Nintendo made a huge splash this week as they dipped their toe into the ocean of mobile gaming by releasing Pokémon GO, a free app that turns the "Catch Them All" mentality into a challenge to gamers in the real world.
Pokémon GO utilizes the Augmented Reality strategy that Nintendo itself helped pioneer with their 3DS handheld. The app, available for both iOS and Android, uses your phone’s camera and GPS features to turn you into a real life Pokémon trainer. Navigating the world is as simple as actually walking around your local environment, since the game uses real life maps and your position on them for its game world. Better than a regular sim, Pokémon GO overlays itself on real local landmarks for different in-game locations. So if you need a Poké Ball to help in your quest, you may need to take a walk to your park or corner store to claim some from the Poké Stop nearby. Training gyms and other locations are likewise scattered among the map to aid you in your quest.
Gameplay isn’t exactly the same as previous Pokémon titles, but is familiar for longtime fans and accessible for newcomers. The bulk of that gameplay comes from finding, catching and evolving the game’s namesake creatures. You begin with one of three starter pokemon and build your inventory up as you progress through the game. Capturing the Pokémon with Poké Balls, an essential component of previous games, is revamped with a new dynamic here that requires well-timed swipes on your touchscreen. Pressure and timing are paramount to making sure you come away with a new pokemon for your collection instead of an empty Poké Ball.
Once you’ve built up your collection significantly by capturing new Pokémon or finding eggs and walking with them to get them to hatch, you can take your Pokémon into the gym for training and leveling up. Evolving them is pretty much the purpose of the game and the collector mentality is strong here. This is the first time we’ve seen Pokémon take this form and, so far, it’s one of the best versions we’ve ever seen. As server issues die down—understandable after a massive launch like this—we expect Pokémon GO will be the first of Nintendo’s many titles to make it to smartphones. If Mario gets similar treatment, anticipate a long love affair between Nintendo and the phone hardware we’re all already carrying around.