Team Rocket
The world of Pokémon continues to evolve, but what about its app counterparts? (Illustration by Natashna Anderson, School of the Art Institute of Chicago)

“Prepare for trouble! And make it double!” They’re back. Team Rocket has finally begun their invasion of “Pokémon Go.” As they say, “Team Rocket blasts off at the speed of light! Surrender now or prepare to fight!” That’s right. “Pokémon Go” players, those of you still playing anyway, prepare for battle.

When “Pokémon Go” first released back in 2016, it was a major success with people of all ages wandering around searching for their favorite Pokémon. The augmented reality game was the first of its kind, bringing the cute characters of Pokémon right in front of you; players could have their very own Pikachu or Squirtle. The goal of the game was to catch them all. To do so, players had to walk around and find them.

From Pidgeys to Eeves, the game was full of the classic creatures. Pokéstops were set up at historic or sponsored spots where players could get items like Pokéballs and berries. There were gyms where players could test their Pokémon in battle against other teams and leave their strongest Pokémon to defend it for coins. All while in the background of the game, eggs are being incubated. Players were catching and battling up a storm.

But over the past couple of years, the excitement for the game has waned. Niantic did what they could to bring it back, like scheduling releases of the next generations of Pokémon, and implementing raids for legendary Pokémon and new ways to battle Pokémon outside of gyms. There was an upsurge in downloads back in 2018, but the hype for catching them all has died down. The new tech lost its appeal.

So, what better to revive something with a classic … a good villain up to some trouble. And as James would say, “… Make it double!” While players have yet to see the iconic duo and their Meowth, Niantic has certainly been giving players time to prepare as they’ve been teasing the invasion by Team Rocket for months.

These Team Rocket battles finally started July 22 when some of the blue Pokéstops were shadowed in darkness and began twitching. Professor Oak alerted players that there was “A Troubling Situation.” When players walk to the stops, they are confronted by a grunt — a low-ranking Team Rocket lackey — with the iconic R across their chest.

The grunts have a variety of different taunts they use before the battles ensue like “Don’t bother, I’ve already won,” or “Don’t tangle with us!” Sometimes it’s a hint what their strongest Pokémon will be and other times it’s just some trash talk. Once players have selected their team, it’s time to battle. But something is different about Team Rocket’s Pokémon. Their eyes are red and there’s a purple aura around them. These are shadow Pokémon and if players win the battle, they have a chance to check one of them.

Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle, Rattata and Zubat, along with all their evolutions, were the first shadow Pokémon, but slowly more and more of the first generation are appearing in battles. If players successfully win a battle, they then have a chance to purify the shadow Pokémon with two candies. The purified shadow Pokémon have different attacks and defense moves and cost less stardust to evolve. Players can also earn badges for purifying these shadow Pokémon and battling the grunts.

With the special research event “A Troubling Situation” going alongside the invasion, players were taken step by step through the new aspect of the games as Professor Oak and the team leaders, Spark, Candela and Blanche, investigated Team Rocket’s troublemaking. Getting old characters involved with the new grunts helped establish who the old characters were, while these new ones start to invade.

Team Rocket had already taken over the notifications and the social media before Oak and the others could wrestle it back. Professor Oak and the team leaders need the players help to keep Team Rocket back and rescue the shadow Pokémon. Of course, the only way to do that is to walk to the Pokéstop and battle.

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Catch Pokémon, not feelings. 💯 #TeamGORocket

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The battling system for “Pokémon Go” has also recently changed. Players still select three Pokémon and can use two shields during battle; the change comes during a Pokémon special attack. After tapping a certain amount to fill the attack bubble, players no longer keep tapping to power up the attack. Now bubbles with different symbols on them fly through the screen and players must swipe them to power the attack.

If the Pokémon has an electric attack, the icons will be lightning bolts and will come from a cloud above like a storm. If it’s a ghost attack, they come from the ground like ghosts. You get the picture. It is up to the players to learn the patterns to swipe for each kind of attack. This change in battling will force players to focus more than when they just had to tap, adding a little bit more skill to the game.

With Team Rocket grunts swarming Pokéstops, players are getting to walk again. “Pokémon Go” just broke another record as they reached their billionth download. But fans of the show and the other games will notice that there are a couple of fabulous faces still missing. Jessie and James have yet to make an appearance in the app.

There are even rumors that the iconic duo is not the boss behind the grunts. But fans are waiting for the famous faces of Team Rocket to appear. Niantic might bow to the call from fans, as it has in the past when fans wanted changes to the system.

But how long until this new battling style against grunts gets old too? What will Niantic do next to keep its players up and moving around? Some fans are already claiming that the battles are still too easy. Having a villain to fight against does add a level of excitement to the game, but is it enough?

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