Pokemon Go Review

Gotta catch ‘em all? Be prepared for the long haul

Pokémon Go
    
Publisher: Niantic
Reviewed On: iPhone
Cert: 9
Available On: iPhone,Android

The moment you realise that you’re finally a grown up is when you have to choose between tracking down a potentially rare Pokemon in the wild and getting your bus home. Of course, I was guessing that it was a rare one because all I really had to go on was a silhouette, but I was pretty sure. Besides, it wasn’t a Pidgey or a Rattata, so that automatically put it on my “must have” list.

No, I haven’t lost my mind completely; it’s all part of Pokémon Go, the latest craze sweeping the mobile gaming market. The augmented reality game mixes the real world with the colourful world of Pokémon, bringing the creatures into your towns and streets, even your home. I’ve spotted a Seel on the bus, and a Ghastly sitting on a fellow passenger. Zubats come out of the woodwork.

As you walk along - app open - you come across creatures that you can capture. Chuck a Pokeball at it and if your aim is good, you can capture the wild Pokémon for your collection. The moral dilemma of imprisoning wild creatures aside, you build up a collection of Pokémon quite quickly.

The problem is that you seem to encounter the same ones over and over. I have more Zubats than is comfortable and far too many Drowsees to be of use, even when you take into account that you can use them to evolve your favoured POkemon. They seem to popping up everywhere, but a Pikachu? The closest I’ve come was spotting one near my home the other night and wondering I could risk nipping out in the rain to see if I could grab it before someone else did (common sense won out).


That’s the hook for Pokémon Go. Collecting Pokémon is fun, getting the rarer ones even more so. You can evolve your creatures to be better fighters and take them to your nearest gym in a bid to take it over for your team. And it all relies on you getting out there and moving to unearth wild Pokémon.

That has a knock on effect on health. It may be the novelty factor, but Pokémon Go seems to be inspiring people, even those who haven’t been active for some time. There are tales of previously inactive people getting out and walking for miles to try to increase their Pokémon stash.

The more you find the higher your player level will go. One tip: It’s easier to capture the Pokémon if you turn off the AR and simply take them on i their own computer generated world; they jump around the screen less and are a more stable target. It kind of takes away from the fun of it though. Reaching those higher levels has its rewards - usually in the form of items such as eggs, incense to lure Pokémon or berries to help make your target easier to capture. You can also use PokeStops to find useful items. These are real world places, usually landmarks, that will are marked on the map. More often than not, they’re hiding some spare Pokeballs.

Around Dublin city centre you get some nice landmarks, like the Ha’penny bridge or O’Connell Bridge. And then there are those cultural stop offs, such as the local tidy towns plaque or a marker for a tree. Gyms, meanwhile, are everywhere, although they aren’t as common as PokeStops.

As you’d expect, there are more venues to visit in urban areas. Move more suburban and things get a bit more stretched out. Rural areas, meanwhile, are sparse.

It’s easy to dismiss Pokémon Go as an app for kids, but it’s just as enjoyable for adults. Who doesn’t like collecting things?

But it’s not without its problems. Its huge popularity has meant players have issues getting access to the game, or when you do, it freezes at the most inopportune moments. That’s frustrating but it’s something that Niantic says it has in hand.

There’s no background services either. If you want to scout for Pokemon, you have to keep the app open and running. That’s not only limiting but it kills your battery too. If you want to do a serious Pokémon hunt, you’ll need to pack a spare battery.

That’s before we even get into the privacy criticisms, including the Google account access that Niantic said was a mistake and will be fixed as soon as possible. Pokemon Go may have found a willing audience in the older age group, but it will still appeal to younger gamers too. Already in the US there have been reports of armed gangs using the game to lure victims to remote areas, with several teenagers reportedly mugged as a result.

Pokémon Go isn’t officially available in Ireland. In fact it isn’t available outside the US, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. But as with most things, where there’s a will there’s a way, and fans have resorted to downloading the APK for Android phones from third party sites in a bid to get the game ahead of its launch here. The latter brings security risks, with reports of malware masquerading as the genuine programme.

If you’ve already relented and downloaded Pokémon Go, you’ll know how addictive it can be. As for me, I haven’t quite gone over the edge; when it came to the Pokémon vs commute dilemma, I decided to be a grown up and let the Pokémon go for another time. There’ll always be another Scyther, right? Right?

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist