The weekend has come and gone, and I feel in a much better place today than Friday. Part of that has to do with Pokemon Go, believe it or not. I introduced my kids to the game Friday, and we had such a great time with it we even drove into town for a two hour walk so that we could have a better shot catching as many of the critters as we could. So I’m here today to give you a few pointers on the game, in case you’ve been hearing about it for the past few days and have wondered what’s up with it (and why you should be playing it.)
Pokemon Go is an app for smartphones. Though it will run on iPads too, it needs GPS to work. You open the app (and keep it open) and it displays a Google Maps-like view of the world, along with your character in the middle. As you walk around in real life, your character moves around the world in the game. Every so often (more often in more heavily populated areas), you’ll come across a Pokemon, a little creature you can catch and own and use to battle other people. Different areas of the real world have different kinds of Pokemon, and different Pokemon come out at night. There are something like 250 in all to catch in the game, I believe.
In addition to Pokemon, you’ll also see PokeStops, real world places you can visit to obtain in-game items that help your character do the things you want to do, like catch more Pokemon.
Catching Pokemon raises your characters level, and once you hit level 5, you can go out and fight other people in Gyms. Again, they’re real world locations (public libraries, some stores, or particular landmarks in your area. You can see them on the in-game map.) You choose to belong to one of three teams (Red, Yellow, or Blue, though I think we can all agree that Yellow is the best team out there. Go Team Instinct!). Each team fights for control of each Gym. If your team controls it, your team members can go their to train their Pokemon and level up the gym, making it harder for other teams to take control. If your team doesn’t own it, you can visit it to fight those Pokemon and try to take ownership.
Long story short, this is a game where you walk around the real world to do things in the game.
Why It’s a Great Family Game
My kids caught onto this like wildfire. We first tried going for a walk around our house to find Pokemon, but there just weren’t any available. (It was fun watching TRC wander around the front yard, phone in hand, for about a half hour as he searched things out to be certain there were none hiding, however.) So we packed into the car and headed to town, two smartphones in hand. (The game is free, though you need to register to play, and you can buy in-game items to make things easier on your character, if you choose.)
Right away, things were different in town. For one thing, there were plenty of PokeStops and Pokemon to be found. For another, there were many more other people wandering around town playing as well. In the couple hours we were there, I’d guess we ran into 20-30 other players I could identify. (Probably filthy Team Valor (red) players, who had a monopoly on the gyms at that point.) People were all over the place, smartphones in hand.
As the parent in the team, my job was to catch the tricky Pokemon and to make sure my kids didn’t wander into traffic. (It’s easy to get too engrossed in the game, and I wouldn’t be comfortable sending out DC alone to play it. Not kidding.) Together, we walked 5km or so, I’d guess. (The game tracks how far you’ve walked, since one extra way to find Pokemon is to put eggs you come across into “incubators” that hatch the eggs after you’ve walked 2, 5 or 10km.
Even with just a single smartphone, my kids have had a great time sharing the phone, taking turns catching Pokemon. They wanted to go back out and catch more as soon as we got home.
What ages are appropriate? Pretty much any. My 3 year old loves being out with everyone else and looking at the screen now and then (though it takes too much hand eye coordination for her to actually catch any Pokemon), and considering I’m having fun playing the game myself, I don’t see an upper age limit. There were certainly plenty of older teens out and about playing the game Saturday.
There are a few things I’d recommend you be aware of, if you’re thinking about catching all the Pokemon. Here are my handy hints to getting the most out of the game, and I’d love to hear yours if you have any:
- The app drains a battery. Fast. Next time I go out playing, I’ll be bringing my external battery pack, fully charged. We went from 100% down to about 20% in under two hours. You can minimize the battery drain a little by going to the in-game settings menu and enabling the Battery Save option. This will make it so that the game dims the screen when the phone isn’t being actively looked at. But the app doesn’t count your walking while it’s not actively on, and you can’t find Pokemon unless it’s running either. It doesn’t work in the background (something I hope they correct soon.) You can also turn down the brightness on your phone’s screen, of course, but then it becomes kind of hard to actually see what you’re doing in the game . . .
- You can buy a device to catch Pokemon when you don’t have your smartphone out, called a Pokemon Go Plus. However, they’re sold out at the moment, and I’m not sure how they work exactly. (They’re also $35, which seems pretty steep to me.)
- PokeStops reset every 5 minutes or so, so it’s not too difficult to hang out in an area and replenish your Pokeballs so you can have enough to fill your catching needs.
- Gyms are a bit tricky to figure out at first. You challenge all the Pokemon in a gym at once, and you need to beat all of them in a certain time to gain control of the gym. You can use multiple Pokemon to do it. They’ll switch out automatically in order of power. Once you capture the gym, you need to put a Pokemon of your own in, but you can only place Pokemon that are at full health. Take a quick moment to heal your best Pokemon, and then stick it in there. Owning a gym is the only way I’ve seen to earn in-game currency for free (though you don’t earn much of it.)
- Some Pokemon are trickier to catch than others. Flying ones seem to be a particular pain. (Cursed Zubats!) This is where it could help for you to step in to aid your kids before they burn through all their Pokeballs.
- Eggs hatch some rare Pokemon, but also some normal Pokemon. It’s random. The eggs that take longer to hatch do come with extra candy when they hatch, however. You need candy to raise your Pokemon’s attack power.
- You can get 1 candy per Pokemon if you transfer it. (An option down at the bottom of the screen when you’re looking at a particular Pokemon in your possession.) It’s 1 candy per Pokemon, regardless of the power level of that Pokemon.
- As your character moves up in levels, the levels of the Pokemon you can catch move up as well. Motivation! But be aware that the higher level Pokemon are also harder to catch. (I almost had a Meowth this morning, but it got away. Sob!) You can buy or unlock better Pokeballs, supposedly, but I’m not that far into the game to know for sure yet.
Hopes for the Future
Clearly I love the game so far, but there are some areas I really hope they strengthen.
- Add the ability to trade Pokemon. I would love to be able to meet other players and trade with them. As it is, catching extra Pokemon just helps you level up the ones you own. Trading is a central part to the main video game, so it really feels like a hole not to have it in this version.
- Add the ability to fight other players without gyms. It would be great to be able to go up to a friend and have our Pokemon fight, just like in the game. It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard, since it’s all location based anyway . . .
- Make Pokemon fights more interesting. As it is now, you just tap the screen as fast as you can to fight. (If you tap and hold, it uses your Pokemon’s special ability, so that’s something I guess.) This is so dumbed down from real Pokemon games, though I wonder if it would be possible for them to make it a feature. (It’s important to keep in mind this is a free version, after all . . .)