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Pokemon has Buffalo trying to catch ’em all

Brad Wiepert was on the hunt for a Jigglypuff.

He stood on a square of grass near the Starbucks on the University of Buffalo’s North Campus with his phone held out. After a few minutes, he walked over to Ian Sprole and Kevin Millane, two strangers until just moments ago.

“Yeah, it’s not over there,” he told them.

Sprole and Millane had been wandering around UB for a while, too, in search of a Jigglypuff.

Jigglypuffs are hard to find.

What is a Jigglypluff and what on earth would Wiepert want with one?

It’s all about Pokemon Go, the smartphone game that seems to have taken over the hearts and minds of millenials with an iPhone.

In Buffalo and seemingly everywhere in the known universe – actually just the United States, New Zealand and Australia for the moment – Pokemon Go players have been wandering all over sidewalks, streets, parks and other popular destinations with their smartphones in hand since the app was released last Wednesday.

Pokemon Go is a virtual scavenger hunt. And if you aren’t already playing it, you’ve almost certainly seen people doing it and wondered what they’re doing.

They raise their phones and then flick the screen. It looks like they’re taking a photo, but they’re not. They’re capturing Pokemon.

You probably haven’t heard of Pokemon since the 1990s, when kids traded cards with pictures of the animated creatures on them and were begging for Gameboys, especially the colored Gameboy Advances.

But Pikachu, Charzar and Jigglypuff are not only back. They’re everywhere.

Since its release, Pokemon Go has been downloaded on more Android phones than Tinder, the wildly popular dating app, and has had a daily usage rate on par with Twitter.

Buffalo is no exception. A Facebook group called Pokemon Go Buffalo had more than 1,200 members as of Tuesday afternoon and they’re all sharing secrets and meeting up in groups to search for Pokemon characters.

Here’s how it works: Using GPS navigation and a cell phone camera, Pokemon Go makes Pokemon creatures appear in your real life location. Look at the screen on your phone and you can find the creatures on your office desk, the steps of City Hall or the Canalside Boardwalk, or anywhere.

Once a Pokemon appears, you tap it with your finger, aim your Pokeball and shoot. The more creatures you capture, the quicker you work to higher levels.

What’s different about this video game is that players aren’t hunched over their phones and sitting alone in front of a console.

Pokemon Go makes you go outside and walk around because you have to be in the physical location of the Pokemon. (Wiepert said he walked 25 miles in the past few days since he began playing.)

Players don’t just collect the characters. You can battle your various Pokemon critters at gyms (not real fitness gyms, but rather, designated areas on the app), join national teams or get bonus items at physical landmarks in different areas.

It has people walking all over in pursuit of Pokemon. People have posted photos catching Pokemon in bars, bathrooms and even hospital delivery rooms.

There’s a dark side of course. Some players end up trespassing onto private property or entering unsafe areas. One girl found a dead body (a real one) on her Pokemon pursuit. Thefts associated with groups gathering Pokemon have been reported. The Washington Post reported that the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. put out a statement asking people not to play Pokemon Go there.

It’s posing driving hazards because some are trying to cheat the game by playing from their cars. The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles even put out a press release Tuesday urging drivers to put their phones down while driving. But mostly, you’ll just find people milling about the city eager to “catch ’em all.”

Nathaniel Paul was strolling down the Canalside boardwalk Monday afternoon with his phone in his right hand and vanilla ice cream cone in the left. He’s been a Pokemon fan since the days of lugging around Gameboys and bulky batteries.

“Pokemon” is tattooed on his left forearm. His next tattoo will be a sleeve of Pokemon characters on his right bicep.

Like other fans, he has eagerly played Pokemon throughout its many gaming stages. Prior incarnations allowed him to play with people in faraway places like China.

“I love how it can bring people together,” Paul says.

But nothing has compared to Pokemon Go, he noted, as two men in tank tops walked past with their phones outstretched, on the hunt for Pokemon.

“I never thought it would be like this,” he said.

Matthew Camacho, Brandon Perrin and Devilus Russell have been playing Pokemon since they were kids. This time, it took them out of their homes to Canalside, where they were catching water-themed Pokemon.

The Buffalo-area is crawling with Rattatas and Raticates, both rat-looking creatures, they said.

“I just found a Tentacool,” Perrin shouts.

“I have one of those already,” Camacho says.

They spent their time debating which is the best Legendary Pokemon, while Russell lamented the time he caught a Squirtle but then it jumped out of the Pokeball at the last minute.

“I want him back,” he said.

But their friend Jarule Ford refuses to play.

“I think they’re just tricking y’all into exercising,” Ford said.

His friends, though, are beyond saving from the Pokemon obsession.

They stay out until 2 a.m. going to new areas to pick them up and then to gyms to battle them.

Camacho began playing at 6 a.m. and seven hours later, his phone was about to die.

“I wake up every morning and am like, ‘Where’s the new Pokemon at?’” Russell said.

“Yeah,” Russell’s little brother Ivan said. “I even caught a Jigglypuff.”