There it was, hiding in the bushes next to Park Lanes Bowling Alley, ready to jump out.
The mighty growlithe emerged, its tiger-ish head roaring. It took four PokeBalls, but in the end, this Pokemon was mine.
If you saw packs of young adults walking around Amherst over the weekend with eyes glued more intently than usual to their smart phones, they were likely on the hunt for their own creatures — there were hundreds of people out in Amherst and Oberlin, tracking the imaginary animals by GPS.
After all, you gotta catch ‘em all.
The quest comes with the release of Pokemon Go, a free-to-play mobile app that debuted July 6.
The augmented reality game allows “trainers” to see Pokemon in the real world all around, and transforms cities into areas filled with PokeStops (places to get prizes) and gyms (places where Pokemon can battle).
“I like playing games but this way I’m moving around,” said Alex Ritter, a recent college graduate who was on the hunt with brother Ryan Ritter and friend Kevin Nielsen, hitting PokeStops on Park Avenue and Church Street.
The strip has quickly become a favorite for trainers, with PokeStops at the Amherst Public Library, Ziggy’s Pub, the Main Street Community Center, the Amherst Public Library, and the war memorial in front of city hall. Most churches, historical landmarks, and cultural destinations have been tagged as PokeStops where you can pick up balls to catch Pokemon and set lures to attract more.
Gyms can be found at the veterans’ memorial at the Cleveland Avenue cemetery, Old Stone United Methodist Church, and St. Peter’s United Church of Christ. Powerful Pokemon perch atop those landmarks awaiting challengers.
Most virtual pocket monsters in the Amherst area are grass and bug type. Range around and you’ll find poison type out in the woods and water type by Lake Erie — Lakeview Park in Lorain proved a popular catching-grounds over the weekend for krabbys, horseas, staryu, and the elusive seaking.
Another popular destination is Oberlin, where dozens of PokeStops ring Tappan Square with art installations and college buildings on the PokeRadar. There were lots of common rattatas and pidgys but also some bird type pokemon like spearows.
The game has already been praised for getting folks out and walking or cycling long distances to hit up poke-locations. It also forces players to travel a few kilometers at a time to hatch eggs that hold more Pokemon. Don’t try to fool the game, which can tell when you’re in a car, and that doesn’t count.
“Three days ago, you wouldn’t have seen me out on my bike,” Nielsen laughed. “I would have been in my basement.”
Jon Niemi, who called himself “normally a homebody,” said he walked 10 miles around his neighborhood Saturday looking for rare finds. He caught a powerful scyther.
“We grew up with Pokemon,” he said. “This takes me back to being a kid.”
If you don’t play, still keep safety in mind, especially when driving.
Every time it’s launched, the game warns plays to “remember to be alert at all times” and stay aware of their surroundings, but we saw lots of people walking with eyes locked on their phones. Catching Pokemon can sometimes mean straying onto private property, though everyone we saw was being polite and respectful in that regard.
Pokemon Go players have already stumbled on some scary sights, though.
One teenager in Wyoming was on the hunt for digital catches when she stumbled on a corpse floating in a river. At least one hospital has warned staff that PokePlayers might wander into secure areas. And police in Missouri reported muggers took advantage of PokeStops to waylay players.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Photos by Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times Pokemon “trainers” Brandon Zimmerman, Jon Niemi, and Cory Zimmerman have already caught hundreds of virtual creatures using their phones. Here they are in downtown Amherst, where PokeStops are drawing packs of players.