Pokemon Go Craze

Diary of a Pokemon Go hunter

Particularly gratifying is the sense of solidarity of players - or trainers, in Pokemon speak - meeting for the first time, and bonding over a shared love of, or addiction to, the Pokemon universe.
Particularly gratifying is the sense of solidarity of players - or trainers, in Pokemon speak - meeting for the first time, and bonding over a shared love of, or addiction to, the Pokemon universe.ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

The game finally arrived here and The Straits Times finds out what makes it so addictive

The past few days have been a blur of swipes, balls and aching feet for me - and from the looks of things, for a good majority of the Singaporean population too.

After a month of waiting and reading about the exploits of Pokemon Go players in other parts of the world, Singapore gamers finally got the chance to don their comfy shorts and chase down virtual monsters when the latest gaming craze by Niantic was released on Saturday morning.

The augmented-reality mobile app allows players to catch virtual creatures by walking around in the real world.

For me, it is viscerally satisfying to see these creatures I've known through the screen of my Game Boy appear in the real world. For many who grew up with the franchise in the mid-1990s, the game is a must-try, nostalgic throwback.

The premise of the game is simple but effective. You walk around with the game running on your mobile phone. When a Pokemon appears, you tap on your phone and swipe upwards to throw a Poke Ball at it to catch it.

  • 8/10

    RATING

    PRICE: Free (includes in-app purchases)

    PLATFORM: Android and iOS

The mission is to "catch 'em all" - which means 145 out of the original 151 Pokemon. The first few Pokemon I caught on Saturday morning around my block in Bukit Batok were unexciting, boring ones like Zubat and Pidgey.

But I soon bagged my first rare one - a Squirtle - that made me whoop to my brother to come over to catch it too. This is what makes the app so addictive - the adrenaline rush of encountering and catching new creatures that vary in type, abilities and power.

What was particularly gratifying for me was the sense of solidarity of players - or trainers, in Pokemon speak - meeting for the first time, and bonding over a shared love of, or addiction to, the Pokemon universe.

At the outdoor recreational area under my block of flats, I found myself among other early birds trying out the app for the first time. We all exchanged meaningful glances at each other, before someone broke the ice by asking "Pokemon, right?".

Then the excited chatter started. I spoke to a couple who were frantically looking for a Dratini which was supposed to be nearby.

I bumped into an old friend while chasing down a Bulbasaur near my home. What was supposed to be a quick 10-minute break by the void deck turned into a two-hour hike up Bukit Batok Nature Park, which concluded with a haul of Pokemon and a fair share of mosquito bites.

By afternoon, I started to wilt in the heat. Catching Pokemon in Singapore's notoriously hot weather requires some forethought. So dress for comfort - the heartlander's "triple-S" uniform of singlet, shorts and slippers is perfect.

 

My chase led me to Orchard Road by evening. Playing in the cool air of the night was a welcome relief.

Over the weekend, there were crowds gathered at PokeStops - landmarks where you can get free items - even well past midnight.

And I was among them, even after a long day and when I had already decided to go to bed. My mistake was opening up the app to swipe through a PokeStop that I could access from my room to get some free Poke Balls.

But when I saw a rare Hitmonchan appear on my radar, I was out of bed and wandering around the void deck, before I realised what I was doing. As I walked around in circles clutching my phone and dressed in pyjamas that I swore I would never leave the house in, I thought to myself: "Did I really just do this for Pokemon?"

But the app can do better, as there are still some problems that mar the gameplay experience.

It is still glitchy at times, freezing up or losing server connectivity, which results in PokeStops that don't drop goodies and, worse, Pokemon not appearing.

What I found frustrating as well was the removal of the in-game tracking feature that tells you how near you are to the Pokemon that you want to catch, as it meant I had to rely more on luck than on deduction while playing.

 

Given the amount of time actually required to catch 'em all and how the craze has caught on here, I think it's safe to say that Pokemon Go is here to stay for the foreseeable future. There are a grand total of 721 Pokemon across two decades of the Pokemon franchise.

Pokemon-catching fatigue will very well set in in the future once there are too many of them, but don't expect the hordes of Poke-zombies shambling about staring at their phones to dissipate anytime soon.

•Verdict: The popularity of Pokemon Go doesn't seem like it will subside anytime soon, as veterans and newcomers alike discover the closest thing to being a Pokemon Trainer. More features, such as the return of in-game tracking and the addition of Pokemon trading, will only enhance the experience.

Correction note: An earlier version of the story referred to Bukit Batok Nature Park as Bukit Batok Nature Reserve. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'Diary of a Pokemon Go hunter'. Print Edition | Subscribe