Traditional gaming companies nudging their way into the mobile scene have met with what could charitably be called mixed results, but few such pushes have been as closely watched as Nintendo's. The "golden age" console stalwart - whose corporate moves are often framed as "last stand" moments for an entire generation of gaming - was slow to jump on the emerging market, but their debut Miitomo app turned out to be a great success. Their most buzzed production by far has been the surprise announcement of Pokémon GO, a collaboration with Niantic Inc. that transforms the venerable Pokémon franchise into an augmented reality game.
Now, with the game's U.S. field test beta about to begin, Niantic has released new details on how the hotly-anticipated title will actually function.
While field tests have been underway for several months now in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and other territories, the upcoming U.S. beta is expected to be of significant importance given the region's vastly differentiated geographic and demographic variation - an important consideration given that the game's central "geocaching"-inspired gimmick is premised on both Pokémon and Pokemon-adjacent items being tagged to specific real-world locations. As outlined in the official press release (from Niantic and The Pokémon Company):
"Pokémon GO will allow players to find and catch more than a hundred different Pokémon as they explore the world around them. When players approach a Pokémon in the wild, their phones will notify them and give them the opportunity to engage and catch the Pokémon using the phone’s touch screen to throw a Poké Ball. Poké Balls and other special items can be found at PokéStops, which are located at interesting places such as public art installations, historical markers, and monuments. During gameplay, Pokémon GO players will be encouraged to join one of three teams and engage in Gym battles with other teams. After joining a team, players will gain the ability to assign their Pokémon to Gyms. Like PokéStops, Gyms can be found at real locations in the world."
The focus on real world locations has been cause for consternation among some early critics of the game, spurring visions of young Pokémon fans venturing into far-flung and/or dangerous situations in order to catch certain Pokémon or battle at certain Gyms - a concern exacerbated by Pokémon GO's similarity to an infamous Google April Fools' prank which depicted an imaginary Pokémon A.R. game that would have required players to engage in rock-climbing or ocean boating in order to capture rare specimens. The actual game, though, promises that a wide variety of play will never be too far from a given player's location, even as the overall goal is to encourage (safe) outdoor exploration among users - especially kids:
"With real-life surroundings providing a backdrop for encounters with wild Pokémon, this unique Pokémon game represents the next generation of Niantic’s “Real World” gaming platform, which combines mobile location technology and Augmented Reality to create a gaming experience that motivates players to go outside and explore the world around them."
In addition, the game will also incorporate modes and activities that do not require direct engagement with the A.R. component (or even their smartphones themselves) at all times - likely offering a welcome sigh of relief from parents of younger fans who may wish to let them experience the game but not necessarily through the purchase of their own mobile devices:
"A portable device called the Pokémon GO Plus will enable Pokémon GO players to enjoy the game even while they’re not looking at their smartphones. The device connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth and notifies the player about events in the game—such as the appearance of a Pokémon nearby—using an LED and vibration. In addition, players can catch Pokémon or perform other simple actions by pressing the button on the device."
While a full release schedule has not yet been announced, Pokémon GO will (eventually) be free to download both from the App Store and Google Play services.