Pokémon Go is finally here, and the world’s nerds have collectively left their houses in a quest to be the very best (like no one ever was). But the game isn’t extremely self-explanatory for first-time users, so we’re here to step you through the process.
First, of course, you’ll need to download the app.
Android: Google Play Store (Free)
iPhone or iPad: App Store (Free)
Open up the app, and you’ll be prompted to sign in with either a Google account or Pokemon Trainer Club account. Professor Willow will greet you and help you get started.
First, you’ll choose a character (male-looking or female-looking), then you’ll customize their skin tone and clothes. Next up, choose a unique “nickname” using only letters and numbers — no special characters, punctuation, or spaces.
Be sure that you’re happy with this nickname, because Niantic (the makers of the app) only allow changes if you accidentally include your real name or other personally identifiable information.
You’ll then encounter three circles around you, each one representing a different starter — Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle. Tap on the one you want to battle, but note that battles are a little bit different in Pokémon Go.
Instead of turn-based attacks, you’re flicking a Pokéball and trying to hit the Pokémon. It will be easy for your starter and for the first few Pokémon you encounter, but that will change soon enough.
Go Outside… and Walk Around?
I know the “outside” is probably a foreign concept for most Pokémon-lovers (myself included), but it looks like Niantic is trying to force us out into the real world with this game. And it seems to be working.
Pokémon Go won’t do you any good if you just sit in your room. The game uses the GPS signal on your phone to track where you are and move your avatar accordingly within the virtual world. That means that to find Pokémon, you have to get physically up and go searching for them — that’s the only way to move your avatar.
You’ll see some greyed-out Pokémon in the lower-right corner of your screen; if you tap on that, you can see which Pokémon are nearby. If there are no footsteps under them, it means they’re super close. One footstep means nearby; two is relatively close, and three means you better start wandering.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell which direction those Pokémon are in, but you can tap on the Pokémon you want, and it will be minimized to the lower-right corner with its footstep count. So just look at your map for rustling leaves and head towards those, while keeping an eye on the steps under your desired Pokémon to make sure you’re getting closer.
The kind of Pokémon you find seem to correlate with the type of environment you’re in. So in the middle of a big city, there are a lot of normal type Pokémon. Forested areas and parks have a lot of grass and bug types. Lakes and beaches have a lot of water types, and so on.
Keep in mind, however, that you can’t just pocket your phone, walk around, and wait for a notification. Pokémon Go requires you to have the app open while out adventuring. You’ll be notified when a Pokémon appears by a little noise and vibration, and you can then tap on it to battle it.
Battling Pokémon Without Battling
Remember when you used to weaken wild Pokémon with your own Pokémon’s attacks before throwing a Pokéball at them when they had nearly fainted? Well, forget that. In Pokémon, there’s no battle. You just throw Pokéballs.
The motion requires a little flick to send the Pokéball at the wild Pokémon. If you miss, you’ve wasted a Pokéball, and if the Pokémon fights back and swats the Pokéball away, you better try again.
Pokémon Go’s websites say that the secret lies in the shrinking green circle on the Pokémon. Wait until the circle is at its smallest for the best chance of catching them. As usual, the ball will rock back and forth three times on the ground before confirming a capture, and it is possible for Pokémon to break out.
Down the line, that circle will start to turn yellow, orange, or even red depending on how hard the Pokémon is to catch. Pokémon with a higher CP (Combat Points) will naturally be harder to catch, as will rarer Pokémon. You can use Razz Berries to make them slightly easier to catch, and you can later upgrade to Great Balls and Ultra Balls for an even better chance.
These mechanics are astoundingly simple, but they have to be for a mass market audience using touchscreen devices. Nobody wants a complicated battle system every time they run into a Pokémon walking down the street.
If you don’t see the Pokémon when you first enter a battle, don’t worry, you might just have to move your phone around. The game uses the sensors in your phone to track where the Pokémon is, so lift your phone up and look around — it might be behind you. Little arrows on the side of your screen should point you in the right direction.
An AR toggle in the upper-right (short for Augmented Reality) allows you to toggle whether or not you see these Pokémon in the virtual world or in the real world. With AR on, the game uses your phone’s rear-facing camera to make it look like the Pokémon are standing right in front of you. Otherwise, they just get a generic virtual background.
This is probably one of the coolest aspects of Pokémon Go that really makes it feel like you’re hunting down Pokémon in the real world.
How to Actually Level Up
So if you’re not battling Pokémon anymore, how do your Pokémon gain experience? Well, by you capturing other Pokémon, of course!
Okay, so that doesn’t exactly make sense, but it’s how the game works. Pokemon can gain experience if you use Stardust on them (in combination with Candies), which is mainly earned through capturing other Pokémon, though you can also get it by doing things like hatching eggs and defending gyms.
You can also evolve them using only Candies, but Candies are unique to each Pokemon, so Bulbasaur Candies will only work on Bulbasaur. You can get Candies (rarely) from Pokéstops or certain eggs, but the most surefire way is to capture extra Pokémon and transfer them back to Professor Willow.
Transferring Pokémon back to the Professor is a permanent way of getting rid of excess Pokémon and allows you to focus on raising one particular Pokémon with the Candies you get in return.
Your avatar also can level up. You’ll need to reach Level 5 to access any of the gyms, and leveling is done by — you guessed it! — capturing Pokémon (or fighting at gyms).
Pokéstops and Eggs
As you wander around, you’ll run into not only gyms but also Pokéstops (rather than Pokécenters or Pokémarts). These Pokéstops are typically landmarks or icons, but if you don’t live directly in the middle of a huge city, they can be minor things too, like a wall of graffiti or a store.
If you find a Pokéstop, you’ll be rewarded with a few items — these can range from Pokéballs to Razz Berries to eggs. Just spin the floating coin in the center of the screen and bubbles of items will come out, which you can tap to obtain.
You can get things like Incense, which will bring the Pokémon to you, so you don’t have to go hunting as much. It’s even possible to leave the Pokéstop, walk a little ways away, and return for more loot, but they usually take about 5 minutes to replenish.
If you find an egg at a Pokéstop, you can hatch it by placing it an incubator and then walking. Literally walking. You can’t just hold down the left arrow like you used to do on your Game Boy.
Go Catch ’em All
With any luck, you’ll be the next Pokémon Master now that you’re trained on how to best utilize Pokémon Go. So get out there and start playing! Just remember to look both ways before chasing that Growlithe into the street, alright?