SINGAPORE - The last major update for the popular augmented-reality mobile game Pokemon Go was in February when the second-generation of digital creatures called Pokemon was introduced.
And if you haven't played since then, the latest big update happened last Saturday with the revamp of the gym system and the introduction of Raid Battles.
But is it any good?
Having played through the week, this is what this writer thinks of the latest update.
NEW GYM SYSTEM
The prestige and training system of the old Pokemon gym is gone. Yes, you no longer can defeat the gym, leave your Pokemon there, redeem 10 PokeCoins (Pokemon Go's in-game currency), and move on to another gym.
Now, every gym has six permanent slots that anyone - as long as they are in the same team - can fill with their Pokemon. Furthermore, each Pokemon slot has to be unique. So teams can't just fill each slot with Blisseys, a Pokemon which has high hit points, in the same gym, which would have otherwise taken forever to bring down.
There is also a new motivation system. Every Pokemon in a gym will have a motivation gauge displayed over its head.
A Pokemon will lose motivation over time or when it is defeated in battle. When a Pokemon's motivation gauge falls, so does its combat points (CP). Once the gauge is zero, the Pokemon will return to its trainer along with the coins earned.
For every 10min that a Pokemon spends defending the gym, a trainer gets 1 PokeCoin. There is a limit of 50 PokeCoins that a trainer can earn per day. And you will only see the coins in your inventory after the Pokemon is being defeated and returned to you. Yes, no more instant gratification of redeeming 10 Pokemon Coins like in the past.
But controlling team members can restore the motivation of each Pokemon by feeding it with berries. You can feed berries to your teammates' Pokemon as well. Any berry will do. So if you have been throwing away those Nanab or Pinap Berries, it is time to store them.
But your Pokemon will get sick of the berries after some time. That said, Pokemon do want the new Golden Razz Berry instead, but these are too precious. More on that later.
What this means is that the game does not allow you to feed your Pokemon forever. If not, the attacking team will have no chance of taking down a gym.
But attacking a gym now is more difficult than in the past. You need to battle the six Pokemon in the gym and bring down the motivation gauge of each Pokemon. Only when one Pokemon's motivation gauge is depleted, it will be kicked out of the gym.
And it can take more than one round of battle to fully deplete a Pokemon's motivation gauge. So if you consider there are six Pokemon in all to fight, the process to beat a gym can be long drawn solo.
I found that if I am battling a gym alone. It can take up to 20min to bring down a gym. But if you have teammates battling with you, it can be as quick as 5min.
However, the new gym system does make it much more difficult to defend a gym as well. There were instances when my Pokemon, which was protecting a gym, lasted no less than 5min. So, I couldn't even earn a single coin. You really need your teammates to join the gym quickly and defend it together. Talk about strength in numbers.
Another thing to note is that the gyms now have photo discs for you to spin for items. You can earn Gym Badges now by spinning the photo disc in new gyms. So it's a good opportunity to explore your neighbourhood to visit all the gyms.
In addition, you can level up these Gym Badges by battling in the gyms these badges are earned, defending said gyms or giving berries to your Pokemon in those gyms. The higher your Gym Badge level (from Bronze to Gold), the more bonus items you receive each time you spin the photo disc at the gym.
The other major update for Pokemon Go is a new co-operative gameplay mode called Raid Battle.
Like massively multiplayer online role-playing games, Raid Battles in Pokemon Go involve a lot of people. You and up to 20 trainers can battle at the same time.
You will be notified about an upcoming Raid Battle in a nearby gym on the Pokemon Go app. You can also watch out for such battles, as there will be a large egg with a countdown timer appearing on top of a gym. When the countdown timer above the egg reaches zero, an enemy called the raid boss will be revealed. Raid bosses have five tiers; the higher the tier, the more powerful the boss with higher CP.
The first tier of raid bosses includes Margikarp (why?), Croconaw, Bayleef and Quilava. The second tier raid bosses you can find are Electabuzz, Exeggutor, Magmar and Muk.
Vaporeon, Arcanine, Machamp, Gengar, Flareon, Alakazam and Jolteon form the third tier raid bosses. Currently, the most powerful fourth tier raid bosses include Lapras, Venusaur, Blastoise, Charizard, Snorlax, Rhydon and Tyranitar.
The fifth tier raid bosses are presently unknown. But they are speculated to be the Legendary Pokemon like Mewtwo, Articuno or Zapdos.
But before you battle a raid boss, you need a Raid Pass. You will get one free Raid Pass per day by visiting a gym and spinning its photo disc. If you do not use this free Raid Pass, you will not be able to get another free one.
If you want to participate in multiple raids in one day, you will need to buy a Premium Raid Pass that will cost 100 PokeCoins.
A Premium Raid Pass is only good to use for one time. It expires the moment you defeat the raid boss or when the Raid Battle ends (such battles usually last an hour each). If you cannot defeat the raid boss within a 5min time limit, you can go back to that gym to start fighting again until you defeat the raid boss.
When you defeat the raid boss, you will have a chance to catch it in a so-called Bonus Challenge.
Depending on your team's contribution in defeating the raid boss, you will be given a certain number of Premier Poke Balls that you can only use in this Bonus Challenge. But you will definitely be given a minimum of five Premier Poke Balls.
Good luck though, as you will need plenty of it. It took me four Raid Battles before I finally land myself a Tyranitar.
There are new items that you will get as rewards for defeating the Raid Boss, and which one you get is completely random. So, again, good luck with that.
These new items include the Golden Razz Berry, Rare Candy, Fast Technical Machine and Charged Technical Machine.
The Golden Razz Berry is better than the normal Razz Berry - it gives you a 25 per cent chance of catching the Pokemon after you feed it. So such berries are great for catching Pokemon like Tyranitar, especially during the Bonus Challenge. So, do not waste it feeding your Pokemon defending a gym.
When you use a Rare Candy on a Pokemon, it will turn into the Pokemon's candy. So, for example, if you need more candies to power up that Blissey of yours, just feed the Rare Candy to your Blissey and the candy will become a Chansey candy.
If you have played previous Pokemon games, you will know that a Technical Machine is used to teach a Pokemon a new move. And as its name implies, a Quick Technical Machine is for your Pokemon to acquire a new Quick Attack move while the Charged Technical Machine is for learning a new Charged Attack move.
Again, the specific attack your Pokemon learns from the use of a Technical Machine is random. Also, Technical Machines do not drop regularly even if you participated in a few Raid Battles. There are anecdotes of people who fought a day's worth of Raid Battles without receiving a single Technical Machine.
For me, I was unhappy with my Blissey's Psychic Charged attack. So I used a ChargedTechnical Machine on it and it learnt the more powerful Dazzling Gleam attack instead. But you might not be so lucky because of the randomness of the move that your Pokemon can learn from a Technical Machine.
The latest Pokemon Go update certainly injected new life into the game. When the Raid Battle first started last Saturday, there were groups of people gathering at a Gym ready to battle.
In fact, you will really want to wait for more people to join a Raid Battle, especially when you are up against the likes of Snorlax and Tyranitar. For example, I found that at least 15 people are needed to fight the Tyranitar raid boss which has a massive CP of 34,707. If not, it is almost next to impossible to defeat it.
The best thing to do is to band your friends together to fight in a Raid Battle. And it does not matter if your friends are from different teams; you can battle the Raid Boss together.
However, I find the Premium Raid Pass to be quite expensive at 100 PokeCoins ($1.48). This is especially so when you can only use it once.
And if you want to earn PokeCoins without paying real money, you need to defend a gym for at least two days to get 100 PokeCoins to buy one Premium Raid Pass.
I would have liked it if the Premium Raid Pass could be used like three times - similar to the Egg Incubator you buy. Okay, maybe at least two times since the Premium Raid Pass is cheaper.
The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that you need to use the Raid Pass before you enter a Raid Battle. Another issue is that you won't know how many people are in the gym before entering it for a Raid Battle.
It is really a downer when you use the Raid Pass and find only three people inside ready to take down at Tier 4 raid boss.
Perhaps, a better way is to let players get into a Raid Battle is to place them in a holding area first. Only when the players in the holding area start battling a Raid Boss do they need to use the Raid Pass. This way, players do not need to waste their hard-earned 100 PokeCoins on the pass.
We can only hope that these Raid Battles are a prelude to what trainers have been wanting - Player vs Player (PvP) battles.
But there are already plenty of errors being reported by players during Raid Battles. So, it is probably a while more before PvP will come to Pokemon Go.
And there is another thing I want: More slots to store my Pokemon. If the new update allows the item storage limit to be increased to 1,500 from 1,000, why not do something similar for Pokemon storage?
That will entice players to go on more Raid Battles and catch rare Pokemon to store in their inventory.
So, with the weekend coming, it might be an opportunity to go out, explore your neighbourhood, make some new friends (or foes) along the way and battle together to get the high-level Pokemon you always wanted.