The upcoming phone app Pokémon GO has been quietly building hype for a while now. And that’s because the very premise grabs hold of your nineties-hued nostalgia and jerks until it can no longer do so: you are exploring the land and catching and battling Pokémon, but thanks to the magic of VR you’re doing it in the real world this time!
As it turns out, the game’s finally being beta-tested in the US and Australia, so details of how it’s shaping up have started to leak. And while certain features still need to be polished, the overall impression is that of the game that pretty much everyone was hoping for.
We already knew that capturing wild Pokémon was going to be a central feature, and that’s been neatly confirmed. After tracking down one of the original 150 – “were there ever any others?”, I hear you cry – you flick a Pokéball at it to capture it, aiming to hit a target like a high-tech version of that Facebook basketball game. Some have said the mechanics are a little fiddly, but hopefully that’ll get refined prior to release.
Also, if you truly want to catch ‘em all, that’s going to require some legwork. Certain Pokémon will only live in certain areas – for instance, water-types like Psyduck or Magikarp can only be found near the coast. Bulbasaur, Squirtle, Charmander and Pikachu are rumoured to be particularly elusive.
It’s likely that legendaries like Mewtwo will also require special events and lots of trainers to bring them down. The hardest to find so far, however, is apparently Eevee, so players will have to get working if they want to catch one.
Or any of its evolutions, come to that, since evolving Pokémon is a new feature uncovered by the beta. One potential leak says that you’ll be able to do it by collecting “evolution shards” from wild Pokémon of the same species – once you get over a certain number, you can evolve one of them – though that has yet to be officially confirmed.
Another new feature is the existence of PokéStops, which will be found at real-world monuments, museums and other notable public spaces. Certain items can only be found at PokéStops, most notably the Pokémon Egg: just like in the game, walking a certain number of steps with the Egg will hatch a random Pokémon.
The final major new feature to be unveiled is battling, and it seems that there’s going to be a lot of it. Not only can you battle or trade with other trainers at will, but after a certain point in the game you can choose to join the Red, Blue or Yellow teams.
You can then head to a local Gym, since Gyms have been reworked into a kind of capture-and-defend game, essentially a reskinned version of Ingress (the last game by GO’s developers, focused on base-capturing). You can drop off one Pokémon at the Gym and leave it there to defend that space from enemy teams. Conversely, you can take your strongest monsters and strike out at an enemy’s Gym, even teaming up with allied trainers and attacking all at once. If all the Pokémon there are defeated, it’s yours! Until the enemy comes back.
Pokémon GO will be free to play, but in-game items like Pokéballs are going to cost money, so cough up if you want to capture anything. The dedicated player can also buy a special Bluetooth wristband, produced by Nintendo, which makes capturing Pokémon easier and vibrates every time one gets close.
We also haven’t heard much about how much battery-life the app uses, but VR effects tend to suck down power. Ingress is infamous for basically requiring a portable charger. So bear that in mind – the best app in the world falls flat if you can’t play it.
Still, at minimum, the game seems like a decent excuse to go outside, chase invisible Charizards and look a bit mental. But maybe it could end up being the very best, like no app ever was. Here’s hoping for the latter.