When it’s eleventy-billion degrees outside, the only thing that my kids and I want to do is wander around a park for hours on end, sweat pouring down our faces and battling the initial stages of heat stroke.
That’s right. We’re playing Pokémon GO.
This fun, augmented reality (AR) game by Niantic was released in July 2016. At the time of writing this article, it had been released in the Australasia region, the United States, and parts of Europe. In each of those places, it caught on like wildfire.
The game combines GPS mapping, pinpoint locations from the game developer’s previous title Ingress, and the smartphone camera to send users out into the world and capture AR Pokémon. Specific locations are designated as gyms, where the teams Valor, Instinct, and Mystic go to battle, and others are Pokéstops. We’ve found those to be the most interesting as a majority of these stops are at parks and obscure fun places in your neighborhood that you’ve likely never been. Users also have the ability to set a “lure” at Pokéstops, which draws in nearby Pokémon for easy catching. It’s helpful, considering the fact that these adorable little monsters are practically everywhere. Well, everywhere except in my neighborhood.
The game is good, pure fun. I liken it to a scavenger hunt with graphics. My kids, ages four and thirteen, like it because collecting stuff is fun, and sometimes a Pidgeot appears on someone’s head. What I like is that we’ve all have something we can contribute. It’s a little hard for me to cut the strings on this one (because it really is a lot of fun, but these kids waste my pokéballs), but I managed to divide up our tasks so that everyone can play it. We all have specific duties, and it’s all under one account. I handle evolutions, powering up, and transfers. The four-year-old handles all Pokéstops and their associated loot. The thirteen-year-old catches them all and has grown especially good at snatching them mid-route as her mom cruises at ten miles per hour in an empty parking lot because there are eggs to incubate. (An aside: She’s also really good at catching them when I’m driving normal speed, which is what I’d suggest all trainer-drivers have. Because driving on the street and catching at the same time is just a ridiculous, carelessly bad decision.)
Don’t worry: we also catch them on foot! But we’re in Texas and, as I mentioned above, it’s eleventy-billion degrees outside. Sometimes you need to catch them with the AC on.
Now for the stuff I really, really don’t like: The reliability of the app is terrible.
If you set off an incense, which is used to lure cute fuzzy things directly to just you, you can almost guarantee that the server will go down completely for at least half of the thirty minutes you have for that perk. If your four-year-old is really crabby, because SHE wanted to have HER turn and Sissy has had ALL the turns, the server will go down. If you’ve just captured the one Pokémon you really wanted, the server will go down. If you’ve walked five miles to reach a gym in the blistering heat, the server will go down. We don’t normally see this amount of failure in a mobile app. Web-based games? Absolutely. PSN and XBox go down occasionally as well, but not that often.
Pokémon GO is lucky to make it two or three hours without pitching itself into the waste bin. When the game crashes, you don’t get your used items back. If you had a Pokémon captured, it is probably gone forever. It won’t even be on the map when the server kicks back on. If you were tossing balls in those moments right before the crash (wherein the balls suddenly start going sideways), they’re gone forever. If you set a lure, or used incense, or had just thrown out an item, it just doesn’t matter. You’re out of luck, and to date, the dev has no known plans to compensate.
Since micro transactions do exist, this is frustrating for any user, better yet a group of people sharing one account. You want to get what you’ve paid for or what you worked so hard to obtain. You also don’t want a tantrum on the middle of the Target floor because the app went down right as your youngest daughter had spotted a Pikachu and now Sissy can’t catch it, why did you break the app, Mommy, whyyyyy?
Speaking of, you will use those micro transactions. It’s inevitable. Some of these little stinkers are just impossible to catch. You can hit a CP 10 Geodude directly on the face with a ball, and it still won’t catch him sometimes. And when you’re sharing the app with kids, I guarantee you that when it’s Kid Two’s turn to play, they’ve been patiently waiting for hours, and the minute they finally get the phone they discover that Kid One left them with literally one ball to use, you’re going to start tossing your wallet at Niantic instead of hitting up a dozen Pokéstops to get maybe 12 balls. After making that mistake three times, I came up with our game share strategy. It works for us, but maybe not for you.
When it comes to our kid-friendly rating, we give this game Zero Rage-Quits out of a possible 2. All-in-all, we found that Pokémon Go is such a fun game to play. It shows real promise. If Niantic can figure out how to run this many players on much better servers and a reporting system is developed so that we can get back our lost items when it does crash, it’ll quickly become our favorite game to play. I look forward to possible future trades with other players and maybe the installation of a private Pokéstop in my living room.
This game is exceptional in age-appropriate content. The only concern parents should have is on the environment that may surround these Pokémon hunting grounds. And that’s a pretty big concern, since Pokéstops and gyms draw in so many players. Please don’t send your kids out unsupervised. Just don’t. When the game is operating as intended, I give it a Thumbs Up for Mom Approval.