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July 27, 2016 / Jett

Early Impressions of Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go mania is sweeping the planet and I am not immune to the madness. My background in the franchise is fairly limited, but I did beat Pokemon X, so I get the gist of what the core games in the series are about. Unlike those, this one uses the power of GPS and augmented reality to put you at the heart of the action. On paper, this should be the franchise in its ultimate form. So far, does the game look to be on track to meet or exceed the lofty expectations in front of it?

Classic Pokemon games have a fairly fixed progression path. You start out as a plucky kid with one starter pokemon on a quest to be the very best. You could even say, the best there ever was. Traveling around your region, you defeat the eight gyms in order until you’re crowned the champion.

Pokemon Go has the tiniest shreds of story at the moment. You get a bit of setup from Professor Willow, who asks for your help in researching pokemon. Once you hit level 5, you get to join one of three different gyms vying for your services. After that, you’re on your own.

Some players may be miffed by the lack of a story, but its exclusion is part of the magic. The real story of the game is your real-life adventures trying to catch, strengthen and battle with your pocket monsters. Even after playing the game for only a few days, I have a number of fond memories of going to a place, trying to catch pokemon and all of the other real-life things that happened around that moment.

Once you get past the character creation phase, you’ll be dropped into a map of your current surroundings. Roads, grass, and large bodies of water are the real terrain that will appear. Of course, pokemon of all sorts will also appear in the world when you get close to them.

If you’re not picky, simply wandering around will yield a good amount of pokemon. However, if you’re trying to track down a specific one from your nearby list, bugs in the current build of the game make it more difficult than intended. When you’re getting close to a pokemon, the number of footprints below it is supposed to decrease until there are none left. The problem is that the footprints don’t disappear right now. Yes, the order in which they appear in the listings sort of helps, but the lack of steps makes it really hard to know where to go next. Until that’s fixed to work originally designed, I’m just going to go where I want and hope for the best.

When you’re close enough, the pokemon will appear on the screen. Click on it to start the capturing process. If you have Augmented Reality on, the pokemon will appear in the real-world thanks to your phone’s camera and screen. While the effect is neat, it’s also a battery hog. For a game that already burns through battery at an alarming rate, I’ll take any measures to save my juice so that I can play longer.

Unlike the core games, you won’t have to weaken the opponent through battle. Instead, you’ll engage in a pokeball-throwing mini game. Throw it close enough and the pokemon will get contained. If your aim is poor, the ball will go sailing to the side and be wasted. When I first started playing the game, I was awful at it. With a bit of practice though, the throwing mechanics became second nature. As a means of scoring extra XP, you can even spin your balls to throw looping curveballs, which are much harder to successfully land.

It’s not as engaging as a full-on battle, but it works as an on-the-go experience. There’s skill involved with getting the throw right, as pokemon stand at different positions of the screen. Also, the stronger the pokemon, the harder they are to catch, requiring the use of stronger pokeballs, candy to calm them down, or just a pinpoint-accurate throw to lock them up for good. Even if I’m catching yet another Pidgey, the throwing aspect of the game holds up.

You’ll quickly amass an army of pokemon. Most of these at the start are going to be weak and common. You’ll also end up with a bunch of duplicates. Unless you want to maintain a flock of Pidgeys, you can transfer them to Professor Willow in exchange for candy. You’ll need these to help power up or evolve your pokemon later, so it’s an integral part of managing your stable.

As you walk around your real world, you’ll hopefully come across the two different types of landmarks: PokeStops and gyms. PokeStops are landmarks in your area that appear as floating cubes in the game. When you click on a landmark and spin it, it will give you items such as pokeballs, potions and eggs.

Gyms on the other hand, are where you’ll put your pokemon to the test. If you’re fighting a rival gym, you’ll assemble a team that will hopefully win. If you do, you’ll knock off their weakest pokemon from the gym. If you clear out the whole gym, you can claim it for your team and sit at the top as the gym leader, while earning XP, gold and other goodies. It can be daunting to see such high-level pokemon sit at the top, but the odds are actually against them, as you can bring in a team of six while they usually stand at two-to-three. At a gym of your team colour, you can train there instead. It’s still a fight, but none of your pokemon will feint.

I like the mechanics around claiming gyms and the rewards you get from them, but the actual act of combat is underwhelming. Yes, the strengths and weaknesses of each pokemon carry over here, adding to the strategy, but this isn’t a turn-based combat system. Instead, you will tap very quickly on the screen to use a normal attack, hold the screen for a special attack when your bar is fully charged, or swipe to dodge. At this point, dodging is basically useless and combat devolves into screen mashing until the other pokemon feints. With the game technically still in beta, I hope they find ways to make this experience better.

Pokemon Go has a ton of promise and it already lives up to a lot of it. The experience of being a pokemon trainer in the real world is awesome. However, there’s certainly room for improvement. The app crashes too much, it chomps through battery like nobody’s business, the map is glitchy and combat is just bad among other things. The game has already struck a nerve with people, but I’m hoping that the game is further polished going forward.


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