Pokemon Go Review...Right After I Catch This Dratini

Pokemon Go is the Game of Thrones of smartphone games: your friends are all loving and consuming it at all hours of the day and night, sometimes at 4am, and won’t stop saying, “HOW ARE YOU NOT INTO THIS STUPENDOUS THING???” while staring intently into their glowing LCD on the top of Mount Eden. No, wait, that last bit was only relevant to Pokemon.

Since you obviously haven’t heard about this new thing called Pokemon Go, aside from the fact that it has invaded your Facebook news feed and is following you like a lost puppy hoping for your affection everywhere you go, let us delve into what this whole thing is. In sum, Pokemon Go is the newest installment in the legendary Pokemon franchise from Nintendo, in association with Niantic Inc., that makes you get up out of your chair at home and become a world traveling Pokemon trainer. The app, using Google and Apple maps, takes your location and helps you search for and catch all of the Pokemon from the original 151. It puts what are called Pokestops, veritable landmarks around you, that you can get items like Pokeballs and potions from, and virtual gyms where you can train your Pokemon and battle other trainers.

So that’s the skinny. But let me tell you, just explaining the game in a few short sentences doesn’t do the justice of actually capturing the essence and magic of the game itself. Talking about it is one thing, but playing is entirely another.

The app is still new and, for all intents and purposes, in its testing phase. As many know, the servers have consistently been crashing at Niantic headquarters due to the colossal user activity of the app in its first week here in New Zealand. The game constantly glitches and stalls, and you have to close and restart the app multiple times within 60 minutes. You want to catch that Blastoise? Sucks to be you, we’re freezing you out. WHO’S A TRAINER NOW???

Sorry, unresolved issue from a couple of days ago. I’m good now.

In addition, there have been a large number of reported injuries and other dangerous encounters because of the game and how sucked in a player gets, disregarding their surroundings. Every time you open the app, the loading screen shows a warning to players to always be aware of where they are and what’s going on around them. Which, to be fair, isn’t really doing much since people are more inclined to help themselves to that next Pokestop than making sure to look left and right before crossing a busy intersection.

One fix for this might be the rumoured GoWatch for the game, a wearable piece of tech that would vibrate whenever Pokemon are near. This would keep users’ eyes on the footpath or road, not down at the concrete or asphalt itself. Then, when your watch vibrates, you can decide where it’s best to stop and then pull out your phone. It’ll be great for safety, but by the looks of the actual prototype, not so good to have on your wrist when trying to get a girl’s number.

Potential Pokemon Go watches that, when your phone screen is off, would vibrate when Pokemon are near.

Despite the flaws though, the layout, gameplay, battle style and graphics surpass all expectations for the newest installment in the single most successful game franchise Nintendo have ever had. Their numbers put competitors to absolute shame. Locations services make it easy for you to follow your character as you walk, bus, and NOT DRIVE while you’re playing (seriously everyone, your life matters more than a Pidgey, high CP be damned), and the game uses distance traveled to award you with medals, helps you crack eggs and hatch new Pokemon, and is a part of how you level up as a trainer. Perhaps most importantly, that aspect of the game gets players out of the house and moving around, walking from destination to destination and finding new Pokemon to catch instead of the older generation of games that allowed players to sit in one spot and battle their way to the Elite Four and catch every species of Pokemon, all while charging through a bag of Doritos and that now non-fizzy, half-filled L&P. This gets you moving and shaking like no other Pokemon game before. You’re walking, being active, seeing places you don’t always go to, and talking to others in the community of PokeNerds (no, not the ones from the old games that always tried to hit you with a Slowpoke, end up losing the battle, and then start making some weird guffawing noise spelled out with English letters. You know the one, “Fufufufu…” What even was that supposed to be?)

Pokémon Trainers crowd in a corner of Queens Wharf to catch a Tentacruel

There’s a nostalgic attraction and investment in Pokemon Go for users over the age of 20. We grew up playing Pokemon Red, Gold, and Sapphire for hours on end, walking as fast as we could to the next gym, training our little PokePets to new, higher levels to become to strongest trainers around. I still remember my mum screaming at me every evening to shut the damn game off and wash up for dinner, to a point where it almost became a ritual. It was what you talked with the kids at primary school about, trading Pokemon, arguing about your best ones, what gyms you beat, helping each other through the maps and booby-trapped Rocket Power basement puzzle and honestly so much more. It was a cultural phenomenon on a scale never seen before in the gaming world. I admit: I never believed that a game would ever come out again that would so unify a generation of kids and adults and bless them with the magical experience of this imaginary world where power and play combine, hard work and effort are rewarded, and being the best meant earning the title of the “greatest in the world”.

You know, aside from that whole thing with Gameshark and cheat codes. Any kid who used that crap is disqualified from that last paragraph. If you hadn’t figured it out by now, I am not exempt from the current re-up phenomenon that this game has become. I’m a Level 12 with a kick-ass Lapras that was hatched out of a 10km egg. Yay for effort!

There's a whole WORLD of Pokemon out there!

Now? Story time. Another technician from The Core and I went on a little Pokemon hunt on Sunday night around 6:30pm. We were both, as millions are, still very new to the game and testing how everything works. We began our journey in Wynyard Quarter, walking around the docks and catching Poliwags and Ponytas as friends do. Our levels went up, our bag of items grew too big to handle, and our sights were set on bigger and rarer pocket monsters as we went along. As we walked around, we encountered anywhere between fifty to one hundred other players just in Wynyard Quarter, and many of them would look up from their phones for a quick glance at the other nerds that were on the same youthful buzz as they were, giggling at the realization that they were not alone in the endeavor. We’d pass trainers who would have helpful advice to finding certain rare types of Pokemon, because they were “just around the corner, Bulbasaur is kind of like near that water fountain”. We’d pass the same information to anyone looking distraught and hopeless, but never too low to concede to the defeat of losing a one-of-a-kind Magmar that doesn’t pop up every 2 meters.

The Auckland Domain packed with trainers, at 9:30 PM, on a Sunday night.

Eventually, we found ourselves walking all the way around Victoria Park, back towards the Quarter. I, myself, was on the hunt for a magical Dratini that seemed to have been evading us for a solid two hours. The footprints on my tracker would increase and decrease like the steady winter wind that whipped at us on the docks (G.O.T. REFERENCE! Nailed it). We would get close, then she would escape. My prize! Come back! (A tear rolls over this author’s cheek in memory of that night). Finally, we took a break and had some dinner…then finished and immediately drove to the Domain where 3o cars were parallel parked in one central location where some Lure Modules (items that attract Pokemon and benefit all players in the area) had been installed to bring those little creatures into our loving grips. Random strangers, all glued to the screen of their phones, were crawling around the far reaching grass of the massive park to catch that ever-elusive Growlithe or Rhyhorn. More advice from fellow walkers, more cars driving through around the museum on the high hill, and SO MANY ZUBATS. UGH.

We did eventually end our night (since we had to work the next day helping you wonderful people repair your screens and batteries), but not before taking a long detour from the Domain to Newmarket and a good distance down Remuera Road, then doubling back to head home…at 10:30pm. We had walked 10km each, and caught dozens of new Pokemon.

And the next night, my compatriot went out for another spin at the training game while I rested my weary hamstrings. He’s better than me now. I am sad. I’m going to go train some more now. I’d say goodbye, but there’s a Vulpix outside of Burger Fuel Queen Street. Hopefully management doesn’t mind.

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