Pokémon Go mania has calmed—at least for now. Last month, analysts shared that the game had shown a rapid decline in daily users, from a peak of 45 million to more than 30 million at the time, and just this week the game was ousted from the #1 spot on the App Store’s Top Grossing chart by Supercell’s newly-updated Clash Royale. Nintendo and The Pokémon Company are still making bank, but the sensation has subsided a bit.
Maybe you’ve noticed fewer people playing around you of late… or maybe you’re even playing less. That happened to me. I played daily for more than a month, whipping out my iPhone every time I left the apartment and even going on walks just to try and score some fresh Poké-pals. But once I hit level 20, the XP needed to jump up a notch started skyrocketing, and the ever-present repetition started taking its toll. I’ve barely played at all this month.
Sound familiar? Maybe the Pokémon Go Plus can help. It’s a wearable device that can wrap around your wrist or attach to your clothes, and it pairs with the app via Bluetooth. Once linked, the Plus band effectively automates much of the experience of playing, letting you capture Pokémon and snag items by pressing a single button—and never looking at the screen. It has big benefits, but it’s $35 and currently scarce, plus it can be a nuisance as well.
How it works
Originally set to release in July shortly after the game, the Pokémon Go Plus just hit stores last week and is compatible with both iPhone and Android phones. While Nintendo didn’t develop the game, this band comes right from the company: the iconic Nintendo logo is plastered on the black plastic underside, which even feels like a Nintendo console peripheral. On top is the glossy GPS-icon-Poké-Ball logo with a little translucent button in the middle.
The Plus works exactly the same however you choose to wear it, but switching forms is a minor hassle: you’ll need a tiny screwdriver to remove the entire back plate to switch between the fabric band or the plastic clip form. The clasp isn’t very secure and has come unlocked a couple times during wear, but the relatively small band isn’t going to fall off of my adult wrist, at least.
Pairing the device is a total breeze. The most recent app update added a Pokémon Go Plus area to the settings menu, and once enabled, you’ll simply tap the on-screen icon and press the button on the device. Boom, paired.
And then the magic happens. By magic, I mean the game mostly plays itself and you never need to look at the screen. When you come in range of a Pokémon in the wild, the Plus vibrates and the button flashes green for a creature you’ve already caught, or yellow for a new one. In either case, pressing the button throws a single Poké Ball and gives you the results: a multicolored light means you snagged it, while a red buzz means you missed and the Pokémon bolted. You only get the one chance with each monster.
With a Poké Stop, there’s no possibility of failure: so long as you’re in range, tapping the button when it flashes blue will recover the available items within. Whether it’s a Poké Stop or a Pokémon, you’ll get a phone notification with each result—and I highly recommend either turning off sounds or turning off all notifications. Otherwise, you’ll be pestered by your phone constantly, which sort of defeats the purpose of the Plus.
What’s the point?
As with almost any free-to-play game, the grind in Pokémon Go can be exhausting and boring—but it can also be exciting, because you need to grind to make any significant progress. Catching hundreds of Pidgeys and Rattatas might get old quick, but mass-evolving the “junk” monsters (especially with a Lucky Egg equipped) can help you bound up player levels in a hurry.
Pokémon Go Plus is the perfect way to automate that grind. You’ll catch a lot of common Pokémon, particularly some that you might not bother with anymore on your phone, and it’ll happen just by tapping a single button. And since you’ll constantly snag items from Poké Stops while out and about, you probably don’t have to worry about running out of Poké Balls. If anything, you’ll need to manage your inventory more frequently to avoid maxing out capacity.
Not only will you pick up lots of Pokémon and items along the way, but also a big heap of XP. I’m sitting at level 22, which means I need to amass 100,000 XP to bump up a level… but getting 4,000 XP from an hour walking around the zoo this week was a heap more than I usually get while playing. Each captured Pokémon and visited Poké Stop adds a little to your tally, but it can accumulate very quickly.
Also, I’m logging a lot more distance than I usually do when playing on the phone. Where I might turn off the phone here and there and potentially forget to turn it back on, the Plus band remains on for a full hour or until manually shut off sooner. I’m hatching eggs faster than I ever have, and earning quite a bit of bonus candy via the recently-added buddy system, which gives you a free evolution candy for your Pokémon of choice once you notch a certain distance.
All told, I’m getting a lot of gradual rewards without needing to have my phone in front of my face, spin Poké Stop signs, or launch Poké Balls. But there’s a lot missing, too.
The grind is just one part of Pokémon Go, of course. Without your phone, you won’t take part in battles at gyms, and you don’t get another shot at capturing a monster if the single toss fails. That cuts out the discovery aspect of the game, as well as the satisfaction of capturing an elusive Pokémon after throwing loads of Balls and Razz Berries at it. Not being able to choose a more powerful Ball to throw means you’ll miss out on a lot of monsters even if you have a stockpile of Great and Ultra Balls handy.
Even so, that’s a pretty reasonable limitation. We’re talking about a premium device that continually gives you the raw materials needed to level up and progress in the game—and you don’t need to focus on it at all. As I suspected a couple months back, the Plus effectively feels like a cheat code or the real-life version of an in-app purchase, offering big benefits for real money. It’s a shortcut, but it’s not an all-powerful one.
It can be an irritating one, however. In a rural or less-populated area, you might only feel the vibration every couple of minutes—but that’s not the case in my testing in Chicago. Wearing it at the Lincoln Park Zoo, the tracker seemed to buzz every 10-15 seconds as I walked amidst a maze of Poké Stops and scattered Pokémon. That brought me a nice bounty of XP and Pokémon, but it was incessant. Strolling my busy neighborhood square is much the same.
On the phone, you’re either playing or you’re not. But with the Plus enabled, you’re always sort of playing, and it’s going to pester you whether you’re currently engaged or not. In the app, you have the take the initiative to catch a Pokémon or visit a Poké Stop, but the dynamic is totally different with the Plus. It feels like you’re getting a constant stream of notifications, and there’s no middle ground due to the pulsing vibrations.
And if you’re wearing the Plus band while driving or riding in a car or bus, the Plus band might feel like it never stops buzzing. It’s a much safer option than trying to play on your phone while driving, but the vibrations can be overwhelming if you’re driving through a populous area. It was almost enough to feel distracting as I cruised down Western Avenue in north Chicago this week—but again, not nearly as distracting as looking at my phone.
Go... or no Go?
So, is it worth it? Yeah, maybe—if you’re still hooked into Pokémon Go and want to maximize your daily play, then the Plus band can get you a lot more items, common Pokémon, XP, and logged distance to boost your tallies. And if you’ve stopped playing because it got monotonous, then the Plus band might do enough to pull you back into the daily routine. At a cost, of course.
On the other hand, if the shine wore off of Pokémon Go because of the grind, then the Plus band isn’t going to magically make the game more fun. It’s all about the grind: there’s no direct effect on the exciting battles, and it isn’t the best way to capture new monsters. This device seems best for the high-level players who savor the slow burn of capturing and evolving, not the people who had their couple weeks of fun and aren’t entranced for the long haul.
Also, with Apple Watch support coming to Pokémon Go by the end of this month, you’ll have more than one wearable option for enhancing the play experience. We’ll have look at how the two devices compare with Pokémon Go once the Watch support goes live.