I spent the day playing Pokémon Go around London and this is what happened
Hi, I’m Alex, and today I fulfilled a dream I first had on my eighth birthday – a dream that even my wildly imaginative 8-year-old brain had thought would never be possible. It turns out 8-year-old me was wrong. What a fucking idiot.
That dream was to go out into the real outside world and catch Pokémon, so really you can kind of forgive past-Alex for keeping this fantasy as just that – a fantasy, and being satisfied with his purple Game Boy Colour and copy of Pokémon Red.
Then, 16 years later, Pokémon Go came along. It’s made fully-grown adult Alex totally lose his shit, and I'm not the only one.
Pokémon Go is pretty rapidly becoming the biggest cultural phenomenon of a generation since, well, the original Pokémon games. It’s already completely taken over America, and a shit-load of people are playing it here in the UK too, even though it’s not even officially out yet. Parks are full of twentysomethings walking round in incoherent circles chasing Bellsprouts and Oddishes. People are catching Squirtles at their grandmothers’ funerals. I caught my first wild Pokemon while taking a shit. It was a Golduck.
If you don’t already know about Pokémon Go, it uses augmented reality to place Pokémon in the real world, which you can then go out and catch, train and battle. Yes, this is really happening. As you can see here, it's having a really positive effect on my real-life relationships.
I’ve been playing the game casually since Friday, but until today I hadn’t gone out solely to play it. To really feel like a proper trainer, I had to go out and explore London, see which Pokémon I could snare, and maybe even become a gym leader.
So this is the story of my Pokémon adventure...
Here's a bit of background on my Pokémon Go story up until now: I chose Squirtle as my starter (like I always did on Game Boy), I joined Team Mystic when I hit Level 5 (because Articuno is obviously way better than those other two shitty birds), and I've caught about 20 different types, all pretty basic – Rattata, Caterpie, Goldeen, Zubat – that sort of thing.
I'm yet to catch anything really special or get any of my team anywhere near powerful enough to help me take over a gym. So that's basically what today's about – trying to find some rare Pokémon and building a battle-worthy squad.
Region One: Shoreditch
Caught: A bunch of Drowzees, Pidgeys and Rattatas, and a stubborn Jynx that made me late for work
OK so if you're going to be playing Pokémon Go, at least in London, there is one thing you really have to know – there are Drowzees everywhere. Like, absolutely fucking everywhere. I've seen way more Drowzees than any other Pokémon so far, so naturally my first catch of the day was this guy hanging off the back of this woman's backpack. She'll never know what a hero I am.
I have to walk through Shoreditch to get to work, which means a lot of the Pokéstops (the places where you get your Pokéballs and other essentials) I passed were things like individual pieces of street art. That's pretty cool, as it shows the level of detail that's gone into creating this game. Pokéstops can be anything from huge landmarks like Nelson's Column, to a tiny bits of graffiti you'd never even noticed before.
About five minutes from the office I came across a Jynx with a CP (combat power) of 336, which was the highest I'd seen in the wild. It was also a stubborn fucker – so stubborn that by the time I actually had it caught I'd wasted 20 Pokéballs and made myself late for work.
Other than that, Shoreditch didn't have much to offer in terms of decent Pokémon. There was a Pikachu somewhere in the area at one point, but it probably would've taken me another half hour to find, and sadly "sorry, I was chasing an electric mouse around East London" isn't an acceptable excuse for turning up to work late. Yet.
Region Two: King's Cross
Caught: A Nidoran(f), more Drowzees, Pidgeys and Rattatas
Battled: Friendly gym
Next stop was King's Cross; from there I could access most of London with ease. I caught my first ever Nidoran pretty much as soon as I came out into the main station, but all the other Pokémon there were ones I'd caught before.
It was here that it first properly struck me how massive this game is going to be. I found myself starting to assume that every person who walked past staring at their phone was playing Pokémon. Before long they probably will be.
While I was playing, a man who must have been in his 50s came up and tapped me on the shoulder and asked me: "How did you get Pokémon?! I didn't think it was out here yet, I really want it!" This is a 50-year-old man I've never met in my life who was totally happy to admit he'd been creeping on my screen - he was that desperate to play Pokémon. Seriously, this game is going to create friendships, both online and real-world, especially when they make it possible to trade your guys with other people (a feature that's definitely lined up for the future).
After catching my Nidoran I noticed that there was a Team Mystic gym at St Pancras station. You can go to your own teams' gyms to train your Pokémon and gain XP.
The battle experience isn't as fun as in the old games – it's mostly just tapping and swiping – but the cool thing about gyms in Pokémon Go is that the Pokémon you're battling actually belong to a real trainer. When you take over a gym you choose one of your Pokémon to station there, and it protects your gym until another team comes along and beats it – then you get it back.
Region Three: Hyde Park
Caught: Krabby, Shellder, Oddish, Psyduck, Poliwag, Weepinbell, Jynx, Gastly
Hyde Park seemed like a pretty obvious place to go next. It's a massive grassy space, with trees, bushes and a big lake – surely perfect Pokémon hunting ground, right?
As soon as I got there I could see rustling in the grass all across the park, and I stumbled across my first ever Shellder basically in the entrance (quite far from water, maybe he was lost?)
I picked up another Jynx and another Gastly too, before finding two more new Pokémon – Oddish and Weepinbell. Parks are definitely one of the best places to go if you're looking to fill up your Pokédex.
The Oddish was hidden away in the bushes, which pleased me way more than it should've. That's exactly the sort of space you'd expect an Oddish to hide in the Pokémon world!
Off the back of this, I decided to check out the lake to see if a bunch of water types turned up, and yep, right by the water's edge there was a Poliwag. The way Niantic (the game developers) have managed to put Pokémon in locations that actually make sense is definitely one of my favourite parts of this game, and makes it feel that bit more real. I even found a Psyduck waddling around among all the real-life geese, which was probably coincidence, but still really fucking cool.
Region Four: Soho and Trafalgar Square
Caught: Nothing special – until I got a BIG surprise
Battled: Team Instinct gym
When people visit London from abroad, the first places they always want to see are Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, so I decided it was time to go and be a massive tourist and discover what sort of Pokémon were lurking among all the flustered shoppers and amateur photographers.
At first it was super disappointing. In Piccadiily Circus itself there were a couple of Rattatas and of course, more Drowzees, but nothing new or exciting at all.
After one particular dickhead of a Rattata tried to tempt me into the face of some fast-moving traffic I was pretty much ready to give up on central London. It was only a CP10 too. Cheeky fucker.
I walked around Trafalgar Square with no more luck, until I stumbled upon a MASSIVE surprise, which turned the most disappointing part of the day so far into easily the best. I was walking past the fourth plinth heading for the tube when a POLIWRATH appeared! A final evolution stage Pokémon!
This was a pretty massive deal, and there was no way I was letting it get away – if I could catch this guy I knew he'd probably automatically become one of the strongest members of my squad.
I was wrong, at a CP of 535 he actually became my strongest, and buoyed by the catch I decided to try and take on a nearby Team Instinct gym which was definitely a bit too strong for me.
I lost pretty convincingly, and I had to pump my brand new Poliwrath full of potions to get him back to full health before heading south for the final part of my journey. I'd learnt a pretty important lesson though – there's not much point trying to take on gyms that are significantly stronger than you, you'll just get beat.
Region Five: Kennington
Caught: Ekans, Hypno, more duplicates
Hatched: A ~very~ interesting egg
Battled: Team Valor gym
"I will travel across the land, searching far and wide" – these are lyrics from a song no true '90s kid will ever forget. I wanted to put them into practice for the last part of my adventure – so I travelled south of the river.
There were fewer Pokéstops here than in the centre, as you'd probably expect, but it was still decent hunting ground. I found a small park in Kennington where I stumbled across an Ekans for the first time, and I caught a Hypno too – but then I got my biggest surprise since about, uh, 20 minutes when I caught my Poliwrath – one of my eggs hatched!
Eggs are rarer than a lot of the other items, but you can find them at Pokéstops, and you hatch them by walking a certain distance, like in the old Game Boy games.
I was expecting something shitty and disappointing to come out, and what appeared was pretty much the last Pokémon I imagined would be popping free from an egg – a Porygon!
South of the river was going pretty well – and then it got even better. I found a Team Valor gym that was ~definitely~ beatable – this was my chance to become a gym leader for the first time!
All I had to do was beat a CP448 Pidgeot a couple of times and the gym was mine – and Poliwrath made light work of that dumb bird.
I probably looked pretty weird perched on the edge of a fountain tapping furiously at my screen, but I didn't care, because now I was a gym leader! I was the proud owner of Kennington Park Pavilion for Team Mystic!
I know this is just a Pokémon game, and I'm a 24-year-old man, but I still felt pretty fucking proud about this. It's probably because I'm really, really lame, but this game definitely makes you feel a sense of achievement – it has a lot of really satisfying moments, and there's absolutely no question that the endless Drowzees and the Rattatas who want to get you killed are 100% worth it for those moments of defeating a gym or the excitement of coming across a really rare Pokémon out in the wild.
So this was the end of my journey, for the day at least, but I've barely even got started in this game – and nor's anyone else. People are going to be swarming all over the country, all totally addicted to Pokémon Go, and it's going to be fucking great.
It makes you feel like a kid again – you want to talk about your catches and share stories with your friends. It's not just a smartphone game where you're glued to your screen the entire time, it feels bigger and more social than that. It's already getting kids out of the house and even improving people's mental health.
Pokémon Go is going to take over all of our lives, I hope you're ready.