I still can't believe Solgaleo is Edward Elric.
Well, this certainly came out without any fanfare. Prior to the actual release day, Nintendo had given no hint of when the UK would get Pokemon Go, before just randomly dropping it in our laps on a totally un-significant Thursday in July. One wonders whether part of that is that it was difficult to know exactly when Niantic would have it available, since the process of registering Pokestops must be a pretty in-depth, even arduous one.
Made by Niantic, previously best known for a similar augmented reality game called Ingress, Pokemon Go is an augmented reality smartphone exergame that puts you in the shoes of a Pokemon trainer, as you wander through your surroundings chasing down Pokemon, fighting at gyms, and seeking out Pokestops, interesting local landmarks turned into pokeball dispensaries. As time goes on, you can join Team Instinct, Team Valor, or Team Mystic, three teams vying for control of different gyms.
From a story standpoint, there's basically nothing there, at least not yet - Niantic is certainly capable of putting story into their AR games, because while Ingress' story isn't exactly deep and detailed, it does have one, with semi-regular story updates. It's plausible that once Pokemon Go is established, Niantic and Nintendo might seek to start adding some kind of semblance of a story to it as well, as a means of helping to maintain interest. For the moment, though, it has at best a very simple premise ('you're a trainer, go catch Pokemon') - which is, to be fair, how all Pokemon games start, if an evil team pops up with vague, nebulous plans down the line, then I think we can all agree that I called it.
The game is, in fact, fairly simple in general. Not in a bad way: It's a simplicity that allows for diverse experiences. Pokeballs are acquired at Pokestops, set up at local landmarks or places of interest, like I said before, and you can use those to catch roaming Pokemon. The game will tell you which Pokemon are in the area, and - if you're facing the right direction - what direction they're in. Get close enough and they'll appear on your screen, allowing you to engage them in battle and start tossing pokeballs. I've never yet seen an unsuccessful catch, and I'm not sure if it's even possible - Pokemon don't seem to really run away or anything like that.
You're also sometimes given eggs, with the hatching requirement being to travel a certain distance - usually a couple of kilometres, which is a lot easier than it might sound.
In addition to that, there's battles, which basically involve swiping your finger around to move your Pokemon about, and swiping your finger in a different direction to battle. It's pretty simple and not very nuanced, and most starting players won't be battling for a goodly while (a friend attempted a local gym only to end up with all her team knocked out), but it seems fun enough.
It's worth mentioning, though, that the game has plenty of glitches. Server overload isn't a game-breaking problem, but it is a reoccurring one, and the game has a marked tendency to freeze and crash when you're trying to catch a Pokemon. As a neat if possibly unintentional anti-frustration measure, the game automatically catches the Pokemon in question if it does with, but it's still a slightly irritating glitch. There's also been at least one weird illusory Pokemon glitch turn up, with a Pokemon apparently there to be caught, but the game stubbornly not responding when you try to actually catch it.
Pokemon Go does have a noticeable effect on its players, though, familiarising them with the area they live in quite rapidly and compelling them to explore. In two days, myself and my smartphone-possessing friend have discovered a shorter way to the local supermarket that I never knew was there, a nature reserve that I never knew was there, and a twenty-four hour McDonalds whose existence I was hitherto unaware of. So that's pretty cool.
So, that's Pokemon Go. Fun, interesting, kind of bare bones at the moment, but no less charming because of it. With no real story and only Gen 1 Pokemon, it seems entirely plausible that Niantic will try to release regular new content, hoping to sustain interest in it over a prolonged period of time. It may well work, as well: Released two years ago, Ingress has gone from strength to strength, slowly accruing a bigger and bigger userbase, and it never had the star power and recognisability factor of Pokemon. In the few days since it's come out in the UK, and the week since it's come out in the US and Australia, Pokemon Go has already made its mark on society and culture, so it'll be interesting to see where things go from there.
Oh, also, apparently somebody has optioned the rights to a Pokemon Go film, that should be a total trainwreck.