Is your child chirping on about Charizard? Is your bezzie boasting about battles? Are your gal pals glued to their phones more than usual?
They’re probably all playing Pokémon Go, the hit new game released in the UK last month. If you’re feeling a little out of the loop, then let Northern Soul help. Our guide will give you the low-down on this international craze.
Put simply, Pokémon is a Japanese video game, TV, film and toy franchise founded in the mid 1990s by gaming company giant Nintendo. The Pokémon (or Pocket Monsters) themselves are fictional creatures, so called because each core Pokémon game is released on handheld devices (such as the Gameboy or Nintendo DS). The core games, with titles such as such as Pokémon Red and Blue, Black and White, X and Y, are RPGs (Role Playing Games), where you play as a Pokémon trainer striving to be the best in a fictional area.
Though simplified, Pokémon Go features many of the same principles as the original games in that you must ‘catch’ as many different Pokémon as possible, train your Pokémon to be the strongest by competing in gym battles, care for your creatures by using potions and other items, and hatch eggs to gain more monsters.
Downloadable on both Apple and Android mobile phones, the game itself is free to play but, as usual, comes with optional in-app purchases. Strangely though, Pokémon Go features barely any instructions.
In essence, the game takes Google Maps and adds an imaginary layer on top. Pokémon Go also uses GPS tracking in the same way. So, if you were standing outside, say, Manchester Town Hall and played the game, your character would appear outside of the Town Hall on the map in the app. As the imaginary map is geographically identical to a real map, you can use it to find certain points of interest such as ‘Pokéstops’ and ‘Gyms’ – but we’ll come to that later.
As Pokémon’s catchphrase is Gotta Catch ‘Em All, that is the primary aim of the game – to ‘catch’ a creature of every type of the 151 species currently available (in the Pokémon universe there are actually more than 700 different species). Not all Pokémon are equal however, as some are very rare to find – and therefore usually more powerful. In city centres, monsters resembling rats and pigeons are extremely common, so you have to go a bit further afield if you want to complete your Pokédex (a list of the creatures which tells you a bit about each of them.)
The creatures randomly pop up on the app in the game and to catch them you tap on them with your finger and throw a Pokéball (a trap) by swiping your finger vertically across the phone screen. If you successfully catch the Pokémon, it belongs to you. You can also ‘hatch’ new Pokémon from eggs which only crack open once you have walked a specific distance assigned to that egg, which will be either 2km, 5km or 10km.
The other aim of the game is to own the strongest creatures. Each Pokémon has a CP (Combat Power) number when you catch them. A higher CP number is more likely to beat a lower CP number, so you must increase your Pokémon’s CP number by feeding them ‘candy’ specific to their species. You attain this candy by catching Pokémon of the same species or evolutionary tree – as some creatures can also evolve into more powerful forms. A puppy will become a dog, a tadpole becomes a frog, a fish transforms into a giant serpent-dragon monster that shoots lasers from its mouth…yeah, that last one is a touch ridiculous.
The reason why you have to train your creatures to be the very best is so they can ‘fight’ other people’s Pokémon to win in-game currency. You compete in these fights at a ‘gym’ which in reality is a local landmark such as a train station. When your character reaches Level 5 in the game you pick a team, named Instinct, Mystic and Valor – or more simply Yellow, Blue and Red, so you can fight at a gym. You can either fight at an opposing team’s gym to defeat them and claim it for your own team, or train at one of your team’s gyms to make it more difficult for the other two teams to beat.
To fight other Pokémon you have to tap on a gym, then swipe left or right to select a Pokémon to fight. Usually there are several Pokémon defending a gym. Then you pick one of your own Pokémon to fight in the battle and the match begins. You tap the screen to make your creature use a light attack and hold down on the screen for a heavy attack. Swiping left and right is for dodging the enemy’s attacks. The first Pokémon to faint is the loser.
A creature with a higher CP is more likely to win, but each Pokémon is a member of one or two special elemental types. So a turtle will be a water Pokémon, a bird will be a flying type and a butterfly will be a bug type. Therefore a water type will do two times damage to a fire type, rock beats bug, electric beats flying and so on. Gym fights require a little bit of thinking and a good choice of Pokémon if you want to beat your opponent.
To gather more Pokéballs, potions and other useful items you must visit Pokéstops on your map, which are all points of interests in the real world, such as museums, shopping centres, street art, statues, fountains, historical buildings and more. When you are standing next to such a point of interest, simply tapping the Pokéstop with your finger and then swiping horizontally yields these free items. A item called a ‘lure’ can be attached to a Pokéstop for a half hour to attract more catchable creatures to the area too.
The app has proved popular with age groups ranging from teens up to people in their late 20s (who played the original games when they were kids), though the target audience is, of course, children. If your child is interested in playing the game you should be mindful of some safety issues. First of all a Google Account or Pokémon Trainer Club account is needed to play the game, so privacy issues inherent in running an online account should be considered. Also, the game requires real world travel, so police have recommended that you accompany your child on their exploration or at least educate them in common sense. Recently, a group of teenagers became trapped in an old mine after searching for Pokémon. Others have had their phones stolen while playing the game and many young adults have been reported wandering the streets in the small hours on the hunt for the imaginary creatures.
With that in mind, your personal safety is top priority while playing Pokémon Go. Ultimately though, it’s a fun, easy to play and free new game. It isn’t difficult to see why it has proven to be extremely popular and addictive.
By Stephanie Alderson, Gaming Editor
Images copyright of The Pokémon Company