon back.
I give the local Pidgey and Rattata population hell over the next couple of days in a bid to acquire as many candy pieces as possible. I’ve lost count of the amount of Pokémon I’ve cast into the abyss that is Willow’s deposit box, but it pays off when I’ve finally got enough pieces to evolve my Pidgey into a Pidgeotto and my Rattata into a Raticate.
I find a stray Seal down my street the next morning. I quickly capture it and wonder if Hull’s ancestral roots to the maritime industry (I’m playing this in Hull, City of Culture 2017) bare any significance to its location. I soon learn that Hull’s docks are quickly being taken over by Pokémon trainers due to them being a hotbed of Pokéstops and rare Pokémon. Certain Pokémon are only discoverable in specific landscapes, but it is yet to be confirmed if certain Pokémon are region exclusive.
Day four of owning the game and an hour-long drive to Ikea to grab some furniture seems like a great way to hatch the seven eggs I’m now in possession of. I start the journey in the highest of hopes, eagerly anticipating the arrival of seven new Pokémon. 15 minutes into the journey, now down the motorway and I see my ass: the app stops registering movement if it tracks you traveling more than 20kmph. The eggs will have to wait.
To make matters worse, my girlfriend is pissed off that the wardrobe she wanted is out of stock and I’m just as pissed when we return home and I find out the servers are down due to phenomenal demand – presumably down to the actual UK launch of the app.
I spend the next day leveling up my Pokémon and hunting down a mysterious silhouette to try and discover the whereabouts of an undiscovered Pokémon. If you grew up with the original Pokémon titles and watched enough of the anime series to know the identity of every “who’s that Pokémon?” segment during the advert breaks, you can probably guess every nearby Pokémon on the app whether you’ve discovered them or not.
After hours searching for this mysterious, whiskered Pokémon, I’m disappointed to find out it’s a Magikarp, and considering how much effort it took trying to track it down, it looks unlikely that I’ll have a Gyarados anytime soon.
After reaching level five and siding with Team Mystic (who have Articuno as their mascot and ice-types are legit), I start getting cocky. My Pokémon are averaging out at around 180CP (CP is the combat power of your Pokemon, which grows with each new level they gain and also in relation to your own player level) and despite being majorly out-leveled by a number of surrounding gyms, I’m surprised to see my local gym being held by a Shelder with a CP of 97. Time to get rekt, Shellder.
I choose my team – my Pidgeotto, Ghastly and Charmander looking like a sure sign of victory – and throw them into battle. I destroy the Shellder in a couple of hits and assume the rest of the team are going to be just as weak. How wrong I was. Out comes a Pidgeotto with a whopping CP of over 350. One by one, my team is quickly annihilated. I couldn’t believe it: the whole Shellder guise was a clever ploy – nothing more than a cheap attempt to lure in noobs like myself who have become disillusioned with victory.
“Gym battles aren’t meant to be this hard,” I tell myself. “Shellders aren’t meant to be found in the densely student-populated areas of Hull. Pidgeottos aren’t meant to be that strong and a place that I regularly frequent for beers isn’t meant to be a Pokémon gym.” I’m ready to call bullshit on this whole new experience and stop playing for good, and then I realize something and I smile.
I realize how, once again, I’ve been consumed by the world of Pokémon, only this time, the world of Pokémon is my world, too. The magic of playing the original Pokémon has come rushing back to me (I lost interest when Pokémon became redesigned inanimate objects, like a pair of keys), and I’m full of excitement. I feel like a kid again.
Pokémon Go is testament to the fact that Pokémon is very much alive and bigger than ever before. And just like the people I’ve met in the streets playing the game, if this mobile app has the power to bring strangers together face to face and allows them to bond over their favorite Pokémon memories, all while introducing all-new players to the world of Pokémon, then it is only right that the entire world is paying attention to Pokémon right now.
For more on Pokémon Go, check out this hilarious video of Homer Simpson getting in on the action.
- Words: Mat Ombler
- Lead image: The Daily Dot