Beta impressions with Pokémon Go!

For quite some time now we've been waiting to get that first official glimpse at Pokémon Go, the new game from Niantic. Pokémon Go brings the handheld pocket monster game to the mobile platform, and lets anyone in the world became a world class Pokémon trainer. The game is only available in Beta right now, but we should see a full release later this year.

If you want all the fine details you can check out our Pokémon Go game guide, or keep reading to see our thoughts on how the game feels so far.

How it looks


Pokémon has always had a pretty specific art style in the games, a palette full of pale blues and greens. Pokémon Go has managed to bring that palette directly to the mobile platform, and it works really well. Even better, the way the graphics merge with Google Maps gives you a brilliant overlay.

When you look at the screen of your phone, what you'll see is the world of Pokémon. Pale green grass dominates during the day, turning to a dark blue when night falls. You'll see roads that carve through the landscape, and white rectangular spaces where buildings sit in real life. It takes the information from Google Maps, and essentially overlays it with the world in which pocket monsters could be hiding just about anywhere.

When you do come across a Pokémon it will pop up on your screen.

There isn't any way to predict where you'll find Pokémon. As you move through the world, they'll pop up on the screen. There is a handy indicator which will let you know if there are any Pokémon nearby. If it's a discovered species, you'll see the full picture. If it's a new species, it will be outlined in gray, although veterans of the games and show will probably be able to figure out exactly which Pokémon it is. When you do come across a Pokémon, it will pop up on your screen and by tapping it you can attempt to capture it for your collection.

Aside from Pokémon, the only other things that will really pop up in full color on your map are Pokétops and Gyms. Pokéstops and Gyms are set up at landmarks, or important locations that are open to the public. Even if you are across town from the nearest Pokéstop, you can still see it. Pokéstops will pop up in blue, while Gyms will pop up in the color of the team that controls it.

The way that they've brought Pokeémon to life is fantastic, and well done.

All together, it brings to life this fantastic little world in the palm of your hand. The way that they've brought Pokémon to life is fantastic, and well done. The graphics beautifully emulate the DS games, and make it feel far more like a Pokémon game. Visually, the jump from handheld to mobile has succeeded wildly.

The game itself

Gotta catch 'em all

The gameplay in Pokémon Go may well remind you of Ingress, and that's to be expected since it's the same developer doing all the heavy lifting. You'll have to explore the world around you challenging Gyms, checking in at Pokéstops, and catching Pokémon.

The main screen of the game is mostly made up of map. It'll show your avatar walking along the road, and shows the surrounding area. Since it uses information from Google Maps, you can swipe along to find nearby Pokéstops and Gyms. Even if you aren't close enough to check in at these locations, you can see where they are by tapping on them. Ingress players will immediately recognize the use of landmarks for these locations in the game. Tapping on a gym from a distance will also give you the name of the trainer who owns it, and show what Pokémon are currently guarding it.

Tapping the photo of your avatar will open a screen that gives you more information about your character.

At the bottom of the screen is a bar that has a picture of your avatar with your character level on the left, a Pokéball in the middle, and cutouts of nearby Pokémon on the right. That bar is your command center, from there you can access everything else that you'll need in game.

Tapping the photo of your avatar will open a screen that gives you more information about your character. You'll be able to see your level, the amount of experience needed to hit the next level, and an exhaustive list of achievements for you to collect. There is also a larger version of your Avatar if you want to take a closer look at it.

Your backpack, is where all items that you collect on your journey will live.

Tapping the Pokéball will open a menu that lets you choose from the store, Pokédex, Pokémon and your backpack. Pokémon will show you all of the Pokémon you currently have in your possession. Pokédex will open up your Pokédex, auto filled with information from the Pokémon you have captured. Your backpack is where all items you collect on your journey will live. The store is where you can purchase items, along with expansions of your Pokémon storage and backpack storage.

On the bottom right of your command bar is a small screen that will show nearby Pokémon. Pokémon you've already captured will pop up in full color on this screen, but it will be grayed out outline until you come across one. If you tap this screen you can get a better look at nearby Pokémon, and get a read out of how far away they are. Unfortunately, at least for the moment, there is no way to tell where those nearby Pokémon actually are.

Be warned though Pokémon can be seriously tricky to catch, and need more than just a normal Pokéball.

Catching Pokémon happens in a really nifty little Augmented Reality mode, in which the Pokémon will pop up on your screen using your phone's camera. To catch one you need to accurately toss a Pokéball by flicking it on the screen. Hit the Pokémon, and then the Pokémon in question will either escape the ball or be captured. If you take too long to successfully capture your prey, they will run away on you though. While this is mode open, you also have the option of taking a picture of the Pokémon in the real world. Be warned though Pokémon can be seriously tricky to catch, and some need more than just a normal Pokéball.

When you first join the game, you'll get to choose from one of three teams; red, blue or yellow. There aren't any perks for joining one team over another, but that's the team that you'll be capturing Gyms from. To capture a gym, to need to be close enough to it to check in, and then you'll need to battle any Pokémon guarding it.

Unlike the games, where you battle wild Pokémon, in Pokémon Go your goal is to collect as many as possible.

When you, or a team member is holding a Gym you can still battle the Pokémon holding it. Unlike normal Gym battles, when you fight against a member of your team you'll be helping to level up the Gym. A higher level means that more Pokémon can guard the Gym against members of the other two teams.

Evolving Pokémon is interesting as well. Unlike the traditional games where you battle wild Pokémon, in Pokémon Go your goal is to collect as many as possible without initial conflict. Every time that you capture a Pokémon you will receive Stardust, along with a candy that corresponds with the species of the captured Pokémon. After you've collected X number of candies, you'll be able to evolve your Pokémon up to the next tier. Stardust is used to level up your Pokémon and raise its stats.

Impressive for a Beta

Pokemon Battle

The only big problem with Pokémon Go is in it's battery usage. The game will eat your battery alive, and if you want to play for any serious amount of time it will require constant recharging. There is a battery saver mode that consumes less power by disabling the screen when you point the top of your phone at the ground, but it's unclear just how helpful it actually is right now. Your best bet, if you want to get in a few hours of play, is probably using a portable battery pack to boost your charge while you're on the go. Again, Ingress players will feel right at home.

From everything that we have seen Pokémon Go is a stellar game that has tons of room to grow. There are definitely some things the developers still need to tweak, but they've already been making changes as the Beta progresses.

So are you excited to hear more about Pokémon Go? Waiting to become a Pokémon trainer yourself? Hop into the comments and let us know about it!

Jen Karner

Jen is a staff writer who spends her time researching the products you didn't know you needed. She's also a fantasy novelist and has a serious Civ VI addiction. You can follow her on Twitter.