Test Sign Ups Begin Ahead of Pokémon Go Release

We still don’t have a firm Pokémon Go release date, but that isn’t stopping video game developer Niantic for letting the first wave of players get their hands on the upcoming iPhone and Android game. This morning Niantic Labs began taking signs-ups for testing Pokémon Go.

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That Niantic Labs is finally preparing the game for a release beyond its own walls is good news. Nintendo, the Pokémon Company and Niantic Labs announced Pokémon Go last September as a mobile game for those who’d like to experience the Pokémon franchise, but don’t have a dedicated mobile gaming console.

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Instead of a top-down role-playing game, Pokémon Go is mostly based in the real world. Players roam their backyards and neighborhoods in search of new creatures to capture and battle, for example. The game will be free, with in-app purchases. News of this testing ahead of the Pokémon Go release comes just after Niantic cancelled a talk at the Game Developer Conference about the title. Some took the talk’s cancellation as a sign that Pokémon Go was either behind development or cancelled itself.

Read: Surprise Pokémon Sun & Pokémon Moon Release Revealed

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A post on the Niantic Labs blog confirms that Pokémon Go is inching closer to field testing. “The Pokémon Go Field test program will give users the opportunity to share early feedback and help improve the Pokémon Go experience,” the notice reads.

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Users in Japan can go ahead and sign up to participate in the game’s testing phase on Pokemongo.NianticLabs now – provided that they’re in Japan. No one outside of Japan is being let in just yet, but, Niantic is asking users to keep monitoring its blog for news about it adding new countries to the field test ahead of the Pokémon Go release.

Niantic doesn’t go into any more detail about the features that players can expect to toy around with during the field testing. That being said, the process sounds a lot like the multiplayer online betas that console and PC video games go through before they’re made available to the public in final form.

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For now, there’s not much fresh news about Pokémon Go. Niantic and Nintendo said early on that the plan was to hold the Pokémon Go release sometime within the 2016 calendar year. That much still seems on track. We’ll have to wait a little longer to see the game’s interface and get a really good look at its mechanics, both of which haven’t been shown in any great detail yet.

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Folks are excited for Pokemon Go because they’ve craved a version of the games for smartphones for years. Every smartphone platform has a few Nintendo emulators designed specifically to play classic games from the Game Boy and other franchises. For years, Nintendo resisted calls to bring any of its franchises to mobile devices.

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It seems now the flood gates are opening. Besides Pokemon Go, Nintendo plans to rollout a messaging app built on its Mii characters sometime this month. Called Miitomo, in-app purchases and rewards for answering questions will let players purchase new gear for their characters. The company has also partnered with developer DeNA on other games featuring Nintendo franchises for release this calendar year.

As Niantic Labs continues to push Pokémon Go towards release, The Pokémon Company and Nintendo are preparing their own members of the 2016 Pokémon family too. Late last week Nintendo announced Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, two games headed exclusively to the Nintendo 3DS platform later this year. The two also began letting users download Pokémon Yellow, Pokémon Blue and Pokémon Red through the Nintendo eShop.

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Read: 7 Xbox One, PS4 and Wii U Games to Pre-Order Now

Late yesterday Nintendo revealed that Pokken Tournament, an arcade-style fighting game that’s set in the same universe as the Pokemon games, will arrive on the Nintendo Wii U on March 18th. That game originally debuted in Japanese arcades in July of last year. Developer Bandai Namco says that it aimed for a very realistic take on battles with Pokken Tournament.