If you’re starting out in the colorful world of Pokémon Go and you’re keen to catch them all/be the best like no one ever was/etc., there are a few key things you need to get to grips with first.
Whether you’ve never played Pokémon before or you have fond childhood memories that you’re looking to rekindle, you’ll still be starting from scratch with this game — it’s very much its own beast.
It’s also a hell of a lot of fun. I’ve been wildly obsessed with the game for just over a week now, and there are plenty of things I wish I’d known when starting out that would have helped me pick it up a lot faster…
What do you actually do in Pokémon Go?
It sounds a bit odd when you break it down, but basically you go around capturing creatures called Pokémon so you can fight other people’s Pokémon with your own Pokémon. The reason Pokémon Go is so clever, though, is that it’s all tied to the real world.
The app tracks your IRL location, which means you hunt and catch Pokémon on the same network of roads and parks that you’re walking through in real life. PokéStops (where you stock up on items) are linked to real world places like post offices, and gyms (where you fight rival Pokémon trainers i.e. other people playing the game) are things like churches and train stations in the real world.
So how does the game work?
Once you’ve signed in with Google or via the Pokémon Trainers Club and chosen your username and trainer outfit (you get to pick your own shoes and everything), you’ll be greeted by Professor Willow. After he’s waffled on a bit and told you a few things about the game, you’ll find yourself looking at something similar to the screen above. This is the main screen you’ll be looking at most of the time when you play Pokémon Go.
As you walk around your local area with the app open, your character will move too. If you walk up to a PokéStop (the little blue cubes indicated on the map above), they’ll get bigger and allow you to tap on them. You can stock up on items — like balls for catching Pokémon and potions to heal your critters after you’ve done some battling at the gym — by spinning the circular sign that appears after you’ve tapped.
Similarly, you can visit and do battle at gyms by walking up to one’s IRL location and tapping the corresponding icon on your map.
Elsewhere, the “Nearby” button in the bottom right of the screen shows you what Pokémon are in your vicinity (the number of paw prints below each shows you how far they are from your current location), the Pokéball icon bottom-centre brings up the main game menu and the picture of your face and username in the bottom-left brings up another mini sub-menu (both of these are explored in more detail below).
Navigating the submenus
If you click the Pokéball, you’ll see the screen pictured above on the left. From here you can access the items you’ve collected from Pokéstops, view your current squad of Pokémon, explore your Pokédex (an encyclopedia of all the Pokémon you’ve seen and caught), or buy some coins at the shop (this is the in-game currency that allows you to buy additional items, if you feel like splashing out on some extras).
Clicking the little icon of your character’s face, meanwhile, brings up the screen on the right. From here you can see your current level, the number of experience points (or XP) you need to progress to the next level (you gain experience for everything from visiting a Pokéstop to catching a new Pokémon — view a full list of things that give you XP here), and a journal containing a history of the stuff you’ve done recently in the game.
The emblem of your team (when you reach Level 5 and are able to join one) will also appear in the bottom-right, but more on that later.
Making sense of your awesome Pokémon
You’ll catch one Pokémon right at the start of the game (see below for info on how to actually catch the damn things), but as you wander around and explore you’ll soon catch plenty more. Clicking the Pokémon button in the main game menu brings up the screen above and on the left, which shows you all the Pokémon you currently have in your squad (tip: click the clock in the bottom-right to change the way they’re ordered).
If you click on any individual Pokémon, you’ll be able to see its stats (see the right-hand image above). CP (combat points) basically means how strong the thing will be in a battle, while HP (hit points) relates to its health bar (this will go down if it’s hurt in battle). Every time you catch a Pokémon you’ll get Stardust (which allows you to power up a Pokémon’s CP) and Candy (which, when you have enough, allows you to evolve a Pokémon).
Take the Pikachu above, for example. His CP is 269, but the semi-circular bar behind him isn’t full; this means I could click the “Power Up” button and use 1300 Stardust and 2 Pikachu Candy to boost his CP. When I have enough of the right type of Candy (50, in Pikachu’s case), I can also evolve him. It’s worth noting that different types of Pokémon need different amounts of Candy to evolve (the common Pidgey only needs 12, while Magikarp needs a whopping 400).
You’ll unlock more and more items as you go through the game, but to start with you’ll mainly have Potions, Poké Balls, Incense and an Egg Incubator. We won’t go into a detailed breakdown of what they all do here (there are pretty good descriptions for each in the menu), but the main thing to remember is that you can only store up to 350 items at a time and you can make room by deleting ones you don’t want (Tip: Potions are probably a good thing to cut down on if you need to make room in your bag — nobody needs 50 Potions.)
What about eggs?
Eggs fall somewhere in between items and Pokémon; you get them randomly at Pokéstops alongside other items, but they live in a tab accessible through your Pokémon menu (see the left-hand screen above). Basically, eggs contain Pokémon that you can hatch by “incubating” them (sticking the egg in an Incubator and walking the required distance; either 2km, 5km or 10km, depending on the egg). The longer the incubation, the rarer the Pokémon tends to be.
It’s really, really worth staying on top of your eggs and incubating them as soon as you get them; that way as you’re wandering around catching Pokémon, you’ll also be making progress towards hatching a new critter.
How do you actually catch Pokémon?
When you stumble across a Pokémon in the wild, your phone will buzz. Double click the Pokémon on the map and you’ll be taken to the screen above (use the toggle in the top-right to switch between the AR view and a more plain, grassy background).
All you need to do after that is hold your finger down on the Pokéball, watch the circle change size around the Pokémon (it’s easier to catch if it’s bigger), then swipe your finger up the screen in the direction of the Pokémon. If you land a hit, the ball will roll back and forth three times before the word “Gotcha” signifies a successful catch.
Of course, it might not be that simple. Some Pokémon are harder to catch than others and might break free, which means you’ll need to keep throwing balls at them until they’re caught. Later in the game you’ll get stronger Poké Balls to help you catch the tougher ones, as well as Razz Berries (you can feed these to Pokémon to make them easier to catch).
What can you do at a gym?
At first, you can’t do anything at the gym. If you click on one before you get to Level 5, you’ll get a message from Professor Willow telling you something about needing more experience before you can do battle.
Once you do get to Level 5, though, things change. Tap on a gym after that point and you’ll be asked to join a team (either Instinct, Mystic or Valor) so you can enter the sweet, violent world of Pokémon combat. (Tip: it doesn’t really matter which team you pick, but it might be worth joining the same one as friends/family/colleagues so you can work together to go after gyms in your area.)
There are two reasons you’d want to fight at a Pokémon gym: to train your Pokémon (if it’s a gym controlled by your team) or to capture it (if it’s held by another team). Fighting and training at one of your team’s gyms will get you experience points as well as raise that gym’s prestige (which is like experience points for gyms). As gyms gain prestige, they get more levels, each one controlled by a different Pokémon, either from the same player or different players.
If you fight an opposing team’s gym and defeat all the Pokémon there (on all the levels), you can claim the gym for your team by leaving at least one of your Pokémon there (it’s still tied to you, and will return to your collections if it’s ever defeated). If you hold they gym long enough, you’ll receive Pokécoins, which you can use to buy items (see above).
How do you fight at a Pokémon gym?
Fighting at a Pokémon gym is a hectic affair. The first time you do it, you might be at a loss as to what to do, confused by all the rapid movement and animations. But the basic mechanics are very simple.
There are just three gestures available to you: tap, long press and swipe. Tapping will make your Pokémon execute a quick attack, which is the thing you’ll probably want to do the most. Swiping to the right or left makes your Pokémon dodge your opponent’s attack. A long press will unleash your Pokemon’s special attack, but you can only do that when the blue bar beneath your green health bar is full.
Generally, the animations show what’s happening with flashes and projectiles when attacks are happening, and you’ll see dialog boxes appear about the effectiveness of your attacks as well as when you execute a dodge. Your health bar shrinks and changes color from green to yellow to red as you take damage. Your Pokémon’s CP (combat power) rating gives you an idea of how much damage your Pokémon can do, while your HP (hit points) relates to how much damage it can take.
At least those are the basics. There’s actually a lot more detail to the combat system that isn’t obvious, involving different types of Pokémon having advantages over certain other types, various “base” statistics the user can’t see that determine attack and defense values, and plenty of tips and tactics (it’s said you should dodge twice as soon as a battle starts, for example). This video summarizes a whole bunch of advanced tactics for when you think you’re ready:
Importantly, losing a battle doesn’t mean you lose your Pokémon. It’ll either be damaged or “fainted;” in either case, there are common items (like potions) that will revive and heal the little guy. So don’t worry too much about losing — just head for a gym and start a battle! It’s what Pokémon do, after all.
Pete Pachal contributed to this guide.