Update: A thread in r/pokemongo addresses most of the game playability gripes i express below. Very useful if you’re new to the game. Check it out.
Much hyped Pokémon Go finally launched in Canada over the weekend (while I was out camping). I downloaded it ASAP, after some expected server issues setting up my account, I fired up the game in a few random places on my way back home. I was able to catch a handful of Pokémon at the random places we stopped along the way and a few at home.
I noticed a Pokéstop down the street so I thought I’d try the walk-around-in-circles-staring-at-my-phone-like-an-idiot thing I’ve been hearing so much about… literally everywhere. The Pokéstop was about 600m away and rewarded me with 3 Pokéballs for my efforts. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I found this to be a disappointing amount. I did not encounter any wild pokémon along the way, so I decided to take a more circuitous route home, in an attempt to stumble across more. I did not.
To be clear, I have no idea how to play this game.
On my walk, I noticed several leaf type patterns pop up on the map, I assumed these represented Pokémon burrowing or scurrying away. So I attempted to follow and capture them.
There is no real in-game indication on how you are supposed to do this. I can’t be sure if I was unable to catch one because I was doing something wrong; there was a server issue; or if it’s intended to be extremely difficult to find a Pokémon. When I finally found one, the process of catching a Pokémon was equally non-intuitive. A target appears overtop of the character, so looks like you’re supposed to try to throw balls right at it. But the “catch” animation seems to happen behind the character. But when you throw a ball behind the character, nothing it doesn’t work! Or maybe it’s random? All-in-all I found it extremely frustrating and disappointing.
After finishing this post I’ll do some research, I’m sure I must be doing something wrong. After all a game with such mass appeal must be much more intuitive.
From a more technical perspective, the augmented reality aspects of the game are a little overblown. The game does 2 things that are being called “augmented reality.”
1) Spawning locations and characters on top of a real world map. I suppose this is interesting, but not a ground breaking technical achievement in 2016. It seems to rely mainly on readily available, quality, map data.
2) The Pokémon appear in the real world! Except they don’t really. The game seems to pick a point, roughly on the horizon and the Pokémon graphics are overlaid over the image of the camera, rather dumbly. Pokémon aren’t hiding behind bushes or taking into account the real world in any way. I caught one that spawned on my son’s face.
Overall, to someone who was a few years too old to be caught up by the original Pokémon craze, the most interesting thing about Pokémon Go is the cultural phenomenon. I think it’s popularity can be attributed solely to the popularity of the Pokémon brand.
I’ll be sure to report back with a followup post after I ask a 10 year old how to actually play the game.