If you’ve been on the internet — or, um, outside — lately, you may have noticed that a game called Pokémon Go is suddenly taking the world by storm. It may have you wondering, especially if you were born before 1984, just what the hell is going on.
Pokémon is a Nintendo franchise that launched in the 1990s. In its world, “trainers” travel the world to catch varied monsters called Pokémon — rats, dragons, swordlike creatures, and more — and use these critters to fight each other. The trainer’s goal is to “catch ’em all,” as the franchise’s slogan suggests, and become a Pokémon master by defeating prestigious trainers known as gym leaders and Elite Four.
So what is Pokémon Go? Unlike previous Pokémon games, it’s not for Nintendo’s handheld consoles; it’s a free download for Android and iOS devices. It also doesn’t play at all like previous Pokémon games: Although the goal is still to catch ’em all, Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game — it mixes real-world elements with the game.
The big thing is Pokémon Go uses your phone’s GPS and clock to decide which Pokémon appear in the game. If you’re at the park, more bug and grass types appear. If you’re by a lake, more water types appear. If it’s night, more nocturnal ghost and fairy types do. So Pokémon won’t just come to you; players have to traverse the real world to catch ’em all.
Pokémon Go also has gyms — where you can fight gym leaders — and PokéStops based on real-world locations, which create hubs where players can meet. (You can buy, with real money, items to lure Pokémon to these stops; that’s how Niantic, the game’s developer, makes money.)
So why is the game taking off now? Well, it just came out, so it’s new and exciting. But it’s also free, making it easy to pick up. And it taps into nostalgia for those who played Pokémon in the ’90s. Specifically, Pokémon Go realizes a vision Pokémon fans have had since the series came out: What if Pokémon were real, and inhabited our world?
It’s also exciting because it’s the first big augmented reality game. Although others (like Ingress and Life Is Crime) tried before, none reached the heights of Pokémon Go. But with Pokémon Go’s success, it’s something you can expect more of in the future.
After logging into the app for the first time, the player creates their avatar. The player can choose the avatar’s style, hair, skin, and eye color, and can choose from a limited number of outfits. After the avatar is created, it is displayed at the player’s current location along with a map of the player’s immediate surroundings. Features on the map include a number of PokéStops and Pokémon gyms. These are typically located at identifiable landmarks, such as public art installations, historical markers, monuments or other points of interest.
As players travel the real world, the avatar moves along the game’s map. Different Pokémon species reside in different areas of the world; for example, water-type Pokémon are generally found near water. When a player encounters a Pokémon, they may view it either in augmented reality (AR) mode or with a pre-rendered background. AR mode uses the camera and gyroscope on the player’s mobile device to display an image of a Pokémon as though it were in the real world. Players can also take pictures, using an in-game camera, of the Pokémon that they encounter both with and without the AR mode activated.
Unlike other installments in the Pokémon series, players in Pokémon Go do not battle wild Pokémon to capture them. During an encounter with a wild Pokémon, the player may throw a Poké Ball at it. If the Pokémon is successfully caught, it will come under the ownership of the player. Factors in the success rate of capture include the right force, the right time and the type of Poké Ball used. After capturing a wild Pokémon, the player is awarded two types of in-game currencies: candies and stardust. The candies awarded by a successful catch depends on what evolutionary chain a Pokémon belongs to. A player can use stardust and candies to raise a Pokémon’s “combat power” (CP). However, only candies are needed to evolve a Pokémon. Each Pokémon evolution tree has its own type of candy which can only be used to evolve or level up. The player can also transfer the Pokémon back to the Pokémon professor to earn one more candy and create room for more Pokémon. The ultimate goal of the game is to complete the entries in the Pokédex, a comprehensive Pokémon encyclopedia, by capturing and evolving to obtain all 151 Pokémon.
All Pokémon are displayed with a combat power. A Pokémon’s combat power is a rough measure of how powerful that pokemon is in battle. Not all Pokémon of the same species will have the same CP. Generally, as a player levels up they will catch Pokémon with higher CP.
Players earn experience points for various in-game activities. Players rise in level as they earn experience points. At level five, the player is able to battle at a Pokémon gym and join one of three teams (red for Team Valor, which uses Moltres as their mascot; blue for Team Mystic, which uses Articuno as their mascot; or yellow for Team Instinct, which uses Zapdos as their mascot) which act as larger factions within the Pokémon Go world. If a player enters a Pokémon gym that is controlled by a player that is not part of their team, they can challenge the leader to lower the gym’s “prestige”. Once the prestige of a gym is lowered to zero then the player will take control of the gym and is able to deposit one Pokémon to defend it. Similarly, a team can upgrade the prestige of a gym under their control by battling the gym leader.
The game was released in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States on July 6, 2016. Due to server strain from high demand upon release, Niantic CEO John Hanke stated that the release in most other regions was “paused until [Niantic was] comfortable” fixing the issues. Pokémon Go was released in Germany on July 13, and in the United Kingdom the following day.
Upon 24 hours after its release, Pokémon Go topped the American App Store‘s “Top Grossing” and “Free” charts. In fact, the game has become the fastest game to top the App Store and the Google Play, beating Clash Royale. Within two days of release, it was installed on more than 5% of Android devices in the United States, according to SimilarWeb. As of July 13, Pokémon Go has an estimated 15 million downloads. In the week following the game’s release, Australian servers had problems in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane due to the game’s popularity.
Warning: Don’t play it on Indian roads
If you’ve ever walked on any Indian road, you know how dangerous it is for pedestrians. Most vehicles disregard basic rules such as stopping at traffic lights, one-way streets, flashing indicator lights, etc. Pokemon Go requires you to keep looking at your phone for signs of Pokemon and other in-game landmarks. This is quite dangerous on Indian roads. The game warns you to always stay aware of your surroundings. I suggest you heed its warning, especially in India.