It all started a few months ago.
First came the rumors, then came the hype.
And along with it came the millions of fans from around the world just wanting to relive their childhood dreams of being 'the very best like no one ever was'.
If you don't know it already, we're talking about Pokémon GO!
When the biggest daddy of the gaming industry — Nintendo — had released a trailer of a Pokémon game somewhere around September 2015, and scheduled it for release on an undisclosed date in 2016, I went absolutely bonkers! A Pokémon game? On my phone? Are these guys for real?? Seeing the trailer brought tears to my eyes, as towards the end of it, the legendary (and arguably one of the most powerful Pokémons to have existed in the virtual world) MewTwo makes an appearance in New York City's Times Square to battle against the hundreds of Pokémon trainers with their own powerful Pokémon to capture him.
I cannot even being to tell you the joy of seeing this idea become a reality, as a kid who grew up watching the show on TV. It made me believe that we're truly living in the future. An actual Pokémon game that is not solely for Nintendo-based devices, to me is the next best thing since white bread (perhaps I am exaggerating, but you get my drift). So I then decided to do a little more digging and after watching many videos on YouTube, I came to the conclusion that this is really happening and I need to get a new phone as soon as possible.
The creation of this beautiful thing had started with the inception of an Android-based game called Ingress in 2012, by game developers Niantic Labs (originally a Google-based company), who had been working on an augmented-reality multiplayer online location based game model for a long while. While released in the same year exclusively for Android-based devices, the game gained popularity when it hit the Apple Stores for iOS as well. Being a location-based game, it made the player travel to various locations, public landmarks to score points in order to win within the game. Seeing the popularity and the possibilities of other augmented-reality based games in the future, the guys at Niantic decided to team up with The Pokémon Company (a Japanese Pokémon marketing and licensing franchisee) and work on a Pokémon (game) that could be available for phones all across the world on both Android and iOS platforms.
But why is this such a big thing you ask?
The Pokémon craze had started with the development of the original Pokémon game (both Red and Blue) for the popular hand held gaming console, the Game Boy by Nintendo. 'Pokémon' was coined from the term 'pocket monsters', and was a game wherein players travelled within the fictional Pokémon world to capture the best and rarest Pokémon, battling along the way with other fictional characters to earn various in-game goodies, badges and of course, more Pokémon!
Back then, I was a kid who enjoyed a bit of gaming on a friend's Game Boy (unfortunately I did not have one), until one fine day I started getting hooked to it. The non-stop staring at a pixelated screen for hours on end, coupled with sleep deprivation and the huge amount of AAA batteries that I had used for gaming, had taken its toll on my grades and raised a red flag within my household, leading to a complete ban on me playing the game by my parents. So with a heavy heart, I returned the Pokémon Game Boy and just hoped that someday I would get a greater piece of the action, when lo and behold! the Pokémon trading cards released.
I remember saving up every bit of my pocket money to be able to buy a pack of 20 Pokémon trading cards, so I could add the rare ones to my collection and trade the rest with my fellow classmates who were equally hooked onto it. Of course, there was an actual whole game based on playing with the cards with friends, but we really never bothered as we all wanted to collect the very best so that we could boast about the size of our decks (pun intended). The only collectible of that era that ever gained that much popularity were 'tazos' which were available in packets of chips (called Ruffle Lays back then) — a small plastic disk with various cuts and perforations that could be joined up to form various shapes, and broken with a set of spinning or flying tazos.
With the popularity of the game and building on a strong and loyal fan base, came the animated cartoon show Pokémon! released initially in Japan and the USA, with Ash Ketchum as the protagonist of the anime along with his faithful sidekick Pikachu (the Pokémon that was the actual star of the show), who is on a quest to capture newer and better Pokémon. Along the way Ash and Pikachu meet up with other fellow Pokémon trainers and complete various challenges and learn valuable life lessons like friendship, teamwork, and most importantly, that every living creature deserves to be treated with love and respect.
Although the show came to India a few years after its release abroad, it did not lose the impetus gained by the hand-held game and the trading cards. I remember coming home from school every evening and switching on the TV, just to hear the lyrics of the jingle ".. gotta catch em all .. Pokémon!" Every kid back in my day did the same thing. Come home from school and spend the next one hour in front of the TV watching the antics of Ash and Pikachu and friends.
The only other anime show I can think of that's quite similar would be 'Grander Musashi' — a fishing-based animated cartoon, where one learns all about the joys of fishing and values like patience and love for nature and the ill effects of overpopulation and environmental damage caused by pollution.
In India, the Pokémon! craze had truly kicked in. There were Pokémon! school-bags, lunchboxes, water-bottles — you name it and there was some merchandise or the other for kids that had Pokémon on them. That was the power of an animated cartoon for kids!
As I was reaching my adolescent years, the initial thrill started to die down and after spending countless hours scouring various shops for the rarest card packs or trading with other friends (not to mention the thousands of rupees spent buying those card packs), I finally just gave up. One fine day, I handed over my entire collection to my younger brother's best friend, who just had gotten hooked on it. And with that, I thought that it was all over, my dreams of being 'the very best like no one ever was' were shelved and life moved on.
Back to the future in 2016. A few months ago the Beta (test) version of Pokémon GO was released based on the data of the Ingress by the same developers and immediately it had a huge following with over a few hundred thousand downloads within the first hour itself. The bad news was that I was on vacation for two whole months with a lousy internet plan, so I couldn't download and try out the game! The good news was that I had a brand new phone and knew that the game would be released by the time that I got back from my long and peaceful holiday. Would a gamer like me just sit and twiddle his thumbs while he waits for the release of one of the most popular games of the year? No. Unacceptably no! I was busy researching and YouTubing every single video uploaded by the game's Beta testers, reading up on experiences, tips and tricks on gaming forums and preparing myself for what was to come.
Then came the day that we all were waiting for, the release of Pokémon GO on 7 July 2016 for Android devices. And along with it came the disappointment for millions of fans around the world, as the game would only be released in certain regions. Not to be outdone (and with a bit of ingenuity), local hackers and developers had made the game available for download on various websites through Android application package files (APKs). To be honest I couldn't wait for the official release date and went ahead and downloaded and installed the game too. And wow, I mean wow!
An augmented-reality Pokémon game has far surpassed my wildest expectations from the first day of using it. Gamers are usually a breed that sits back and relaxes to enjoy the gaming experience. Not this one! This one is in-your-face addictive gaming that makes you want to get up and get out of the house to have a more fun and enjoyable time. On my first day, I was already walking up and down the beach I live close to, in order to capture different Pokémon. With the ability to pick up different types of Pokémon from different locations (like a beach will get you water types, a hilly area would get you rock type, so on and so forth), go to different public spots and landmarks in order to get in-game power ups and items and search for various team and rival Gyms (think of it as a Pokémon Trainers' Centre for Battle Ops), the game had got me walking and exploring places within my own area and neighborhood that I didnt even know existed!
Apart from the health benefits for myself, my dogs seem to be the ones who gain the most out of this as every time I head to the beach, they get to tag along for my long 'Pokéwalks' and end up walking a few kilometers with me too. I can see what the game developers have had in mind with this brainchild of theirs and I think it's been brilliantly executed so far. In Mumbai itself, thousands of people within a span of just one week have already started organising themselves into the three in-game factions (Red for Valour, Blue for Mystic and Yellow for Instinct) and arranging various Pokémon walks around the city at different locations. This is excellent as the usual form of interaction and communication among gamers is through in-game chats and messages, while in Pokémon GO, you're actually getting to go out and meet real people in real life. That itself sounds pretty interesting to me and I've already signed up for a few of them.
Team-based activities and special events, coupled with the ability to trade Pokémon with other players, make the whole game a pretty awesome proposition if you ask me. Considering that I have already been bitten by the Pokémon bug, I must say that Pokémon GO is here to stay!
Joshua Borges is an advocate of the Bombay High Court, who when not saving the world, is a gamer, biker and is currently engaged in 'The Great Pokémon Hunt' across the nation