Pokémon – Give it a Go

This season has been a confusing time, clouded in mystery and unstuck in history. People have Clinton campaign stickers, the Backstreet Boys (or was it ’NSync?) have announced their latest tour, and Pokémon reigns supreme once more as the king of pop culture.

I am uniquely qualified to shed light on one of those things. My bona fides include my status as a ’90s kid. Buzzed.com assures me this makes me privy to certain knowledge that I alone can understand. More important than that, I’ve been an avid Pokémon fan since I was an actual kid in the actual ’90s. My Poké-paraphernalia collection is worth more than my wife’s engagement and wedding rings combined. (To be fair, I’ve known Pokémon longer.)

More important than even that, my editor wanted someone to explain the new, hottest app of 2016, and I’m the only nerd in the office with a Bulbasaur figure on his desk. (And if you don’t know what a Bulbasaur is, it means I have at least one thing to teach you today.)

If you’ve been paying attention to people in town, or have been anywhere on the internet this summer, you know Pokémon Go. It’s the new game app that uses a GPS system to place your character in real-time virtual spaces to catch and collect Pokémon (“Pocket Monsters”) from the original 150-character set from the ’90s games. (There are currently more than 700 Pokémon in the franchise, which includes not only trading card sets, comics, collectables and video games, but its own animated TV series.)

Now, Pokémon offers fans an incentive to get off the couch and out from behind the video console, since points of interest, such as statues and public buildings, reward players for visiting them, in the form of PokéStops, which award items to assist them on their creature-catching journey.

There is a “king-of-the-hill”-style element to the game, where you find Pokémon Gyms (the South Coastal Library in Bethany Beach is one) and attempt to overthrow other players that hold that gym by pitting your Pokémon against theirs, then hold it for yourself (and your team — the game has three: Valor, Mystic and Instinct, kind of like Hogwarts’ Houses, to make a Harry Potter comparison), to enjoy daily bonuses.

The franchise power behind this relatively simple game has a large portion of the world at ransom this summer. The Bethany boardwalk is crowded with kids and adults alike, their phones in their hands and faces looking for Pokémon and hitting PokéStops (there are at least seven in the downtown Bethany area, but they’re located nearly everywhere).

I’ve seen Pokémon T-shirts pop up in windows all over town. I’ve seen my mother and father playing the game with my nephew. If you had told kid-me my parents would one day run around their neighborhood playing Pokémon, I would’ve laughed in your face, turned my Power Rangers hat backwards and rollerbladed away from you backwards, like the cool ’90s kid I was.

It’s impressive to see the game take the world by storm, but not surprising. Pokémon is the second-largest franchise in the world, right behind everyone’s favorite mushroom-chomping Italian plumber.

And the game itself is an innovative marvel. Using your phone’s GPS system, it stays with you real-time, constantly gives you monsters to hunt down in your area and uses real points of interest as one-free-play vending machines. It gives you an augmented reality and lets you see the world just a little bit differently, sparking new interest in familiar streets and incentivizing exploration. It’s enough to make any Pokémon fan happy. I know this Pokémon fan is.

The game has its problems. It’s buggy, it crashes quite a bit and the gameplay leaves something to be desired. Repeating the same actions over and over to get and make stronger Pokémon is nothing but a repetitive grind.

It’s also a grind without a real goal in mind. Sure, you can work up to a stronger team to take that gym you’ve had your eye on (I’m looking at you, church across the street from Food Lion), but the only real reward for succeeding in the game is… more tools to help continue your grind.

There’s no real achievements for winning and, more deplorable, no defined social element, other than bumping into fellow players in the real world as you compete to collect Pokémon. Shaun Lambert, our technical director, cannot trade Pokémon with me. So I’ll never be able to get a hold of that Electabuzz he got last week, and I will remain jealous. (Developer Niantic says trading may be a feature in the future, though.)

There’s no friends list, or way to battle your friends directly (luckily for Shaun). All in all, I have games on my phone that are more fun than this, if I wanted something to pick up and play. It certainly doesn’t hold a candle to my beloved main series of games. (Pokémon Sun & Moon is coming out in late fall, people. Not that I’m counting the days.)

But, Pokémon Go is fun. It’s the sort of thing that makes it easy to say “yes” to an otherwise boring trip to the grocery store with your wife. You never know if there might be an Eevee or two in the Giant parking lot (Shaun and I caught two there last week).

And it’s easy to find yourself going into stores you’ve never been in when they’re right next to PokéStops. A downtown Pokémon expedition two weekends ago drained my phone battery and my wallet, which made Comics & Gaming and Bethany Beach Books plenty happy.

It’s easy to pick up and play, and it’s not complicated. It brings spice and unpredictability to regular everyday errands.

So if you’re on the fence about the game, or are very sick of your significant other, or your kids, walking around with their phones in their hands, looking for pocket monsters, maybe give it a whirl yourself.

Despite what you may see in Pokémon trainers walking around, you do not need to have your phone in your face 24/7 while you play. As long as the game is running, your phone gives you a little vibration when a potential capture is nearby, so you won’t miss that cat-like Meowth because you’re paying attention to where you’re walking.

There’s mutual joy to be had when you and your mother — who couldn’t care less that Bulbasaur is your favorite Pokémon in the world, ever since you started with one in your first Pokémon game (He’s the green-blue cutie frog-looking fella with a flower bulb on his back — told you you’d learn something) — both discover one on a walk around her neighborhood.

And downtown Bethany can be fun for brand-new reasons when you’re walking it with your daughter, as you both try to hit every PokéStop around before you melt away in the summer sun. I’ve seen deeper tans on smiling faces because of this game and family connecting in charming ways over mutually-found Pokémon.

If you have a kid or a friend, and you just “don’t get that darn Pokémon game” they’re always playing, maybe download it and try it with them. Pokémon has always been about making friends through the love of collecting, and connecting through playing the game together. And if Pokémon Go can give you a chance to make new memories with your partner, or your kid, over something they love, why not try to “catch ’em all”?

In addition to being one of the Coastal Point’s award-winning graphic designers, Tom Maglio is the Coastal Point’s resident Pokémon Master. His love affair with Pokémon started when he was a wee lad of 7 (though, really, he’s still pretty wee), after having beaten everyone in his summer camp at the game, and, as he says, “The rest is history.”