Augmented reality battlefield game hopes to capture ‘Pokémon’ magic

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One year ago, “Pokémon Go” burst onto the world so dramatically — with tens of millions of players streaming into the streets holding their smartphones in search of elusive virtual characters like Pikachu and Bulbasaur — that it seemed to herald a new era in augmented reality gaming.

That era has largely failed to materialize. No truly memorable augmented reality games — which overlay virtual graphics and digital information over real-world scenes using a smartphone or other connected device — have come out since then, said Stephanie Llamas of the industry research firm SuperData.

In the end, the popularity of “Pokémon Go” “has almost nothing to do” with augmented reality, she said. It was the draw of “Pokémon” — a mid-’90s Nintendo game franchise that spawned trading cards, TV shows and movies — that has enthralled generations of fans and kept players coming back, she said.

Still, plenty of companies are trying. On Friday, Skyrocket Toys of Marina Del Rey (Los Angeles County) unveiled an augmented reality gaming system that sets up virtual battlefields in real-world spaces like parks or backyards.

Skyrocket Executive Producer Cory Ledesma described the new game, called “Recoil,” as “Pokémon Go” meets “Call of Duty.” Skyrocket has previously been known for selling inexpensive drones.

The game creates a private 500-foot-radius WiFi network that can connect up to 16 players, who run around shooting guns that fire infrared light beams at each other.

As in “Pokémon Go,” the players use their smartphones, which are attached to the guns, to view virtual battlefield objects, such as missile launchers and grenades. As with first-person shooter games like “Call of Duty,” killed players must go to a designated site within the playing area to respawn and play again. Their movements are tracked by the phone’s GPS technology.

It will start at $130 for a starter set when it goes on sale Aug. 15 at Walmart, Amazon, Target, Toys R Us and GameSpot.

But it will be nearly impossible to match “Pokémon Go.” While the initial fervor over the game subsided toward the end of last summer, it has been downloaded more than 750 million times since its launch on July 6, 2016, and still has 65 million monthly active users in 150 countries, according to Mike Quigley, chief marketing officer of San Francisco’s Niantic, which partnered with Nintendo to make the game. About 12,000 fans are expected for a July 22 “Pokémon Go” festival in Chicago’s Grant Park.

Niantic, which doubled its workforce to 100 since last year, has added more characters and game updates to lure players back, including an anniversary Ash Hat Pikachu available to capture until July 24.

“I can’t believe it has been a year of #PokemonGO already,” one Twitter member named Ryan, @TheAceOfPW, tweeted. Ryan declined to give his full name, but said in a direct message that he still plays every day” and enjoys meeting people through it.

“Just been a lifelong Pokémon fan,” he said.

Since “Pokémon Go” introduced augmented reality to more people, companies like Apple and Google are moving to make the technology useful in ways other than gaming, said analyst Tuong Nguyen of Gartner Research.

“It proved that gaming can use augmented reality in an interesting and valuable way that makes consumers want to engage with it,” Nguyen said. “And an even bigger contribution was it changed user behavior.

“Before, the average person wouldn’t think of holding their device up to the world and expect some sort of digital overlay.”

Benny Evangelista is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: bevangelista@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @ChronicleBenny