My ‘Pokemon GO’ Journey So Far (First Impressions or a Review in Progress)

Pokémon GO
By: Niantic, Inc. (Nintendo)

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I’m obsessed with Pokemon GO. If you follow me on Twitter, you know this already and may be sick of hearing me talk talk about it. But if not, I figured I should have a space to highlight my experiences while playing — both good and bad — for those who are interested. This might be a bit disorganized at the moment, so please bear with me! It’s 95 degrees and extremely humid, so my brain is melting.

The game is currently out in many countries, but it’s still technically in soft launch since some places haven’t gotten it yet. But I’ve been playing so much that I didn’t want to wait until the worldwide release to share my thoughts. I’ll be updating this as I continue to play and find things worth sharing. If you just want help with the game, try my detailed walkthrough guide.

I wasn’t that impressed at first. My first day with the game was plagued by server issues. It seemed to work fairly well when I was home — with just some common Pokemon to catch — but then I couldn’t get on much while I was walking all day. I also had to get used to the fact that this game is not so much meant to be incorporated into your life as it is to take over it. I’ll explain more about that later.

But another reason I didn’t get into it at first was because I felt silly. I was embarrassed every time I stopped in the street to flick at my iPhone screen to catch something. I would waste Poke Balls because I was trying to hide what I was doing from people near me. But then the game exploded and I started seeing others playing. Then more. To the point that I could barely walk a block without seeing someone else who’s obviously playing.

I usually get annoyed with people when I’m walking because I’m often headed somewhere in somewhat of a rush. I’ve always used my phone while walking, either to text, Tweet, or even play games. But now when I walk, I encounter a lot of other people playing, so instead of getting annoyed with crowds for being in my way, I see kindred spirits. And I’ve been talking to people — not everyone, mind you — and I don’t usually talk to strangers unless I have a good reason. But all the Pokemon Go players I’ve met have been friendly, even though I’ve yet to meet anyone from my own team! I almost always forget to exchange names, but we still talk about our levels, best Pokemon, and maybe even share some tips or frustrations. I’ve learned at I’ve probably been playing more than most people, as I’m a higher level than those I’ve spoken to and I haven’t spent a dime on any in-app purchases.

At one point, a driver called out “Pokemon?” to me as he was passing and I just looked up and smirked. He got so excited. It’s just so surreal.

Sure, here have been plenty of frustrations, but it’s really unlike anything I’ve played before.

I’ve played enough to be level 21 now. The next level requires 75000 XP! I’ve caught over 1000 Pokemon, but only 75 different kinds. The only kind I’ve seen but didn’t catch was a particularly angry Weepinbell I met when I was still a low level.

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So a little about the game itself. The Pokemon animations and sounds effects are great. Better than I expected, actually. And I appreciate that they designed the game around mobile devices — you flick the screen to throw a Pokeball. It’s nice to have a fully 3D version of each Pokemon in my pocket. You can spin them around and tap then to see their attack,!which is a little bonus. And it’s fun to use the in-game camera to capture them in unique environments (like this Drowzee below with a man dressed as a big baby). However, it would be cool if we could do something more with the Pokemon we caught. Maybe play with them? It’s disappointing enough that we don’t use our Pokemon to weaken wild Pokemon before catching them, so at least give us something else to do with them.

There’s also no loyalty in this game. You don’t get attached to any Pokemon because they don’t grow with you like they did in the old Game Boy games. Instead, the earlier you get a Pokemon, the weaker it will be. You’ll be more likely to toss it away and cannibalize it (turn it into candy to feed another Pokemon of the same kind) if you got it while you were a lower level. This is the exact opposite of what we’re used to. The excitement of catching a new Pokemon is marred by this knowledge. For instance, I chose Charmander as my starter because I like dragons. I wanted to make sure I’d get a Charizard. But instead I have a weak Charmander at the bottom of my bag, waiting to be turned into candy if I ever catch another one. There’s something very lacking in this system compared to the old.

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Some things feel out of balance. Like having all Pokemon worth only 100 stardust and 3 candies, no matter how hard they were to catch or how high their CP. It would also be nice if an evolved Pokemon earned more candy when transferred than an un-evolved one. The system seems in place to give the game longevity — or my more cynical side says it’s to sell more IAPs — but I don’t think it can hold the attention of anyone but the most devoted. We’ll see how long this craze lasts. I hope Nintendo and Niantic have some ideas up their sleeves (they already confirmed trading and sponsored Poke Stops) to keep people interested.

It’s also frustrating that as you level up and get stronger, Pokemon get harder to catch. I didn’t even realize a Pokemon could flee until I was fairy deep in the game because it never happened early on. But around level 16, I started noticing even weak (light green or yellow ring) and common Pokemon got harder to catch and would flee frequently, especially when I got to level 18. This doesn’t seem to fit with the concept of leveling up and getting stronger — it should be easier, not harder, to catch Pokemon. This was happening even when I was getting near-perfect or perfect throws that the game even told me were “Nice!” or “Great!” It’s frustrating to do everything perfectly and still have the Pokemon fight or even flee. I get with the old games that might happen because you were just pressing a button. But this game a actually requires some skill and patience when throwing, so why doesn’t it count for more? The game also doesn’t give the most helpful feedback to let you know you threw a ball well.

I would guess this was meant to sell more in-app purchases, since you waste more balls and need a ton of experience. But the stronger balls aren’t even available to purchase. I can only assume they’ll be added later, because I can see people spending quite a bit on that.

And that brings me to my surprise that so many people are spending so much money on a broken game. It is highly likely that those Poke Balls you buy will get wasted due to the game freezing, or that the second you activate a lucky egg or incense you’ll be kicked out of the game due to server issues. I don’t spend money on consumables in any game and will simply just stop playing once it stops being fun and I can’t progress without spending.

I’ve also heard of people buying accounts on eBay, which makes no sense to me since the entire game is catching Pokemon. If you buy an account with those Pokemon, what do you gain? There are no PvP battles really, and the only thing to do besides catch Pokemon is to try your hand at gym battles. And the only reward for that is free premium currency, which people spending hundreds of dollars on an account shouldn’t care about.

So let’s talk a bit about gym battles. They offer some decent rewards — Poke Coins, which can otherwise only be acquired with real world cash; experience; and stardust — but are mostly underwhelming. You can read more about how they work here. First, they’re glitchy. Although it’s improved, there’s still a lot of lag and I’ll sometimes just get thrown out altogether, unable to initiate a battle. But even if everything is working properly, the battles are mostly about just tapping wildly at the screen. They’re not strategic like in the old Game Boy games. And if you do manage to make room in the gym for your Pokemon, the game doesn’t hold the spot for you while you place one in there. Instead, the space is free for anyone to put one in. So people could potentially stand around and wait for gyms to empty out, then quickly grab it. It would be nice if there was a grace period in which the person who cleared it out has a chance to place their Pokemon in there. It would also be cool if there was some overall goal for each team, like some reward for helping your team gain a certain number of cumulative gym levels or something. Right now the team thing doesn’t feel all that meaningful.

I also realized why a lot of people I talk to online are not enjoying the game as much as I have been. If you live in a city, there’s a ton of Poke Stops, gyms and rare Pokemon around. But I went to Brooklyn the other day and basically just didn’t bother with the game. Look at this comparison photo of where I was in Brooklyn compared to a random spot in Manhattan.

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Tracking also needs some huge improvements. Right now, lag can mean what you’re seeing on the screen and what’s actually around you is not the same. The Pikachu you think you’re tracking is already long gone in another direction. And if you find you went the wrong way, the game is basically asking you to double back and cross busy streets just to find out you went too far. Most of the time it just makes more sense to give up on that Pokemon.

For many players — maybe even most — the lack of interesting battles and the weird way to evolve Pokemon won’t matter as much. I mean, they might be annoyed that that they need to catch a minimum of 15 of the average Pokemon to be able to evolve it, but all that really matters is the search for rare Pokemon and getting out there to play with other people, even if they don’t use their Pokemon to win gym battles.

I, personally, would love to see the game mesh with my life more easily. Right now I have to keep the game open completely and my screen on for eggs to even incubate while I walk. It’s silly. Maybe that’s what they’re selling the $30 wrist watch for (and I don’t even know if the watch will actually let you shut your screen and save battery and/or data). But right now, it’s not so much rewarding walking as it is rewarding walking while wasting your battery and data . And the game could freeze up while you have it in your pocket, or get disconnected altogether even while you’re looking at it. So at least for me, I think the game needs to fit better into my life for me to pay any attention to it in the long run. There are too many negatives — constant battery consumption, constant data consumption — for me to be able to keep playing when I’m not specifically setting out to play. Most games that are battery hogs can just be played at home while plugged in. But this one isn’t geared towards that. If it’s meant to be played on the go, then at least make it more go-friendly. How many people would have put up with this nonsense if it wasn’t a Pokemon game?

Some glitches are fun, like this giant Spearow. Some are not, like ones that cause you to lose balls or Pokemon.

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I took over the Times Square gym yesterday with my Starmie.

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Times Square is actually an amazing place to hunt for rare Pokemon, like this Rapidash I caught.

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Is this a “No Pokemon” sign?

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It remains to be seen how much the game will improve, but at least they do have a support page now to take requests for Poke Stops and Gyms.

I’ll be back with more things I find on my hunts. Stay tuned! And feel free to share your own experiences in the comments section!

Update: I forgot to mention how much I hate Zubats. I really hate Zubats.

7/16: Not the most productive day. I tried tracking a lot of Pokemon but so many of them disappeared. I think lag causes it, because if I reboot the app, the Nearby Pokemon list changes. I’ve gotten into the habit of rebooting often so I’m not chasing a Pokemon that’s already long gone.

I did manage to track this Dragonair along the water, though!

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And I almost missed this Scyther because I got home and wasn’t paying attention. Luckily, I noticed in time and grabbed him.

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7/17: Seriously, go to Central Park if you live near NYC. This was my haul from one evening, some from Times Square, but most from Central Park. And these are just the ones I kept!

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Check out this short video I took of the crowd in Central Park. I think many of these people have been camping out there.

7/19: I went back to Central Park and got a ton of Pokemon. I also filled in more of my Pokedex, pushing the number of types of Pokemon I own to over 100.

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I also took video of Central Park with better lighting:

And I made a video of the Porygob animation:

And I finally caught Pikachu!

***
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