After months of hype, beta testing and crossed fingers, Pokémon GO is finally out in the wild in North America, Japan and Australia. A mobile take on the popular monster-catching series which uses augmented reality to place the cartoon beasts in your everyday environment, Pokémon GO mixes real-world exploration with the kind of nurturing, training that has made the mainline Pokémon series so beloved over the past 20 years.
Developed in collaboration with Ingress studio Niantic, it's the latest move in The Pokémon Company's – and Nintendo's – recent efforts to embrace smartphone users with their most iconic franchises. If you're struggling to know where to begin, this guide is for you.
Pokémon GO is all about capturing monsters, training them and taking part in battles at various gyms around the world. Unlike the mainline Pokémon games, it uses your exact location and map data to determine where monsters might be hiding, as well as other elements such as PokéStops and Gyms. The premise is simple – the more you walk around and explore the world around you, the more likely you are to stumble across a wild Pokémon. The element of surprise is one of things which makes it so appealing; you could stumble across a hostile Horsea during your morning jog, disturb a gigantic Golbat as you wait for your bus to work or get ambushed by a cheeky Charmander as you walk the dog. Once you've amassed a team of powerful beasts, you can join a team and take on other players for dominance of local gyms.
PokéStops and Gyms
These are two elements you'll spot on your map, but you'll need to be close to one to use it. PokéStops are denoted by blue cubes and these are usually near important local landmarks – churches, memorials, public houses, banks – that kind of thing. When you're in range of a PokéStops you can spin the icon in the middle of your screen to receive rewards, which replenish after a set amount of time. These are usually additional Pokéballs (the red and white spheres you throw at monsters to capture them) but you can occasionally find rarer items, such as eggs which can be incubated to create new monsters. Gyms are less common than PokéStops and it's here where you put your monster battling skills to use – but you'll need to be at least Level 5 before you can access them. You raise your trainer's experience level by capturing Pokémon, and you get bonuses for one-shot captures and snagging rare or powerful monsters. Once you're at the right level, you get to select one of three teams (yellow, blue or red) and fight for control of any gyms you happen to pass.
Finding and capturing Pokémon
Pokémon don't appear on the map in the same way that PokéStops and gyms do. You might see a rustling of leaves which denotes a nearby monster, but by the time you've dashed to that location (which can be a short run away) they're often moved on. The best way to encounter Pokémon is to simply have the app running while you go for a short walk, and you're bound to bump into a couple of 'mons. They appear on the map when you're close enough to battle, and tapping the monster triggers the encounter. Once in a fight, you have to flick up from the bottom of the screen to hurl a Pokéball at the beast. Weaker monsters can be captured in a single throw, but more powerful ones may break free from the ball. Keep an eye on the coloured circle that appears during combat – green means the monster is weak, orange denotes an medium strength specimen and red means you're up against a tough customer. Pokéballs are limited but you can get more from PokéStops, levelling up your character or you can even splash the cash and grab a whole load.
Pick your reality
By default, Pokémon GO uses your phone's rear camera to place the Pokémon in your world. When you encounter a monster, you have to spin around to track it, with handy arrows on the side of the screen showing which direction it's in. This is an impressive effect which really makes it feel like the 'mon inhabit the world around you, but if you're not keen on looking like a loon when you're out in the street, you can turn it off. There's a little toggle in the top-right corner of the screen which disables the effect and all the motion-control madness. Instead, the perspective becomes fixed and a generic 3D backdrop is used. It's a lot less exciting and immersive but it does makes things easier.
Training your Pokémon for gym dominance
The Pokémon you capture on your travels vary in potency, but you can level them up using stardust and candy – two elements which are gained in the process of snagging said 'mon. If you're running short on candy you can transfer unwanted Pokémon to earn more, but be warned – once a monster is transferred, it’s lost forever. Feeding Pokémon stardust and candy is an effective way of boosting their power, but don't bother levelling up your really weak monsters – you can often find superior specimens on your travels. Once you're happy with the strength of your creatures, you can assign one of them to defend a local gym, where it will appear in other people's games and gain experience from successful battles. Claiming a gym for your team means you can build up prestige by defending it against rivals, and each successful bout enhances the standing of that particular gym. However, be warned that losing a fight means your Pokémon will be returned to your collection and will require some healing, and you could lose the gym to the opposition.
You can also use gyms to train your other monsters, pitting them against one another. While the combat in the mainline Pokémon games can be pretty tactical, in Pokémon GO it's a matter of swiping at the right time to avoid getting hit and tapping your enemy to land your own attacks. Your Pokémon's Combat Points (CP) determine how effective it is in a fight, but you'll also need to take heed of their health – even the best fighter can only take so much punishment. Gyms become the focal point of the game as you level up both your avatar and the Pokémon you've discovered, but you'll need to be at least Level 5 to start using them.
If you're having trouble finding any Pokémon nearby, you can use the Incense item to attract them to your location for 30 minutes. However, you should use Incense wisely – you get two free uses, but after that the only consistent means of getting this item is to spend real money via an in-app purchase. Lure Modules are another means of attracting Pokémon, but these work at PokéStops and can benefit other nearby players as well. Incubators can be used to hatch any eggs you find or purchase – this is done via walking, as the game keeps track of the distance covered during incubation. Eggs are worth hatching as they often give you Pokémon which cannot be found in the wild.
Take a photo, it’ll last longer
It might not be the first thing you think of during a tense tussle with a high-level Pokémon, but you have the option to take a photo, if you wish. Tap the camera icon in the bottom-right corner of the screen and the display will switch to a viewfinder. Line up the perfect shot and boom – you've got something to remember the monster by.
Pokémon GO uses your phone's GPS tracking to show your exact location and as a result can be something of a drain on your battery. Thankfully a Battery Saver mode has been included which, when enabled, turns off the screen when your phone is upside down and in your pocket. That means the game doesn't consume quite as much juice but is still running – so you don't miss out on any nearby Pokémon encounters.
Don’t be afraid to splash some cash
Pokémon GO is free to play which means you can download and enjoy it without having to spend any money. However, certain items require you to spend money and as long as you don't go too crazy, they're pretty decent investments – especially in the early part of the game when you're struggling to gain the experience required to reach Level 5 and gain gym access. Don't be afraid to invest a little money in Incense items, as these really ramp up the number of encounters and therefore boost your experience level. The bag upgrade and Pokémon storage upgrade are also worthwhile, as they increases the maximum number of items and monsters you can carry – but of course, you don’t have to spend a penny if you don’t want to.
Invest in the Pokémon GO Plus wearable
Released alongside the app itself is Nintendo's attempt to get in on the wearable tech craze. The Pokémon GO Plus is a device you wear on your wrist which pulses when you're near a Pokémon, thus removing the need to walk around with the app open on your phone, where it could potentially become a distraction that causes you to bump into things. If you're really serious about being the best there ever was in Pokémon GO, then this is a recommended purchase – it's not essential by any means, and it’s not that cheap at around $34.99, but having it on your person means you'll never miss another encounter.