Back in July 2016, a new phone craze swept the world – Pokémon were appearing all over the world through augmented reality (AR), to be caught by anyone with a mobile device! Widely touted as a way to get fans of the Pokémon series more active, and increase interest in the outside environment whilst catching ‘em all, was this game going to pass as a summer craze, or live on?
N.B I write this review as a player on an Android device. Review accurate at the time of the release of version 0.125.2, points discussed may change as future updates and patches are released.
Originally, the game didn’t have much of a story beyond the expected for a Pokémon game – to go out and catch ‘em all after receiving your first Pokémon from Professor Willow. However, as of April of this year, research quests were introduced in the way of field research – tasks to complete each day to work towards a seven-day research ‘breakthrough’ and then special research. So far three special research quests have been released, with an accompanying storyline, bringing Mew, Celebi and Spiritomb into the game. Although the actual backstory to these special research quests is a bit barebones, it does add a bit of much-needed lore to the games.
I will confess to actually playing this game with the sound off most of the time – mainly due to the practicality of having this game on whilst out and about I find I either can’t hear it over the usual sounds of the great outdoors, or I don’t want to bother other people while I’m out with it. The main theme of the game, the Walking on Map theme, is pretty catchy – and will be forever in my mind as the song of the summer of 2016. To be fair, the night time version is also decent as well, and a good ear worm.
The raid battle music is also awesome, a mash up of various bits and pieces from Pokémon games over the years, and sounds ridiculously epic for a raid battle… against a Magikarp, but hey, that’s one of the things I like about it.
I also get extremely happy whenever they bring back the Lavender Town remix theme for use during the Halloween events in game, please, just go and listen to it. The nostalgia for me as a Pokémon player from the 90s is incredible.
I have to say, for mobile games, I tend to not expect amazing graphics. Okay, so the map screen is pretty basic, but it has all the relevant information on it that you’ll need, such as defining roads and paths, showing where bodies of water are and differentiating between normal green space and “parks”. I can imagine adding any more detail to it might cause lagging issues, so I’m happy for it to stay as it is. The changing weather effects add a bit of variety to the map screen, which is quite nice.
The user interface for the game is fairly basic, I would argue it could do with a bit of work on, mainly in the sense of a bit of refinement, but it’s perfectly functional for what it does.
However, the important thing is the Pokémon themselves.
The game is based on the Unity Engine, meaning that the 3d models for the Pokémon in both the overworld and in the catch screen are well rendered, using the models from the 6th Gen handheld games. The Pokémon look great – although there was a slight bit of controversy a couple of months ago when the models were all updates, with some players claiming the models looked a bit washed out, I personally think they all look pretty good. I was also deeply amused when for an April Fool’s Day joke earlier this year the models were switched over to the pixelated sprites reminiscent of the older handheld games, but even these looked quite good, I thought.
Although the Pokémon series has always had some aspect of multiplayer at its heart, this game definitely ramps it up a notch. Although the main “quest” of the game, heading outside in order to hunt down all the Pokémon released so far can be mostly completed as a solitary endeavour, the meat of this game, to my mind, is the social aspect of it.
One of the main aspects of this game where the social side comes into it is in the ‘Raid Scene”, with many of the raids for stronger Pokémon (above say a Tier 2 Raid) requiring players of the game to team up in order to take down the featured Pokémon. After that, for the additional bonus challenge of catching the Raid Pokémon, you get bonus Pokéballs depending on how many people in your Team were present causing damage to the boss Pokémon, and based on your friendship level with those taking part – and with some of the Legendary Raid Pokémon, these extra Pokéballs can make all the difference with regards to catching them! (Speaking as the person who caught a Raid Mewtwo on their last ball out of 14 one time…)
One of the more recent updates to this game also added in a friendship system, where by entering another player’s friend code, you add them as friends, and can take part in activities such as trading Pokémon with them, swapping gifts, and taking part in raids with them. One of the best bits of the friend system, in my mind is the being able to have friends from all over the world – although it’s advantageous to have local friends for things such as raids where you get damage bonuses and bonus Pokéballs after the raids, being able to get gifts, which occasionally hold eggs to hatch from all over the world is also great fun.
The friendship tiers with players go through four tiers, increasing by one point each day that you interact with them – whether that’s by raiding, opening a gift or trading with them. Increasing friendship has much more tangible benefits with regards to local players as it also decreases stardust costs for trades, for example the highest friendship level, ‘best friends’ discounts a million stardust needed to trade a legendary Pokémon down to a much more manageable forty thousand. However, as you still get experience points for increasing to each friend level with players in other countries (potentially 200k XP at best friend) it’s also not a bad idea to have players from all around to interact with. I personally really enjoy sending gifts out from odd places I’ve been to, to all sorts of people, or trying to do theme gifting (for example one of my friends in the game only send railway-related gifts to each other).
I originally started playing this game as a solitary player, due to working funny hours at a previous job, and this suited me fine. However, on one of the Community Day events (more on those later), I was asked if I’d like to join my local raiding community. As I’m in South London, my local raid community is very active, with Tier 5 raids being called out frequently each day to organise people to come together to take them down as well as Pokémon of interest which spawn also being called out. We also all tend to meet up in one area local to us for Community Days, and walk around together, with frequent shouts of “SHINY!” common, as we get into the competition of seeing who can catch the most shiny Pokémon on a given event day. I’ve also met some great people through my local group, and we really do have a great sense of community amongst us.
I actually think trying to rate the challenge of this game is quite difficult. A lot depends I feel on whether you’re a rural, suburban or urban player as the support this game with regards to Pokéstops, gyms and even spawns varies greatly according to the above.
As a suburban player though, I find the game works extremely well – with my main challenge being trying to find a raid which suits me which I can join in on locally! There is a bit of a challenge when it comes to perfecting stuff such as throwing excellent curveball Pokéballs, which can be easier or not depending on the device that the game is being played on. Speaking as someone who’s only ever played this game on a Galaxy S5, S7 and S8+ I’ve personally never had a problem trying to gauge the physics for throwing balls as it feels quite natural on these phones.
One thing which I do as a sort of self-imposed challenge (I guess?) is play this game as a completely Free To Play (F2P) player, which makes the 50 coins only I can gain from gym control each day very important, as well as putting a bit of pressure on where I use my daily free raid pass each day. It also makes item management and Pokémon storage a bit more involved for me (currently running on 350 item storage, and 600 Pokémon storage, although I’m slowly increasing those). As a non-driver, occasionally I find it a challenge to get outside and spin my daily Pokéstop, especially when it’s raining, but the “put your phone in a sandwich bag” trick does help with that!
Otherwise, I think the game is reasonable balanced so far as spawning Pokémon goes, and it’s relatively easy for newer players to catch up with established players, barring the odd inaccessibility to what is known as ‘legacy Pokémon’, either legendaries which were in raids which haven’t returned yet, or those with movesets which were made available for one day only as part of an event. Then again, trading exists, so new players aren’t completely cut off from these.
The real meat of this game is the collection aspect, with just over 400 Pokémon from the first four generations of games currently available, with more being constantly released. The rarity of the Pokémon depends on what is referred to as a ‘biome’ within the community, with certain Pokémon or types of Pokémon being available depending on the type of biome – for example, in an urban biome, things like Pidgey and Rattata are extremely common, mimicking the rats and pigeons you’d find in a city, whereas further out, in say a grassland biome, you’ll find Grass and Bug Pokémon are more commonly found.
Except Mr. Mime. If you’re anywhere in the UK and its cloudy weather, expect to be plagued by them, regardless of biome.
Another aspect which impacts upon what Pokémon spawn is the weather. There are several different weather types in the game, ranging from snow, to foggy, to cloudy and clear with weather such as partly cloudy and others inbetween. For the most part, the weather in-game is reasonably accurate to that of real life (although as I’m sitting here looking at the game, apparently it’s raining in-game whilst looking out of the window… it’s bright and sunny). The weather in game does update on the hour every hour relative to your local forecast changing and it is possible to see many different weather types over the course of one day. The main effect of the weather is to boost certain Pokémon types somewhat during their preferred weather – so going back our friend Mr. Mime and cloudy weather – cloudy weather boosts the spawn rate of Fairy or part-Fairy types, so in an urban setting in the UK with cloudy weather, it’s not uncommon to see a few Mr. Mime spawning at a given time, assuming an event isn’t supressing the spawns.
There is also another aspect to the collecting goal in this game, with a few Pokémon only available as regional Pokémon, and some of these have very specific locations – for example Tauros is only available across much of the United States, with a cut-off point somewhere across the southern states, or Relicanth which seems to only be available in New Zealand outside of events where its released to a wider area. Although regional Pokémon have occasionally had events where they’ve been released for a limited time outside of their primary region, for the most part they are locked to a certain location. Although this makes the collectathon side of the game a bit tricky, in a way I also like it as it does mean you will be interacting with other players in order to trade for regionals, if you can.
Shiny Pokémon are also available in this game with a rough base rate chance of 1/450 for a given Pokémon to be shiny, with odds increased during Community Days, or certain raid events. This adds another layer to the collectable aspect of the game for me, as I’m aiming to have a living Pokédex in this game – which means an example of every Pokémon released, and a shiny version of it as well. Alas, the shiny hunting quest continues.
As far as catching Pokémon goes, it’s a fairly simple system of throwing Pokéballs at Pokémon you encounter as they spawn on the overworld map, with using a finger to flick a Pokéball towards the Pokémon, and if you land hit, you’ve got a chance to catch it, depending on how good the throw was, whether it’s a curveball, what type of ball has been used and the base catch rate of the Pokémon in question. If the Pokémon breaks out from a ball, you have another chance to keep on trying to catch it, until its either caught, you run out of Pokéballs, or the Pokémon flees.
To replenish Pokéball supply, you can either buy Pokéballs directly through micro transactions in the in-game shop, or you can spin Pokéstops or Gyms in the game to have items dropped from them. For the most part, I find it quite easy to stock up on balls doing a circuit of the stops and gyms around my local town’s high street, which takes around fifteen minutes to complete, or through opening the limit of 20 gifts a day. These Pokéstops and gyms are usually areas or items of interest in your local area, although they can also be community buildings such as libraries, or restaurant locations, or railway stations, amongst others. After spinning a Pokéstop or gym for items, you have a cool down period of five minutes before you can spin again – something which is handy when you’re stuck waiting for a train and there’s a Pokéstop nearby!
Amongst the items which can be received at a Pokéstop or gym are Pokéballs, evolution items, potions and revives, and my personal favourites, Eggs. Eggs can be either 2km, 5km or 10km needed to hatch them, and there’s a varied pool of Pokémon which can be hatched, as well as the potential for shinies to also hatch with certain species. The distance walked to hatch them is based on the GPS and distance walked in game, with a maximum walking speed limit of around 11mph, and if you go over the hard speed limit whilst travelling, the game will stop tracking how much distance has been covered, although this can be a bit of a pain for people who go out running, from what I can gather.
After catching the Pokémon and getting the stardust for the capture, you have the option of either transferring it, giving you that Pokémon’s candy for that, which is used for evolving or powering up that Pokémon and its evolution line, or keeping the Pokémon to power up and evolve, if applicable.
As you power up your Pokémon (to your current trainer level +2) using stardust and candy which increases incrementally as the Pokémon levels up, you’ll find the Combat Power, or CP, of your Pokémon increases, as does its HP. The higher the CP of a Pokémon, the better it does in gym battles and raid battles, as well as improve its ability as a gym defender.
To fight with the Pokémon, you go into either a gym of an opposing team, of which there are three to choose from in this game, with you being given your choice of joining one once you hit level five, and choosing a team of six to take down the Pokémon currently in the gym. Fighting is relatively simple, with it being a screen tapping affair, using a ‘fast move’ to charge up and then select a more powerful charge move to use, before having to charge up power again for that charge move. Depending on criteria such as weather boosts or whether type weaknesses and resistances are in play, the total damage down during a fight can be either increased or decreased. It is also possible to dodge attacks during a gym fight, which if timed right, can greatly reduce the amount of damage taken – although I find the dodging can be a bit laggy at times.
It is this same principle which is used for Raid Battles as well, with more players needed to take down stronger raid Pokémon, with teams of 7 or more needed for the strongest, such as Mewtwo, or other Legendaries, depending on the Pokémon being used by each player, with a limit of 20 players for each Raid Battle, and groups being made if there’s more than twenty players.
After fighting a gym, if it’s defeated, you’re then given the often of taking control of the gym for your own team, which gives you the opportunity to level up that gym’s badge to gold, increasing the number of items you get as a bonus each time you spin the gym’s disc, as well as giving you the chance to earn up to 50 coins to spend in the shop each day, with a coin earnt for each ten minute period spent defending a gym, and the 50 coin limit reset each day at midnight.
There is also a quest system, where you get a set research task to complete each day from spinning Pokéstops, which give a variety of rewards as well as helping you work towards a research breakthrough after completing seven of them, which gives the chance for greater rewards, and ago at catching the featured research Pokémon of the month, which can include legendary Pokémon!
Finally, the best thing I find as part of the gameplay are the Community Days which are arranged for this game –usually, each month a certain Pokémon (usually starter Pokémon or other popular Pokémon) is given one day with boosted spawn rates for a certain three-hour slot, which gives with it a special event move for evolving the Pokémon to its final form during the event (occasionally with an hour after the event to evolve it so you have more time during the event to catch Pokémon and then sort out which you want to evolve after) and the chances of a shiny version of that Pokémon appearing. Although sometimes the timing of the events can be a pain, with the Community Days switching every now and then between Saturday and Sunday, and one Pokémon (Eevee) being given both Saturday and Sunday, I find the three hour slot sufficient to at least catch enough Pokémon for candy to evolve to get to the final form, and can usually find at least one shiny example.
The Community Days also bring out a large group of players in my local area to meet up and play, and its great fun going around taking down Raids as a large group if they spawn nearby during the event. One notable recent Community Day was the Chikorita day, which despite the appalling weather, saw a good turn out locally, with my favourite memory of that day being a dozen of us hiding under trees to catch all the nearby spawned Pokémon trying to shelter from the rain before sprinting to the next clump of trees to repeat the process!
Considering the nature of this game, and that it’s ever changing and evolving, I personally wouldn’t consider replayability to be a factor to be taking into account for this game.
Replay Value: N/A
A great game for getting me out and about in my local area, discovering places of interest which I had no idea where actually here, as well as encouraging people to take part in their local community – and that’s before we try to catch ‘em all!
Written by Karen