Pokémon GO launched for the U.S last night for both Android and iOS, causing fans across the country to frantically download and venture out into the world. And I was no different.
Here are my initial impressions of Pokémon GO, from my very first use to Level 5 status.
I got the news on my way home from downtown (Chicago, IL) and downloaded the app on the spot—despite my 8% battery. First, you customize your avatar. Customization is limited to sex, skin tone, and select clothing colors/styles. It’s pretty basic, and I was a little disappointed. But you also get to create a username, and each one is unique to each player, which is always nice.
When I started the actual game, a Charmander immediately appeared on the ‘L’ platform and I rushed to catch it. Unfortunately, the app froze and shortly after my phone died. My family experienced similar struggles but—just like them—I was happy to see my progress had been saved despite the technical difficulties. But what I remember most about that first use was the child-like joy and wonder I get from augmented reality.
I felt the same thing when I used the AR cards with the 3DS, though the fun of those wore off quickly. Bottom line is, if you’re a Pokémon fan you’ve probably—at some point—wanted Pokémon to be real. Pokémon GO attempts to construct that experience.
Evening walk: PokéStops and first encounters
In our nerd excitement, my friend, Maggie, and I set out around 10pm to explore our neighborhood through the lens of Pokémon GO. We quickly discovered that Pilsen is packed with PokéStops from Angel’s Tire Shop (pictured below) to various murals in the neighborhood.
Once you’re close enough to a PokéStop, you can click on it. A circle will appear with an image of the stop, spin it and you’ll receive Poké Balls and sometimes other items (such as a Pokémon egg, potions, incense, etc).
That first night out we found a lot of Drowzees, which made sense given the time of day. We also found Zubats, Rattatas, Pidgeys, Spearows—all the types of Pokémon you’d expect to find in a city. But I was also thrilled to find some of my favorite and less common Pokémon such as Ghastly and Vulpix.
The basics: catching Pokémon, hatching eggs, and evolving.
The catching itself is easy, a quick fling of a Poké Ball and its done. The key is to get the Poke Ball into the circular target on the Pokémon at the peak of the trajectory. Of course, Pokémon will break out sometimes (my friend wasn’t able to catch the Vulpix at all).
I was lucky enough to get quite a few eggs from various Poké Stops. Just like the actual game, these eggs will hatch once you’ve walked around with it for a while. But since there’s no roster of Pokémon, you’re rolling with it works a little differently in Pokémon GO. You have to place the egg into an incubator; from there the distance you walk will help hatch your egg (Note: driving does not count, and you can only hatch one egg at a time). I was able to get one of my eggs to hatch; it was a Charmander, which was a little disappointing because I already had one.
But hey, you could always use more Pokémon because in Pokémon GO, the way you evolve your Pokémon is with candy. And the Pokémon you catch can be “traded in” for candy. For instance, I need 50 Drowzee Candy to evolve Drowzee. Additionally I can use stardust to level-up myPokémon. I realize I use Drowzee a lot as an example, but it turns out my neighborhood is full of them.
When I got home, I hoped to find Pokémon in my apartment, but it was completely empty. So I decided to light some incense (in the game of course), which attracts wild Pokémon for 30 minutes. Almost immediately a Squirtle appeared in the closet. All in all, it was a pretty good night.
This morning, I was back at it again. Maggie wanted to drive to Target/Best Buy, ironically to buy Pokémon X, so I tagged along. Since I was not driving (please do not Pokémon GO and drive), I was able to keep the app open and “go to” different Poké stops and even catch a few Pokémon along the way. This was a fun and easy way to explore while building XP, which you get from catching Pokémon and going to Poké Stops. When you level up you are awarded Poké Balls/items. Once you reach Level 5, you select a team and begin going to gyms.
Teams and Gyms
Players may choose from 1 of 3 teams: Instinct, Mystique, or Valor (yellow, blue, red, respectively).
You can train your Pokémon by visiting your team’s gyms and battling. If you defeat your team’s gym, then the gym “prestige” goes up—making it harder for opposing teams. Likewise, losing battles to other team’s Pokémon will lower that prestige.
If a gym’s prestige reaches zero, it can be taken over by a new team. It’s all a sort of community effort. I haven’t been able to interact with gyms yet because of pretty frequent server crashes, but, like everyone, I’m hoping these will decrease as time goes on.
I will say I’m concerned by the lack of team diversity I’ve noticed, at least in my area of Chicago. It feels like everyone is blue or red, so I’m wondering how this imbalance may affect gameplay.
Overall, Pokémon GO is really fun, but I can’t imagine my interest staying this strong over a long period of time. Additionally, the learning curve is a bit rough since the game tries to make the Pokemon world “real”, but there are a lot of things being introduced to us at once without much explanation. There’s something to be said for just “figuring it out” but it can be a bit frustrating, and with the crashes, it can be a bit of a polarizing experience. I really want to delve in, but right now it doesn’t feel fully possible.