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What is Pokémon Go and why is it taking over the internet?

Pokemon Go is available in selected countries only, so why is it being talked about by millions?

Feature 13 Jul 2016, 12:47 IST
Pokemon Go
Pokémon Go has been a tremendous success for Nintendo since its release

As a 10-year-old, the greatest joy in the middle of the 90s was to spend hours on my Gameboy Color playing Pokémon Gold. This was not the first Pokémon game to be released (the original Pokémon Red/Blue were the ones that kick-started the phenomenon) but it still was a solid game which made you feel like a Pokémon trainer.

Cue a couple of decades and Nintendo and Niantic might just have achieved a feat that no one thought was possible. For the uninitiated or if you haven’t been following the gaming world for a month or so, Pokémon Go is the latest offering from the Japanese company (Nintendo)  and it has set the world on fire like Charizard!

What is Pokémon?

The first thing you would need to know is what the core gameplay of Pokémon is and why is it so big? The trend started in the early 90s with Satoshi Tajiri coming up with the game which was a take on the popular Japanese pastime of catching bugs.

Pokémon or Pocket Monsters (taken from the Japanese term Poketto Monsuta) enabled users to create a basic avatar on their Gameboys and play out a fantasy of travelling around in a game world, capturing Pokémon from various locations, training them by battling other in-game players and then winning Gym badges against tougher opposition and eventually becoming the Pokémon Master by defeated the Elite Four (the toughest Pokémon trainers in the game).

That is one portion of the game, the other being the fact that you could wander for hours exploring regions for Pokémon and capturing all 151 of them (the original game had 151 Pokémon to get but now there are over 700) either by fighting, trading or evolving your captured beasts.

Every Pokémon looks different from the other and all have special abilities or are different types. For example, Pikachu is an electric mouse Pokémon which can shoot out thunder and lightning, Squirtle is a water type which looks like a mini turtle and evolves into Blastoise, a much larger and powerful form.

The way to find a Pokémon is by searching the entire landscape of the game with certain Pokémon being available in certain areas and this “exploring” aspect  is something that Niantic have achieved in the real world with Pokémon Go.

The chance to be a real-life Pokémon trainer

While there are numerous tournaments which let players battle using Pokémon cards and the various games which have been released over the years, Pokémon Go now gives a player the chance to actually travel the world, yes, the real world, and capture Pokémon!

What is being called as an “augmented reality” game basically uses your mobile phone’s GPS and camera to find Pokémon in the real world. Not only that, you need to travel, from place to place to search for more Pokémon and increase the army to battle other trainers.

For those who have played the earlier Pokémon games, there are a few similarities, you do have a professor to help you out and capturing Pokémon, training them and winning Gym battles still is part of this game but here the GPS detects what kind of Pokémon you could encounter based on where you go.

The other big change is that you do not fight other Pokémon in the game with your captured Pokémon. Go uses a different technique to capture Pokémon, you do throw a Poke ball at it but the essence of the true battle is missing. It is pretty similar against Gym battles as well; this does not feel like the original Pokémon game which had a lot of strategy involved in it.

Why is Pokémon Go taking over?

Pokémon Go is currently the most talked about topic in the world. The funny thing is the game is available for free on your iOS and Android phones but only in the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

There have been various ways to download the APK file and play it on your system but we warn you, Niantic could suspend your account if the game has not been released in your country. A colleague of mine already has downloaded the game but why is everyone taking such a risk?

The answer is simple, Pokémon never went away, there are millions of people (just like myself) who have always dreamt of becoming real life Pokémon trainers and Go lets us do that. The colleague of mine was roaming about in his house when he caught a first generation Pokémon, Charmander! The ability to search, capture and battle seem to have reignited the trainer in most people and hordes of “trainers” are out at parks or malls trying to capture elusive Pokémon to increase their collection.

Charmander in all its glory!

Battling Gym leaders and earning badges is still part of the game and you too can “own” a gym if you can defend it from other trainers, a unique feature for this version. The more you battle and win, the greater are your chances of finding rare Pokémon such as the legendary birds Moltres, Zapdos and Articuno, as currently only the first generation 151 Pokémon are accessible in the game but this should change soon.

The game has become so popular that Nintendo actually saw a surge in its valuation. The company is now valued at $28 billion which jumped from $17 billion on July 6. Pokémon Go was released in the three mentioned countries the in the next two days.

Pokémon Go has become so popular that the game is now installed on more Android phones in the US than Tinder, a dating app, and is also set to overtake the number of active users on Twitter as well. Players have spent more time on Go than even on Whatsapp.

Pokemon Go 2
Capturing a Poliwhirl would not be easy

That sort of growth is unimaginable, to be honest, and Nintendo has hit the ball out of the park. Even though the game is free, there are items which players can purchase to increase the stat of their Pokémon or help find rarer Pokémon, again something that should help Nintendo rake in millions.

For all the ability of people becoming real life trainers, Pokémon Go does have a few issues as well.

A battery eater of the highest order

As with most games which use GPS, Pokémon Go does eat up a lot of your battery and many Pokémon players have also stated as to how this game is not the same as the earlier generation games but it was probably made to ensure that the game is accessible to everyone.

Another major concern is that the game is being used to commit crimes. One report stated that armed robbers had used the app to lure players to a location and steal from them, fortunately, police officers were able to nab the perpetrators, most of them were in their teens.

There are also issues with the geo-tagging of locations, one house was tagged as a “Gym” which led to numerous Pokémon trainers wandering around on private property, for a person looking to socialise, this might be acceptable but it would certainly be an issue if your property is constantly visited by strangers.

Also, the ability to battle against friends and multiplayer options are not available at the moment but this surely will be introduced by Nintendo sooner rather than later, seeing as to how the game has caught on like fire. The crux of Pokémon was to fight your friends, see what they have caught and trade with them, Niantic would surely be looking into this in the future.

Pokémon Go isn’t the first augmented reality game and it won’t be the last but what Niantic and Nintendo have achieved here is truly remarkable. What started out as a joke with Google maps in 2014 has turned in a reality for the millions of Pokemaniacs across the world. There might be a few niggly issues with the app but those should be ironed out in the coming days.

Nintendo seems to have cracked the code of getting video gamers out of their homes and actually providing them with a chance to move about and exercise. The chance to be a real-life Pokémon trainer is too much to miss out on, you might become a phone wielding zombie in the middle of a street but capturing that Vulpix on a hot day would just be worth it.

As the original theme song goes:

“I wanna be the very best

Like no one ever was

To catch them is my real test

To train them is my cause

I will travel across the land

Searching far and wide

Each Pokémon to understand

The power that's inside”

Well, we have the chance to do that now.

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