A Beginners Guide to Pokémon GO

If you haven’t played Pokémon Go yet, statistically speaking you are either comatose, or a golf ball. It turns out that Pokémon Go is fun. Not without flaws, but they’re pretty much compensated for by a Geodude-solid promise at the core of everything. Lord knows if Pokémon Go will have lasting appeal, but Nintendo’s stock has risen by an ungodly amount, so I doubt they care at this point.

You all know how this idea works. Nintendo got so guilty about raising a generation of lazy, anti-social kids in the 90s and early 2000s that everything they’ve done since then has been trying to improve us. The 3DS locked away certain features until you went out and bumped consoles with others. The Wii could only be operated by waving your arms in the air like you just don’t care. And the Wii U had a controller so large that you needed physical training to move it around, or at least to stop your wrists aching whilst you played. There’s a Bayonetta-related joke there, but I’m above such tawdry matters. Probably.

And this time the gimmick is that Pokémon Go demands that only the fittest get to flourish. Walk out of your house, and your phone’s GPS will tell you where to go for free in-game items and where to catch your own army of Pokémon.

But this is not as simple a game as it looks, and over the last few days I’ve been learning the tricks of the trade. I booted it up for the first time, and was immediately introduced to this trans formative experience by being shown a distractingly buff man in tight shorts alleging to be my new best friend. I’m sorry, Pokémon Go, I’m not falling for this again.

Starter Pokémon & Catching Pikachu

Pikachu in Pokemon GOTurns out that Greys-With-Enviable-Grace is the standard professor/mentor figure of this game, and it’s his job to get you ready to play. He throws you out into the scary outside world to catch a Gen 1 starter (don’t pick Charmander, he’s completely overrated), and snagging the little critters won’t be hard when they all pop up so close that you could practically pick one out of your own buttcrack, at least to begin with.

So when my attempt to squirrel away a Squirtle began, I found out that there’s not much resemblance to the older Pokémon games’ catching mechanics. Rather than smack down the disobedient little bugger until he can’t escape you anymore, now you just lob Pokeballs at the beast until it feels so sorry for you that he decides to be kind and lose the battle. Or he wanders off out of boredom.

(Catch Pikachu Tip: You can catch Pikachu at the start if you simply walk away from the 3 starter Pokémon FOUR times, when they respawn for the 5th time Pikachu will spawn along the 3 starter Pokémon.)

Catching Pokémon, Coloured circles, and Pokéballs

Catching Squirtle in Pokemon GOYour odds of a successful capture go up as your character level does, as well as if you can land the Pokeball inside the contracting coloured circle. If you get it dead centre, you’ve got better odds of walking away with a freshly-picked Pokémon.

You can also boost your odds by spinning the ball around before you throw it, but when you do let go it’ll make it veer to one side like a drunk driver, and your accuracy will plummet. Oh, and any Pokeballs that miss their target will disappear forever into the void, meaning that catching a copy of something you’ve already got may not be worth the challenge, depending on how tough it looks. My best attempts to get a Blastoise were foiled when it butted away every ball I lobbed at it, before yawning and wandering away into the horizon.

I don’t blame you for not knowing some of this information. The game is DREADFUL at telling you stuff, making the internet your new best friend when it comes to gathering data. A cynical person – not me, of course – would say that this feels like an intentional choice, preventing players from working at their optimum and forcing them to waste expendable items until they eventually learn from the school of hard knocks. But who can say for sure?

Speaking of, it’s best to think of your Pokeballs like pennies. That’s not as good as it sounds – yes, pennies are cheap and expendable, but think for a second of how many you burn through in a day. And, to keep the metaphor going, you do have to put some effort in to have those pennies coming back to you. Everything you do in the game gains experience, and enough experience will level you up and give you a sack of balls to play with – THERE’S the tawdry jokeI was waiting for–as well as a few other trinkets, and levelling makes the Pokémon around you more powerful, causing your environment to scale with you as you improve.

You can also get Pokeballs by going to hotspots in the real world, represented on your phone by a little blue cube that expands into a circle thingamajig. Unfortunately, the closest one to me was in the middle of a kid’s playground, and so I had to nervously lurk as far away as I could, worried that people would be growing increasingly suspicious of the bearded bloke and his camera phone.

Oh, and priority tip – flee to the cities and metropolitan areas. All the hotspots and gyms tend to be nailed into local landmarks, meaning that those in the middle of nowhere will struggle to keep their supplies stocked. I’m sure there’s some poor sod in Death Valley who has to walk five miles to a damaged rock to get his daily fix, before trudging back to his little shack, picking up Sandshrew as he does.

Whereas a trip through central London filled my loot bag in minutes, with hotspots coughing up gear into my phone faster than I could count. Sometimes I’d be in the zone to trigger three at once, getting showered in junk and unhatched eggs like a bad stand-up comic in a chicken coop.

Pokémon Eggs

Incubating Pokemon eggsSpeaking of which, the eggs are special in that they’re the only thing in Pokémon Go that’s entirely self-explanatory and without hidden aspects to them. Found in hotspots along with the standard items, each egg comes with an infant Pokémon inside who refuses to come out before it can be assured that its guardian is capable of some basic cardio. For this reason, they come with a requirement to walk a certain distance before the damn things will crack open, with tiers of two, five and ten kilometres, the rarity of the flanimal inside varying on how much trudging around it took to drag it out.

Does anybody get that reference? No? I’ll move along swiftly, then.

Hey, maybe this’ll get Americans to finally pick up the metric system? Seriously guys, the rest of the world has adopted it by now, there’s really no reason to be as reluctant as you are.

But it’s worth remembering that you’ll have to stick the eggs inside an incubator to start them counting those footsteps, and you only start with one incubator to do so, meaning that other eggs will have to wait their turn. You can find more of these containers in the hotspots, but they have limited uses and break after egg three. Shoddy workmanship in Kanto, it seems. Or just another way to scrape money out of us, considering you can buy incubators whenever you feel like it.

Gym Battles

Gym battle between Hypno and ClefableGyms are different from the old games too, come to think of it. Now they’re where you go to indirectly challenge other players, a weird mixture of a boxing ring and capture the flag. If a gym is neutral, you drop a Pokémon in there and claim it for your school sports team. Then other players can come along and try to kick the hell out it, whilst others on your side add their Pokémon to the defensive role. When this roster of manga monsters dies one time too many, they all get sent home and the gym goes neutral again. And so the cycle begins anew.

On another note, the fundamentals of battle have changed too. Pokémon now have a mere two stats: combat power (that’s damage, to you and me) and Health Points, which are still what they’ve always been. And there’s no more turn-based pussyfooting combat anymore, now you attack by hitting Fido with your thumb and swiping left and right to dodge enemy attacks. When you charge up the little blue boxes under his health bar, you can hold down to activate your second, more potent attack. Keep this up until one team has been reduced to bloody chunks, and then the battle is over. Claim the respective EXP and head home either for victory drinks or cyanide capsules.

Training your Pokémon

Powering up a PidgeotFinally, training is done as a kind of side-activity, tangentially related to the main role of hunting down Pokémon. It’s all based around the idea that catching them and releasing them into the wild gives you candy, each kind being specific to an evolutionary tree and being necessary to either power it up, or train it.

So let’s say you’ve caught Pidgey, because you almost certainly have. You can’t really avoid the stupid birds, they’re everywhere. But luckily, every time you catch one, you get three “Pidgey candy,” which you can also get as a consolation prize by releasing them back into the wild.

Now, you can spend a single candy, along with some “stardust” (found by catching anything at all) to boost the stats of whatever Pidgey you do decide to keep. Or, alternatively, you can stockpile candy and spend twenty-five all at once to force him to evolve and become more powerful than ever. Training is now less a matter of combat prowess, as it is a matter of pumping your team with so many sweets that they can barely move. That’s training I can get behind, though it’s odd that as the players have become more active, the Pokémon have become lazier, refusing to fly or move from spawn points. Slackers.

So that’s all the basic knowledge I can think to impart for now. There’s probably stuff I’ve forgotten, or things I’ve gotten wrong, but who cares? You’ve probably gotten bored and wandered off to play the game by now. And anybody who has a problem with my advice or dismissal of their precious Charmander can come at me, bro – my Lapras will take you all to pieces.

Joel Franey
Joel Franey was born in 1994, and has been thoroughly disgusted with everything he’s experienced from that point. He hopes one day to call down a fiery apocalypse that will wipe the world clean, but has since realised the budgetary restrictions involved and settled for complaining at anyone who will listen.