Pokémon GO review: Why can’t we stop playing Pokémon GO?

The idea behind Pokémon GO is simple, but in the space of a month this augmented-reality mobile game created by The Pokémon Company and Niantic has become the highest-earning mobile app in history. What gives? Find out in our Pokémon GO review. Read next: Pokemon Sun and Moon review | Pokemon GO troubleshooting | How to catch Ditto in Pokemon GO

Pokémon GO review: Introduction

First, I have to level with you: I didn’t grow up as a Pokémon fan, and I never understood what all the younger kids were so excited about. I guess I thought it was all a bit ‘sad’, but I now feel weirdly defensive of the game. Just the other day I had to hold myself back when a stranger in the pub told me I was too old to be playing Pokémon GO. Outrageous.

Things changed in September last year when I wrote an article about the then upcoming Pokémon GO game. Site traffic is central to my role at IDG, so I won’t pretend the prospect of playing peekaboo with Pikachu was more exciting to me than the 4.5 million page views the story has received.

Even after 10 months of regular updates to that article - 10 infuriating months of having to find and then copy and paste that blasted é from another web page because I’m the idiot who didn’t know you just long-pressed the e key on a Mac keyboard, and 10 long months of picking my younger colleagues’ brains for their Pokémon knowledge - I still didn’t get it.

When Pokémon GO was finally released in July I had to try it. Too impatient to wait for it to be officially available in the UK I installed it via the APK file. I’m not going to pretend I suddenly understood why a ‘screenshot’ of Articuno in a gym could send fans into meltdown, nor who is this Mew guy, or even why the Complete Guide to Pokémon GO almost overnight became our best-selling digital magazine ever, but I am just a few thousand XP away from level 23 and I couldn’t be more addicted.

Pokemon Go

The fact I’m more interested in hunting EeVees (because I *still* don’t have a Flareon) than finding a dress for my wedding next year should have been the first sign that there was a problem.

Defending the gym at my local pub has become my life’s work. Every journey in the car involves a detour via a PokéStop (or three). I’ve gone from driving maybe a little bit too fast to infuriating those behind me by driving so slowly that my eggs can hatch faster. My phone is like a furnace from where its screen is constantly switched on, and my power bank has become less of an emergency gadget and more of a daily necessity.

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What the hell is wrong with me? I don’t even like Pokémon! But something inside me has been awoken and now I have no choice but to catch them all.

And it’s exactly this that makes Pokémon GO such a brilliant idea. This could be the start of something much bigger in augmented reality, and it’s the first time the technology has really met with consumers en masse.

Within a few days of its release Pokémon GO has done what activity trackers have been trying to do for years. It has made kids - and adults - get up off of their backsides and get some fresh air and exercise. We’ve all heard the heartwarming tales of people who have lost stones and gained friends (or lost jobs and gained lovers) in their search for Pokémon. Which is nice.

Pokémon GO is not the kind of game you can play from home (annoying), and unless you happen to live in a town- or city centre you have to go find PokéStops, you have to go find gyms and, most of all, you have to go find Pokémon. Copping out using an incense on the sofa just won’t cut it if you want to get far in the game and still have money in your pocket.

I’m still not okay with the idea of young children wandering around public places with their attention focused more on their phone- or tablet screens than the car that’s about to run them over or the arsehole who is about to steal their device, but I would hope that every one of these children has a watchful parent by their side.

One of the things I like about Pokémon GO is that it is genuinely free, and you can play it without spending a penny. If you are going to spend some money, you’ll more than likely do so on incubators for your eggs, since you get only one unlimited-use incubator. You can buy PokéBalls, though these are available from PokéStops, and you can buy incense, lures and lucky eggs, which are also available through levelling up. What strikes me as odd is that you can’t buy potions and revives, but that would likely make gym battles too easy. Spending real money on Pokémon GO will help you level up faster, but it certainly isn’t a necessity.

Pokemon Go

Pokémon GO review: What is Pokémon GO?

For those who know nothing about Pokémon GO, I’ll explain it as I see it from one Pokémon newbie to another. There are more than 700 Pokémon in total, but only around 150 in Pokémon GO (for now at least). Some are like real-life animals, birds, fish and reptiles, for example a Pidgey is a pidgeon, a Rattata is a rat and a Krabby is a crab. Others have less obvious real-world comparisons, particularly in their evolved state, and I hope I never meet a real-life Raticate in the street. (The others are mostly quite cute, even those that can wipe the floor with you in a gym.)

The ultimate goal is to catch all the Pokémon in the game. You can do so by leaving the house and physically searching for them, by evolving other Pokémon, or by hatching eggs which, again, involves leaving the house and walking a certain distance or, if you’re lucky, having such a poor GPS signal that your avatar will run around desperately trying to work out where you are. It’s rumoured that a future update to Pokémon GO will allow you to also trade Pokémon at PokéStops, but that’s not possible right now.

The Pokémon GO interface is simply a map of your local area, and as you walk around you might be lucky enough to find a Pokémon, which will appear on the map. You tap the Pokémon to begin your attempt at catching it, which is made possible by throwing PokéBalls in its direction. (Later in the game you get larger PokéBalls and Razz Berries to ease this process.) When trying to catch a Pokémon you can do so from an augmented-reality viewpoint, which brings up the view from your camera with the Pokémon overlaid and makes it look as though it is actually standing in front of you, or you can turn off AR, which is less fun but makes it easier to catch the Pokémon.

Every successful catch gains you three candies of that Pokémon type (required for powering up or evolving that Pokémon), 100 stardust (also required for powering up Pokémon) and at least 100 XP (required for levelling up).