Having been at IGN for almost 10 years now, I’ve attended my fair share of unusual press events for upcoming games, movies, comics, and TV shows. I’ve floated in the air inside a Batman-themed skydiving wind tunnel at San Diego Comic-Con. I’ve watched a group of Diablo cosplayers perform a ritual to summon Zedd to DJ the D4 launch party. And I’ve been taught by Captain America’s stunt double how to fight Iron Man. But the invitation I received from The Pokémon Company International this week may be the most unusual of all.
Back in 2019, a curious new game called Pokémon Sleep was announced. It immediately raised numerous questions. Is this a Pokémon game you play in your sleep? How does one play a Pokémon game in their sleep? Do Porygon dream of Mareep? But years passed without another word about the game, leaving the gaming community to wonder if Pokémon Sleep was something we collectively dreamed up — and leaving those questions unanswered. Except for the last one. The answer is no, they dream of Mega Ampharos. (Who doesn’t?)
Now, four years later, Pokémon Sleep has emerged from its prolonged slumber, and I was invited to a media event where we’d get a hands-on demo of the game and spend the night at a hotel to try it out, all expenses paid. I didn’t quite understand at first. “Do I actually have to spend the night to try out the game?” I asked in an email. “Yes,” the publicist replied. Upon reflection, it was a stupid question. The game is called Pokémon Sleep, after all.
I ran the invite by IGN’s Senior Features Editor, Matt Kim, and he enthusiastically encouraged me to accept it, so long as I wrote about it in this travelog style. Hey, an unusual media event calls for an unusual article. (If you’re mad that I’ve already written 300 words and I still haven’t gotten to the game preview, send your frustrations to @LawofTD.)
I packed an overnight bag with all of the essentials – clothes, toiletries, a swimsuit in case there’s a pool, a flight suit in case there’s another wind tunnel, and a few Pokémon TCG decks in case anyone would dare challenge me to a battle.
Before I got in my car to head over, I had a moment of reflection to appreicate just how bizarre it was to drive to a hotel in Santa Monica not even 20 minutes from my apartment so I could attend a Pokémon Sleep-over. (Note: all expenses were paid for by The Pokémon Company International.)
The host hotel sounded fancy, which shouldn’t have been a surprise because the amount I’ve given The Pokémon Company in exchange for Pokémon cards alone could buy a small island, so, you know, they’ve got the money. It was located a PokéBall’s throw away from the beach, along the bustling Ocean Avenue, where I used to sit and talk with you. Turns out it was a “Hotel & Bungalow,” although I admit I didn’t know what a bungalow was. My brain suggested it was some kind of hammock.
Arriving at the Pokémon Sleep Event
5:30 pm – I roll up to the Hotel & Bungalow and see it is a fancy place indeed. I see a shiny Tesla and brand new BMW, and I immediately become self-conscious about my beat-up Honda Accord that hasn’t been washed in a month. When I came to a stop out front, a valet opened my door, took my keys, and tried to unload my luggage, but I insisted I do it, for some reason. When I was closing the trunk he grabbed my bag with an iron grip and offered to escort me to the front desk, and I felt it was in my best interest to stop resisting his polite service and let him do his job.
I check in with a lovely woman at the front desk. She tells me there’s a selection of fine dining options on-site, as well as a pool, but no wind tunnel, and I feel embarrassed for bringing the flight suit. I see two other guests checking in, one wearing a black hoodie with a white Pikachu on the back. I relax and realize I am among my people now.
5:45 pm – I unlock my room door using a neat wooden keycard and walk in to see a nicely decorated room with a big bed and a welcome basket waiting for me on the desk. No hammocks to be found. Disappointing.
I open it up to find a Kanto Gym Badge backpack, a Pikachu toiletries bag, a Pikachu holiday-themed blanket, and a cute little sleeping Snorlax plushie. Everything a Pokémon Trainer needs to catch Pokémon in their sleep, I assume.
I immediately bond with the tiny Snorlax and tears well in my eyes from its overbearing cuteness.
A few informational notecards bearing the Pokémon Sleep logo give a taste of what to expect from the game. I had already watched the Pokémon Sleep trailer released earlier that day, so I felt super smart already knowing everything on the cards. I spend the next hour feeling smug, unpacking my bag, answering a few work emails, and even manage to squeeze in 30 minutes of doom scrolling.
6:45 pm – I head downstairs to the event space and check in at the front with my PR contact Erich, who I’m meeting for the first time IRL. He gives me a warm greeting, hands me a black cardboard box containing a smartphone, and innocently asks if I brought any Pokémon decks. See? Always be prepared! He says he wants to play me with his Gardevoir deck, and I make a mental note to pack my deck full of Gardevoir counters and pretend like they were always in there. But our battle will have to wait, because the Pokémon Sleep presentation is about to begin.
7:00 pm – I enter the room and see it’s decorated with all manner of sleeping Pokémon. There’s an abundance of Snorlax, natch. While waiting for everyone else to finish checking in, I catch up with some old colleagues and make some new friends as we enjoy drinks and snacks. I accidentally spill my drink down my shirt. No one notices.
7:35 pm – The Pokémon PR team surprises us with what appears to be a person wearing a giant inflatable Snorlax costume. Squeals of joy can be heard throughout the room. I stop squealing and line up to take a picture.
How to Play Pokémon Sleep
7:43 pm – We gather into the presentation room and finally, after years of waiting, we are told exactly what Pokémon Sleep is. Doing the grand unveiling is Yuri Horie, App Product Marketing Manager from The Pokémon Company International, and joining her via Zoom is Kaname Kosugi, Pokémon Sleep Director from The Pokémon Company.
She explains that Pokémon Sleep is a different kind of game that uses a different kind of art style than other Pokémon games. (I’d describe it as having a children’s storybook quality.) The game will be released at the end of Summer 2023. (Hey, that’s soon!)
In the game, the player helps Professor Neroil research Snorlax’s mysterious ability to emit Drowsy Power, which causes Pokémon that gather around it to get drowsy. (A quick Google search reveals that “neroil” is the name of the oil extracted from orange blossoms to use in perfumes and food, and is, allegedly, one of the secret ingredients in Coca-Cola.)
The player assists by using the Pokémon Sleep app to track their sleep at night, and then that data is used to play the game when you wake up. There’s no actual gameplay at night. You just tap a button to signal to the app that you’re going to sleep, then place your phone or Pokémon GO Plus + on the bed near your pillow face down. Yuri noted that it’s best to have the device on the bed close to you, and not to put it on a hard surface. This best lets the device use its accelerometer to detect and record your sleep patterns. And don’t forget to plug your phone it so the battery doesn’t die halfway through the night.
When you wake up, you’ll see Pokémon gathered around Snorlax in different “Sleep Styles,” which you’ll log into your “Sleep Style Dex.” Which and how many Pokémon appear is determined by your Sleep Style and how much Drowsy Power you earn. Drowsy Power is calculated by adding Snorlax’s Strength to your Sleep Score. Your Sleep Score is based on the amount of time you’ve slept – adults who sleep 8.5 hours earn the maximum of 100 points, while kids must sleep 11 hours for a top score.
There are three Sleep Styles, which are determined by how deep your sleep was that night. Dozing Style is for light sleep, Snoozing Style is for medium sleep, and Slumbering Style is for heavy sleep. When you wake up, you’ll be shown a graph of how long you slept in each style and how much you moved during the night. The less you move, the heavier your sleep. The kinds of Pokémon that appear change depending on your Sleep Style, so as your sleeping changes, you’ll encounter more new Pokémon.
Upon waking you’ll also be given a graph showing how much noise you made while sleeping. You’ll be able to listen to a recording to hear what noises you made. (Sleep talkers, beware.)
During the day, there are several tasks you can perform. You can give Poké Biscuits to the new Pokémon, and when they get satisfied they’ll join your team and help raise Snorlax.
Every week, players will travel to a new island in the game and be given a new Snorlax, which will have different appetites for the various berries and cookable dishes you can feed it during the day. The new island will also have new kinds of Pokémon. On Saturday and Sunday, rarer species of Pokémon will appear.
You’ll be able to add friends and share certain info about your sleep with them, but there will be a way to hide certain parts you want to keep private. (Which is good, because the time I wake up and go to bed is frankly embarrassing.)
The game will be grading your sleep in two ways. It will rate you daily on the duration of your sleep, and over the course of a week it will be graded for consistency.
The Pokémon GO Plus + offers some extra features. When it’s time to go to bed, Pikachu will cry out. Pikachu will also sing a lullaby. (It sounds an awful lot like Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star but with “pika” replacing all the lyrics. It’s adorable.) Normally a team in Pokémon Sleep maxes out at 5, but players using Pokémon GO Plus + will get a sixth Pokémon – a Pikachu wearing a nightcap. And in Pokémon GO, you’ll be given a special Field Research task that awards a Snorlax wearing a nightcap.
8:15 pm – With the presentation concluded, the floor was opened up for questions, which I’ll lay out in an easy-to-read bullet point list for you.
- What if I never get 8.5 hours of sleep? You won’t get a 100 point Sleep Score, but the app encourages you to get the doctor-recommended amount of sleep, so hopefully you’ll eventually get there. Even if you don’t get a perfect Sleep Score, you can help make up for it by getting a high Sleep Consistency score for the week.
- What if I take a nap? The app will log up to two instances of sleep per day, which must be at least 90 minutes. But if you get enough sleep then ideally you won’t need a nap.
- Will there be teams like in Pokémon GO? No. (Instinct 4 Lyfe)
- Will there be a leaderboard to determine who is the best sleeper? No.
- Did you work with real sleep researchers to develop this game? Yes. Accredited, well-known sleep researchers supervised the features of the game. However, Pokémon Sleep is not a medical device.
- Will there be more Pokémon beyond Gen I? Yes. The game will launch with 100 Pokémon and more will be added in the future.
- What are you doing with our data? Certain data will be collected but it will remain anonymous. The data might be used for statistics, such as the average time people in the US sleep. The recordings of your sleep noises will be automatically deleted after 24 hours.
- Will there be Shiny and Legendary Pokémon? You’ll have to play to find out. (I took this as a YES but I respect her for maintaining the mystique.)
8:30 pm – With the presentation wrapped up, we were set free for the rest of the night, and were sent off with a smartphone to try out Pokémon Sleep for the first time.
9:00 pm – But before that, Eric Switzer from The Gamer and I played a best two-out-of-three match of Pokémon cards using the decks I brought. I piloted Gardevoir and he used Arceus/Giratina. Despite the fact that I’m a Pokémon TCG obsessive who (not to brag) qualified to play in the World Championship last year (just don’t ask how I did), Eric put up a good fight, taking a close Game 2 and putting on a lot of pressure on Game 3 before I was able to take the dub, which is impressive given he was using a deck he had never played before.
Playing Pokémon Sleep
10:45 pm – Now that I was crowned the Undisputed Pokémon Sleep Press Event TCG Champion, it was time to go to bed and try out Pokémon Sleep.
11:00 pm – 2:30 am – Doom scrolling.
2:30 am – With heavy sleepiness finally ready to take me off to Honk Shoo Honk Shoo Land, I plugged my phone in, pressed the sleep button on the app, and closed my eyes.
~4:00 am – In the middle of presenting my paper on Othello during high school English class all of my teeth fall out and they sprout arms and legs and grab spears and run up my leg to attack me and I try to shake them off but that gets the attention of the aliens in their flying saucer and they try to abduct me but I throw the teeth at them and they abduct them instead and leave. (This may have been a dream.)
7:00 am – The pleasant chiming of the Pokémon Sleep alarm wakes me up, and I’m surprised at how energized I feel. Normally I feel like death and it pains me to even open my eyes. I can tell it’s because I’m excited to see what awaits me in Pokémon Sleep.
I open up the app and learn I’ve earned 1,640,000 Drowsy Power, but cease to care when I see new Pokémon are sleeping next to my Snorlax! A Squirtle, a Pichu, and a Geodude.
I have a knee-jerk reaction where I feel the intense need to send out a Pokémon to battle so I can False Swipe them to within a pixel of their life and hurl an Ultra Ball at their head to make them mine forever and ever, but then the game prompts me to simply tap each Pokémon to register their Sleep Style and catalog them in my Sleep Style Dex. My Squirtle’s Sleep Style is Sheltered Sleep, while Pichu’s is Peaceful Sleep and Geodude’s is Biding Sleep (which reminds me of the move Bide).
I don’t really know what any of this means yet but I get a surge of glee watching this data get logged and seeing there’s many more blanks left to be filled in. The familiar itch to catch ’em all is quickly returning. I also notice each Pokémon is given a star rating, which I also don’t know the meaning of, but given my new Pokémon were either 1-star or 2-stars, I could tell this is yet another thing that would keep me coming back for more.
My new Squirtle was caught at level one, and I’m prompted to feed him tasty Poké Biscuits (designed to look like PokéBalls) until he grows to level two. This leveling system builds Friendship Points. Get enough of those and the Pokémon joins your team as a helper. Upon joining my team it’s identified that Squirtle has a Naughty nature (just like his new owner). Natures are a long-running mechanic in Pokémon games that help make each Pokémon more unique, and it’s back again for Pokémon Sleep.
I’m shown a spread of photos taken of each new Pokémon and told I can keep only one. I feel torn because I love all of my children, but Squirtle all tucked into his shell is too cute to resist so I choose that one (and to the shredder go the rest, I guess).
I’m notified I’ve leveled up to Research Rank 2 and I’m given some new currencies. Another Poké Biscuit, a Dorito, and what looks like an Incense.
I’m shown a map and told to choose a new area for this week, and when I do I’m given a new Snorlax. This one has a list of favorite berries and cooking requests for Curries/Stews. I live in Los Angeles where every other person is vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-intolerant, so I feel well-equipped to deal with this Snorlax’s dietary restrictions.
With all of my morning duties wrapped up, I’m now into the next phase of the daily cycle where I’m able to tap my helper Pokémon to make them drop berries and feed them to Snorlax. I notice that the Pokémon passively collect berries all day, so you’ll want to return every now and then to shake them down for more. There’s also the option to cook your berries into tasty dishes with bigger and better effects. I literally cannot be trusted to boil water let alone cook a berry-based curry for a giant balloon bear monster so I felt hesitant, but luckily there’s an Auto Cook button to take care of everything for me.
While the dish is auto-cooking, I notice a little factoid at the bottom of the screen explaining the “Slumbering” stage of sleep, which is apparently crucial for reinforcing and strengthening memory.
While the dish is auto-cooking, I notice a little factoid at the bottom of the screen explaining the “Slumbering” stage of sleep, which is apparently crucial for reinforcing and strengthening memory.
The resulting Fancy Apple Curry has a Dish Strength of 1,404 which I feed to Snorlax to boost its strength.
It’s here where the gameplay loop starts coming into focus. Go to sleep, wake up, recruit new Pokémon, gather berries and cook, increase your Snorlax’s strength, go to sleep, repeat. As your Snorlax gets stronger, it increases the amount of Drowsy Power you can rack up each night, which in turns gets you better rewards the following day. Then your Snorlax will reset at the end of the week and the cycle begins anew.
I continue to poke around the various menus in the app and come across the Shop. There’s a regular Sleep Pass and a Premium Sleep Pass for $9.99 per month or $49.99 for six months. Yup, that’s right. Even Pokémon Sleep has a Battle Pass.
There’s a section of the store where you can pay real cash in exchange for Diamonds. I noticed I earned a few small handfuls of Diamonds as I was going about my various in-game chores, so these can be obtained for free, but as is the case with many games these days, it looks like you can use your credit card to quickly advance in the game.
8:02 am – I wash up, get dressed, and take the elevator downstairs where breakfast is being served for all of the event attendees. I grab some eggs, bacon, potatoes, strawberries, a mini cinnamon roll, and a lot of coffee.
We excitedly talk about the different Pokémon we got, with others coming across the likes of Larvitar, Swablu, and Ghastly. We notice that your Sleep Style determines which of the three Kanto starter Pokémon appear for you. I had Slumbering Sleep Style which got me Squirtle, whereas Snoozing Style got Charmander and Dozing Style got Bulbasaur.
We went around sharing our sleep stats to get an idea of how it varies from person to person. One person got 6 hours and 43 minutes of sleep to earn a Sleep Score of 61, awarding them 2.4 million Drowsy Power. Another got 7 hours of sleep, a Sleep Score of 64, and 2.5 million Drowsy Power. When I shared I slept for 4 hours and 30 minutes, getting a Sleep Score of 41 and earning 1.6 million Drowsy Power, I got a few stares, so I chose in that moment to go get more coffee. Clearly I was going to need it because Pokémon Sleep just read me to filth for my bad sleeping habits. Only 1.6 million Drowsy Power? I’m a joke.
9:00 am – With one gameplay loop complete, it’s now time to return the smartphone to Erich. He tells me the data is going to be wiped, and I have a small moment of silence for Squirtle, Geodude, Pikasnooz, and my Curry/Stew-loving Snorlax before they’re released back into the wild.
Erich reminds me he wants to battle Pokémon cards the next time we meet and I tell him to bring it on. I already beat one Eric, what’s one more?
9:10 am – Finally, with my things packed up I head to the valet and get my car back. I reflect on how Pokémon has already gamified walking and brushing our teeth, so why not sleeping, too? The idea behind the game is to have fun and make you more aware of healthy sleeping habits, and in that regard it’s a success. It showed me how there’s a lot of room for improvement when it comes to my sleeping schedule, and it showed that the appeal of Pokémon can be translated to even a wellness app and still be fun. There’s no battling or dastardly teams to thwart, which makes sense because those activities tend to get the adrenaline pumping instead of relaxing you before bedtime. This is just a first impression, and I’ll need to play the game for longer than a single night to have a fully formed opinion, but from what I’ve seen, it looks promising.
I get into my car and leave the nice hotel behind. I keep the wooden keycard so I can run my fingers across it and remember what it was like to be fancy once. I head back home where I can write up what happened on this unusual yet illuminating game preview event four years in the making.
And once I’m done, I can’t wait to get some sleep.