Like many people across the world this week, I have been anxiously refreshing Apple’s App Store many times over the course of the last few days, hoping that I would be greeting by the icon for Niantic’s Pokémon GO – a freemium smartphone game that uses your local map data to spawn Game Freak’s iconic creature comforts in the real world – where you can catch, train and battle them just like in the Nintendo platform games. With each passing day however, my morale was starting to fade as I noticed a quiet soft-launch starting in New Zealand and the slower roll-out. However, in the early hours of yesterday morning, I was finally able to download the game and began catching the likes of Squirtle, Pidgey and Zubat in my bedroom!
Once it was light outside, I popped my trainers on and took the first steps of my Pokémon GO journey – except instead of exploring the vast Kanto region, my quest has been somewhat neutered somewhat to a small English village. After hearing stories from my urban friends about locales littered with Gyms and PokéSpots, the relatively empty map I found myself in was a little disheartening at first (especially compared to other locations, but within moments of leaving my front door, I was face-to-face with a Pidgey!
Taking the more scenic route in the hopes of finding more Pokémon, I started to encounter difficulties with keeping my game connected to the internet. I wasn’t able to claim anything from the first PokéSpot I encountered because the connection kept dropping the moment I reached it; although I blame my own phone service on that. As I reached the centre of the village, I was ambushed by a Zubat outside the pub and found out that I could pilfer said establishments Wi-Fi so I could connect to a nearby PokéSpot without using my precious data! While that was spared however, my battery life was not. Apple have never been renowned for long-lasting batteries but even so, I wasn’t expecting to be running on 50% capacity only an hour into my journey – so I strongly advise taking portable power banks. Just in case you don’t believe me, compare the time in the image above, to the one below:
This image brings me to another observation: see those two PokéSpots? I can’t access them as they’re in the grounds of a school, which is disappointing considering Niantic’s assurances that PokéSpots will be readily available to the public; this likely being a side-effect of when they allowed Ingress users to submit potential portal locations. The other PokéSpots I found are easily accessible however; both being commemorative maps of the village. After obtaining my very first egg and hanging around to catch a few Pokémon, my battery started to get a little low, so I headed home. On my way back however, I found this little guy:
While I had expected the overcrowding of Rattata and Pidgey, I must admit that I was surprised to see a Krabby. Interestingly enough, on the other side of that fence is a very shallow-ditch like river. Fortunately, my phone’s battery lasted just long enough for me to cross my property line – almost two hours since departing on my journey.
To say Pokémon GO is addicting would be an understatement. Running on over four hours of sleep, I crashed out on the sofa shortly after returning home but while checking the application of curiosity and seeing a Jigglypuff was nearby, I was up and searching the cul-de-sac for the puffball. Having reached Level 5 after evolving my Pidgeotto into a Pidgeot, I set out to claim the two free gyms in the village but to my dismay, the moment I opted to join “Team Valor” and tried to leave my Spearow in charge of protecting the gym, the server crashed. This downtime persisted until past midnight; at which point, I don’t think you could blame me for not wanting to visit a 700 year old church.
Aside from the server downtime, the biggest issue with this game has to be its bugs – and I’m not talking Weedle (although there are too many Weedle as well). The game has force-closed itself on many occasions and is prone to freezing the moment a thrown PokéBall connects with a target, requiring me to close and re-open the application.I have also noticed PokéSpots sometimes refusing to give items then claiming they’ve been accessed and multiple occurrences of Pigeotto appearing invisible; the first when I evolved my Pidgey and the second when encountering one in the wild. I mean, I know my Pidgeotto is extra small, but this is just cheeky:
The most annoying glitch however, affects Gym Battles. By the time I was able to reach the gyms the following morning, they had been claimed by a fellow Team Valor player. Wanting to dethrone them as Leader, I challenged both of the occupied gyms – defeating her Raticate in the first and having certain victory denied in the second, as a well-reported glitch prevent her Hypno’s HP from reaching 0, with it remaining static and knocking out my Pidgeot despite no attacks being shown. Battles are a departure from the main series and like most mobile titles, are a tap and swipe affair, with the former launching attacks and the latter dodging. I experienced notable lag on my iPhone 5S model, but I was in a smal village outside a church, so my environment could have contributed to that.
With so few gyms and PokéSpots in rural areas, I wish Niantic would compensate for their scarcity with a higher Pokémon encounter rate, as a two hour trek around the area only yielded a single Pidgey and a couple of Weedle. Tracking Pokémon could also be improved, with the “three feet” system being too vague especially when there’s very little information about whether you’re even moving in the right direction. I also wish the game would be updated to include support for sleep mode and push notifications because at the moment, the game needs to be active at all times for it to even count your steps. There is a Low Power Mode that blacks out the screen when turned upside down (such as when placed in a pocket), but your phone still has to remain unlocked with the game running in the foreground; I wonder if the Pokémon GO Plus accessory will help with this or not?
One thing I have noticed, is that Pokémon GO definitely has got me out of the house a lot more – to the extent that a neighbour actually thought it a little weird to see me walking around; especially with my phone out. I can’t say I’ve discovered many new places as others have reported due to knowing the area inside out anyway. I have however, learned interesting bits of trivia while reading the memorial signs marked by PokéSpots – such as how a street was named after a local air force commander who died in World War 2. I am definitely enjoying the game a lot despite the disadvantage of my location and am finding myself more enthusiastic about visiting new area, just to see what I can find. In fact, I might eventually break my freemium game rule and…use real money at some point! Shock! Horror!.
In closing, here are some tips that I hope come in handy during your Pokémon GO journey:
1) Always make sure your phone is charged and you have a power bank handy.
2) Boot up the game using Wi-Fi before heading out and switching to 3G/4G. Faster loading of the game and less data use!
3) Pokémon GO is NOT an All-Access pass; don’t go anywhere you wouldn’t normally be allowed.
4) Don’t be too conspicuous. Seeing teenagers or young adults loitering around may cause concern. I’ve personally been approached and asked what I was doing, but fortunately everyone so far has kindly laughed it off when I tell them!
5) Be aware of your surroundings. When on my journeys, I hold my phone and keep my eyes on where I’m going and only check my phone at regular intervals where it is safe for me to so and I won’t be anyone’s way (as opposed to stopping in the middle of the road or path). If my phone alerts me to a Pokémon’s presence, I will move away from the immediate path and then check.
Pokémon GO is currently available in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Releases in other territories have been confirmed for a later date.