As I’m walking back from my local park, all of my exposed skin bitten and sunburnt, I thought I’d let you know why. It’s not because I have a crippling heroin addiction, though I imagine opiates would be more beneficial to my health than staring down at my screen hunting imaginary animals. If only because I wouldn’t have this crick in my neck and a little further away from a stress induced aneurysm.
Pokemon Go was released in the UK this week, officially, and downloaded illegally the week before by plenty of nostalgic adults who wanted to catch a Pikachu. It has immediately became more popular than Taylor Swift, Kanye West and – I’m starting to get a bit lost, so let’s say – Justin Bieber combined.
Developed by Niantic, the team behind the cult AR classic Ingress, Pokemon Go combines the good (Pokemon) with the bad (Go-ing outside). You wander around aimlessly, stepping in front of cars or into rivers, hunched over your screen until A Thing appears and you throw Pokeballs at it until it submits to your will and just stays put. For your efforts, you are rewarded with candy which I can only assume is actually Pokemon poop.
In fairness, I have enjoyed the game while the servers have been stable enough for it to sustain up to 4 people being on it at once. You can catch Pokemon, or visit Pokestops for items (which, if you looked up, could be quite an interesting landmark or monument), or capture Gyms so other random sadomasochists can beat up your pets as a show of dominance.
This is only the first week of its official release, so some bugs are expected to be ironed out sharpish. At the moment, if you’re on the prowl after 6pm – which is dangerous because think of all the muggings that are probably taking place – you may not even be able to connect, let alone stay in for long enough to catch a Pokemon or visit a Pokestop.
In a particularly infuriating moment this evening, I set off an Incense to lure creatures to me on a final lap around the park. I assume I did this too suddenly, because the app lost connection and stopped doing anything. After 25 minutes, it finally let me back in so I could see the Incense timer hadn’t been paused.
No one seems to know what anything does in the game. There’s a window that shows you what is Nearby, but this could be anything from “the park” to “the county”. It also seems to serves faint glimmer of hope that after 78 Weedles, you might glimpse a Squirtle. As if to give you a little pointer, they added some footprints as a rough indicator for how close Pokemon are: 1 footprint is 10-100m, while 3 is about 10-15 miles in the opposite direction and through a lake.
Occasionally the ground rustles, to helpfully show you were to stand so the pot-smoking teenagers over the road know exactly who to point and laugh at.
In its current state, Pokemon Go is an infuriating experience. Niantic have promised updates and big fixes in the future, aiming to cut at the catching glitch and allowing trading Pokemon to friends (a feature that should have been in there from the start, surely). I would go as far to say that I don’t believe a Bethesda game would be released with this many bugs.
For the nostalgia and sudden calf muscles I’ve developed, Pokemon Go is definitely an AR game. If you’re looking for an app that can easily drain your battery within an hour and gobble up your data allowance in a couple of days, it’s a godsend. For a while, though, I might put my Pokemon adventure on hold until some of the updates are implemented.