What the heck is Pokemon Go?
Pokemon Go is an augmented reality (AR) mobile game developed by Niantic. No, that’s not a typo of ‘Nintendo’. Although it bears the Pokemon title, the game is a standalone and has nothing to do with the main series, which is set to be continued in the upcoming Pokemon Sun/Moon. Through AR, Pokemon Go makes it look like the creatures are in the real world, a sort of dream-come-true for people who’ve been jealous of Ash Ketchum’s adventures in the world of Pokemon for the last 10 years or so.
In a short amount of time, Pokemon Go has quickly become the most popular mobile game in the world, taking over the kiddie game Candy Crush Saga in most number of active users. If you’ve been meaning to join the fun ever since you saw people stampeding towards a park to catch a rare Pokemon but not quite sure where to start, then this beginner’s guide is just what you need! And don’t worry; you don’t need to have played any other Pokemon games to understand the mechanics.
Starting your adventure
You begin your journey as a Pokemon Trainer in the most exciting way possible: downloading Pokemon Go. The game is available both at Google Play and iTunes, so head over to whichever corresponds to your smartphone. After installing the game and creating your account, you will be given the chance to create your in-game avatar, similar to most multiplayer online games. The options may not be enough to create an avatar that’s a spitting image of yourself, but do try your best to be unique. Don’t fret too much if somehow a green hair color is making you puke: you can change your looks anytime (it wasn’t possible previously). After spending a good hour or two trying to decide on your eye color, you will be given the customary pep talk from Professor Willow, explaining about the world of Pokemon. And then, your journey begins for real.
Pokemon Go primarily makes use of your phone’s GPS, so that means you must always be connected to the internet, either by Wi-Fi or data. The real world is the game world, displayed in a more simplified and cartoon-y Google Maps. You’ll notice on the screen that there are no directional buttons to move your avatar on the map. The only way to move is – you’ve guessed it – by walking. As in you have to stretch those poor little legs of yours and make them work and your avatar will move along with you.
After you’ve practiced moving your avatar around, you’re now set to do the one thing you’re most likely going to do a lot while playing: sitting down and taking a breather. Seriously, you’ll be walking a lot in this game. The second-most thing that will take up most of your time is capturing Pokemon to fill up your Pokedex, an encyclopedia-like system that stores information of every Pokemon in the game. At the moment, only the original 151 Pokemon are in the game, although the legendary ones are not available yet.
Pokemon can appear anywhere on the map, but some are more common in areas that represents their type – like Water types appearing near lakes and Bug types appearing in parks. You can engage them by tapping on them and once you do, the screen will switch into a different view which places you in a one-on-one encounter with the Pokemon. To catch it, all you have to do is swipe at the Pokeball located at the bottom of the screen towards the Pokemon. In the beginning, you will be given the chance to catch one of the three original starters: Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle. The more you travel to different areas, the more chances of seeing and catching different kinds of Pokemon. To help you during your Pokemon hunt, the game notifies you which ones are nearby, but they are only represented as silhouettes – the game won’t outright tell you “GYARADOS IS OVER THERE GET YOUR ASS MOVING NOW!”
Every Pokemon comes with a different Combat Power (CP), a number that represents how powerful they are. The higher the CP of the Pokemon, the harder it is to capture. Unlike the main Pokemon games, however, you don’t need to battle and weaken the Pokemon to boost your chances of capturing it, but you can use certain items to make things a bit easier.
During wild Pokemon encounters, there are two view modes that you can choose. One is the AR mode which makes use of your phone’s rear camera to make it seem like the Pokemon are in the real world. The other mode is with the AR turned off and the background is replaced by a generic one. Turning off the AR mode is recommended not only to save battery life, but also during times when the image behind the camera isn’t exactly view-worthy. Like your mother looking as angry as Mewtwo and ready to beat you with the first solid thing she picks up because you left the faucet running to catch a rare Pokemon in the backyard.
How to Train Your Dra—err, Pokemon
As soon as you successfully catch a Pokemon, you will receive Stardust and Candy, along with basic information about the Pokemon like height and weight. It will also be recorded in your Pokedex if it’s the first time you’ve caught that Pokemon. Making your Pokemon stronger primarily relies on those two items. The Stardust can be directly used to boost your Pokemon’s CP and HP (Health Points, which determines the amount of damage your Pokemon can take).
Candies, on the other hand, are used to evolve your Pokemon into more powerful forms, assuming it can evolve, and are specific to a Pokemon evolutionary tree. For example, catching a Pidgey will give you a Candy that can only be used to evolve a Pidgey into a Pidgeotto and a Pidgeotto into a Pidgeot. So, no, you can’t use your Ratatta Candies to evolve your Dragonair into a Dragonite, no matter how hard you pray. Alternatively, you can also receive Candies from Professor Willow whenever you transfer Pokemon to him. And that’s pretty much how you make your Pokemon stronger.
Taking a pit stop at PokeStops
PokeStops are the small blue icons that you can find scattered on your map. They represent real-world locations and are usually places of interest, like an important architecture or landmarks. To access a PokeStop, you have to be near the area – you don’t have to be exactly in the area or, in the case of buildings, inside it. If you’re not sure where a certain PokeStop is in your map, you can simply tap on its icon to see information about the place. PokeStops are a very important aspect in the game. Accessing PokeStops nets you free items, like more Pokeballs, Potions that recover HP during battle, and, sometimes, Pokemon eggs.
Pokemon eggs are, well, eggs that hold Pokemon inside. Hatching them requires you to walk a certain distance – the distance is proportional to the rarity of the Pokemon inside. You also need to place the egg in an incubator before the steps you take will count; otherwise your cramps will be for nothing. To start, you are given a free incubator, which you can use as often as you like. If you want to hatch multiple eggs at the same time, you will need to purchase more at the Shop using real-world money converted into Pokecoins, which serve as the in-game currency.
PokeStops are replenished after a set amount of time, so, theoretically, you can just camp your ass in one location and wait for a PokeStop to “reload” and get even more free items. If you need an incentive to rest and take a breather from all the walking and possibly stare at your crush that’s similarly parked in the same PokeStop, now you have one.
Flexing your muscles at Gyms
So you’ve boosted your beloved Magikarp’s CP to unprecedented numbers and have a team that you believe is capable of making mincemeat out of a gang of Dragonites, now what? Look for other Pokemon to beat the crap out of, of course. Battles in Pokemon Go only happen in one place: Gyms, which are available once your trainer level reaches level 5 (more on trainer levels later) and are represented on the map by the big icons.
Choose a groupie
As soon as you have access to Gyms, you will be given the choice to join one of three factions: Team Mystic (Blue), Team Instinct (Yellow), and Team Valor (Red). They represent the version colors of the first generation Pokemon games as well as the original legendary trio: Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres, respectively. The faction you choose directly influences your interactions with the Gyms, which, by the way, are also stationed in important landmarks similar to PokeStops.
Before tackling Gyms, let’s go over the basics of battles first, which is much simpler than the main Pokemon games. Each Pokemon is assigned two types of attacks: a fast attack activated by simply tapping on the screen and a charge attack activated by pressing and holding on the screen. Obviously, the fast attack is weaker, but your Pokemon can use it in quick successions (duh). For defense, you can swipe left or right to dodge incoming attacks. Some attacks deal more damage depending on the type and the type of Pokemon they’re aimed at (i.e. a Fire-type attack will make ashes out of a Grass or Bug type Pokemon).
Command & Conquer: Gym Edition
Gyms are occupied by members of the aforementioned three teams and are generally defended by at least one trainer with a single AI-controlled Pokemon. If you come across an empty Gym (highly impossible these days), you can immediately take control of it and deposit your overpowered Magikarp to defend it. If a Gym is already occupied by trainers that are on the same team as yours, you can join them and similarly deposit one Pokemon, but only if there are available slots. You can train your Pokemon in a friendly Gym by battling its defenders and doing so raises the Gym’s Prestige, which results in more slots opening up. Unfortunately, though, you can’t backstab your team members and wrest control of the slot they are occupying.
If a Gym is occupied by trainers from opposing teams, you can similarly battle your way through the gauntlet of Pokemon defending it. Successfully beating all of them to a pulp lowers their Gym’s Prestige and once it’s been reduced to zero, you can now take over it for your team. Up to six Pokemon can be carried when engaging in Gym battles, but only one can be left behind for defense. Each day that you successfully hold your Gym, you are rewarded with Pokecoins, which you can use to splurge on items at the Shop.
So…what’s in it for you, the trainer?
Trainers (you) are more involved in Pokemon Go than the other Pokemon games – most notably, they gain experience points instead of their Pokemon. You gain experience points by doing a wide variety of things like capturing Pokemon, evolving a Pokemon, checking a PokeStop, and defeating Pokemon in a Gym. Your trainer level directly influences the CP of the Pokemon you encounter in the wild: the higher your level, the stronger the Pokemon. Gaining levels rewards you with items and also gives you access to other items. For example, reaching level 20 gives you access to Ultra Balls and reaching level 30 allows you to use a Max Revive (an item used to, uh, revive Pokemon who met their demise during battle).
Aside from experience points and levels, you also gain medals by reaching certain milestones a.k.a. achievements, like walking a specific distance or catching a certain number of Pokemon. Sadly, though, the medals are simply there to make your younger sibling jealous and don’t hold any rewards. Still, it’s nice to have something to brag about other than your overpowered Magika—okay, a Caterpie this time.
That’s all, folks!
And that’s about it; the basic things you need to know about the latest craze known as Pokemon Go. If you’ve never played a Pokemon game in your life and want to know what you can gain by playing the game, check out this list of pros (and cons) about the game. If you grew up playing the main Pokemon games and want to see first the differences between those and Pokemon Go before joining the craze, check out this head-to-head comparison. But if you don’t care about anything else and simply want to start your adventure right in the thick of things, then buy a Pokemon Go account here!