Pokémon1 Go is a simple but addictive game for iPhones and Android smartphones2. The main object of the game is to collect imaginary creatures called pokémon (the word is both singular and plural) by walking in the real world. The app tracks the distance you've travelled and your location, and the more you walk, the more points you can earn in the game. People often complain about teenagers sitting indoors playing computer games all day. Pokémon Go encourages its players to go out in the fresh air and to get some exercise.
The game is inspired by the series of Pokémon games for the Nintendo Gameboy machines, but the element of actual exercise makes it quite different.
Pokémon Go is not available in every country in the world, because it is tied into a database of local maps, monuments and places of interest. In some countries there's not enough local data available. In some others such as China it is banned3.
What's a Pokémon?
The word pokémon is pronounced 'po-kuh-mon' or 'po-kay-mon' and is a Japanese version of the English phrase 'pocket monster'. A pokémon is a creature - most are animals or even humanoid, but some are plants, machines or ghosts. There are about 150 different types in the game as of September 2016. Some look very much like cartoon animals - the Pidgey is a small bird, the Goldeen is a fancy goldfish, and the Horsea is a seahorse. Most of them are very cute. Others are more fanciful - the Charmander is a small dragon, the Polywrath is a large tadpole with boxing gloves, and the Golduck is a humanoid creature with a duck's head. The Jynx is a purple-skinned lady with bushy hair, thick lips, a large bust and a lower half that looks like grass skirt.
Some pokémon can 'evolve' into other types - although the word 'evolve' is used, it is in fact metamorphosis. Just as in the real world a caterpillar changes into a cocoon and then a butterfly, the pokémon Caterpie can change into a Metapod and then into a Butterfree. Some pokémon like the Caterpie have three different forms, others only two and a few pokémon do not evolve at all.
Your app is equipped with a 'pokédex', a catalogue of all the different types. Initially you'll see a load of blank entries with just a number on them - these are the types you haven't encountered yet. When you catch them, the number is replaced with a picture of the creature. You can open the entry in the pokédex to see a description of the creature.
The first object of the game is to catch pokémon. The catchphrase of the game has always been 'Gotta catch 'em all' - you want to be able to look at your pokédex and see every entry filled with a picture of a pokémon.
The app displays a map of your area, with an 'avatar', a person representing you, at the bottom4. As you wander around in the real world, your character moves around on the map. If a pokémon appears, your phone will buzz and you'll see the pokémon on the map.
Tap on the image of the pokémon to attempt to catch it. The screen switches to a closer view. You'll see the pokémon in front of you. (If you have AR Augmented Reality turned on, you'll see the actual world in the background, captured through your phone's camera.) At the bottom of the screen is a red and white 'poké ball'. Hold your finger on the ball and a target circle will appear on the pokémon. Flip the ball towards the target. If you hit it, the ball opens and catches the creature inside it.
When you've caught a pokémon, you may choose to give it a personal name. Tap on the little pencil beside the pokémon's name and choose a new name of up to 12 letters.
As you walk around, you will see two special types of marker on your maps. A pokémon gym or pokégym is an elaborate vertical structure with a pokémon standing on top of it. Ignore these for the moment, as you can't do anything with them at the start of the game.
A pokéstop looks like a blue cube on a pole. They are positioned at real life landmarks - monuments, churches, signs, important buildings. When you get really close to the pokéstop, it changes to a disc on a pole. Tap on the pokéstop to see a photo of what it represents. Spin the photo disc to release items you can take to help you catch more pokémon, including poké balls. You'll need these as you only have a limited number of them and you use them up every time you catch a pokémon.
Catching More Powerful Pokémon
As you gain experience by walking and catching pokémon, the pokémon you encounter become more experienced too, and harder to catch. They will start resisting your attempts to catch them, perhaps knocking the ball away or jumping over it. They can also break free from the ball after they've been caught and you have to try again. Occasionally they will just run away and all you'll see is a cloud of dust. You can only be sure you've caught the pokémon when the gold ring appears around the ball and you see the message 'Gotcha!'.
There are two ways to improve your chances of catching the pokémon. Firstly, you can feed it a 'razz berry' - this decreases its chances of running away. Secondly you can use a better quality poké ball - 'great balls' are blue and have a better chance of catching and holding on to the pokémon. You'll find these at pokéstops as your experience increases.
Another way of getting a pokémon is by hatching an egg. You'll find eggs at pokéstops and can hold up to nine of them at any time. Each egg is labelled with a distance - 2km, 5km, 10km. Put one in an incubator and walk the distance to hatch your egg. (The system doesn't appear to be very good at tracking distance - you may need to walk more than the distance stated.)
In general, the longer-distance eggs have rarer pokémon in them. The 2km eggs have the basic pokémon, but do also occasionally include the rare 'starter' pokémon: Charmander, Squirtle, Bulbasaur and Pikachu.
You'll occasionally be given an extra incubator when you level up. You can also buy them for real money. If you've extra incubators, you can incubate a few different eggs at the same time. The extra incubators can only hatch a few eggs before they stop working and disappear from your inventory.
Evolving a Pokémon
You now have two ways of getting a pokémon into your inventory - catching wild ones that you find, and hatching an egg. The third way is to evolve one of the pokémon you already have.
Each time you catch a pokémon you get three candies with it. The candies are particular to the type of pokémon you catch - Squirtles come with Squirtle candy, Weedles give you Weedle candy and so on.
Tap on the poké ball at the bottom of the screen to get to the main menu. Tap on 'Pokémon' to find a list of all the pokémon you have in your possession. Tap on an individual pokémon to find out details about it. This tells you its strength, CP = Combat Power, how many candies of its type you have, and how many you need to evolve it. For example to evolve a Rattata, one of the commonest pokémon, you'll need 25 Rattata candies.
If you have enough candies, just tap the Evolve button. Your pokémon will change before your eyes into a new creature. Its CP level will also go up.
Trading in a Pokémon
After playing for a bit, you'll find you are knee-deep in Weedles, Rattatas and Pidgeys. You don't need to keep them all. You can 'transfer them to the Professor': they are removed from your inventory and you get paid a single candy for each one you transfer. You'll still see their picture in your pokédex.
To transfer a pokémon, display the pokémon, tap on the menu button in the bottom right corner and select Transfer.
The Buddy Pokémon system is a handy way of collecting extra candies.
You can nominate one of your pokémon to be a 'buddy pokémon'. This means it will walk with you on your travels. You won't see it on the main screen but you'll see it beside your face on the button in the bottom left corner. Tapping on this button, you'll see your avatar accompanied by your buddy, which may stand beside you, or behind you, or may even perch on your shoulder, depending on its size.
As your buddy walks with you, it will collect candies. A Pikachu, for example, will collect a Pikachu candy every kilometre that you walk together. This is a useful way of collecting candies for pokémon that are hard to find. The distance you need to walk to get a candy varies with the type of pokémon, between 1km and 5km.
You can change your buddy, but any distance accumulated towards earning the next candy will be lost - the new buddy will start at zero again.
Some Other Items in Your Inventory
If you use incense, you'll see a swirly incense cloud around your avatar. This is supposed to attract pokémon to you for 30 minutes. It works best if you walk around. Any pokémon attracted by the incense will also have a swirly cloud around them. Only you will be able to see and catch them.
A lure must be activated at a pokéstop, and you will see pink petals falling around the pokéstop. Like incense, it attracts pokémon for 30 minutes, but the difference is that other players will see and can catch these pokémon as well. So pokémon players will rush to wherever someone has set off a lure, in the hope of catching some rare beasts.
You get lures occasionally when you power up, but they can also be bought for money. Sometimes people organise special events where they set off many lures to attract pokémon - for example a park in the centre of a city might have 20 or 30 lures and a good time is had by all the players.
All the way through the game, you have an experience level which is increasing all the time. Your experience (XP) increases when you catch a pokémon, evolve a pokémon or even activate a pokéstop. When you reach certain set experience numbers, you advance to the next level. This is usually accompanied by a few extra items such as lures and great balls. At higher levels you get extra abilities, such as the ability to use great balls or hyper potions.
When you use a lucky egg, for the next 30 minutes any experience you gain is doubled. So if you normally get 100XP for catching a Weedle, you will now get 200XP. This can be used to good effect by saving up pokémon to be evolved, setting off your lucky egg, then evolving them all together. The extra experience you gain is all doubled.
Potions and Revive Crystals
You won't need these until you start battling your pokémon. If you decide not to do any battling, you can just dump any potions you find, because they take up space in your backpack (you've only room for 350 items).
Once you start battling, your pokémon will lose health and you need potions and revive crystals to bring them back to full health.
A full description of battling pokémon is beyond the scope of this Entry - there are very few instructions provided with the game, but some of the same principles apply as in other Pokémon games. The chances are the people you're fighting against have been playing the games since they were five, so they probably know a lot about matching different pokémon types in battle. If you seriously want to win in battles, you'll need to do some research.
Simply put, battling takes place at pokémon gyms. Once you reach Experience Level 5, you'll be allowed to take part. You must choose to belong to one of the three teams - Red, Blue or Yellow. Once you've chosen a team, you may want to change your avatar to have clothing in this colour, but this is not required.
At a gym, you can choose to battle against the pokémon that are resident in the gym. You select six of your best pokémon to fight, and the fight then takes place. You'll see your pokémon fighting against the resident pokémon. You can tap the screen to get your pokémon to launch an attack, or swipe left or right to avoid attacks. If your pokémon is stronger than the one in the gym, with a little luck, you will defeat it. If your pokémon loses the battle, it will lose health which you can later restore with revive crystals and potions. Don't worry, your pokémon won't die and you won't lose any pokémon from your inventory.
If you fight at a gym that is owned by your team, it raises the prestige of the gym. When you fight at a gym belonging to a different team and win, it lowers the prestige of that gym. If you can lower the prestige enough, the other team are kicked out and the gym is left empty (it shows up as grey). You can then put your strongest pokémon into the gym and the gym will belong to your team.
If you are lucky enough to find a gym which belongs to your team and not all the places in it are occupied, you can put one of your strong pokémon in there, to help defend your team's gym from attackers.
If you put a pokémon into a gym, you can claim in-game coins which can be exchanged for items such as poké balls, incense and incubators.
Gyms in locations with many competing teams often change hands many times in a day.
Gotta Catch 'em All
As of September 2016, there appear to be about 150 different types of pokémon to catch. The exact number isn't known but here are some interesting facts and speculations:
The original Pokémon game for the Nintendo Gameboy, which came out in 1997, had 151 different types. Almost all of these are available in Pokémon Go.
Five of the original 151 were known as 'legendary pokémon': Articuno (144), Zapdos (145), Moltres (146), Mew (150) and Mewtwo (151). There was only supposed to be one of each of these, and since this doesn't really fit in with the way Pokémon Go works, nobody knows whether they are available in the Pokémon Go game. Certainly nobody has yet seen or caught any of them anywhere in the world.
Pokémon number 132 is called Ditto. In the original game, it had the ability to impersonate other Pokémon. Nobody has yet seen a Ditto, but some speculate that they may have actually caught one but it is disguised as a different type and they just didn't recognise it.
Four of the rarer types appear to be restricted to certain locations:
- Tauros (128) - North America
- Mr Mime (122) - Europe
- Farfetch'd (83) - Asia
- Kangaskhan (115) - Australia
You can still occasionally hatch these from eggs on any continent.
Problems with the Game
In order to ensure that you are actually playing the game while you walk and not cheating by leaving your phone strapped to the back of a bus or sitting on a turntable, the app requires three things:
- Connection to GPS signal at all times
- Screen on and game active in the foreground
- Connection to Internet at all times
This combination of requirements drains the battery of most phones very quickly, so you'll find that your phone needs recharging perhaps twice as often as usual.
Just about the only thing you can do to reduce battery drain is to turn off the AR Augmented Reality feature. You'll then see the pokémon you're catching against a background of trees and shrubs.
The Android app is not particularly robust - if it loses Internet connection briefly, you may find titles missing from objects, or items not appearing on the map. Other symptoms are the app not responding when you tap on a pokémon to capture it. The app needs to be regularly restarted in order to keep it working.
The Android app also has the problem that the game designers forgot to disable the screensaver while the game is running. As a result, you need to keep moving things on the screen or your screensaver will activate. Once the screen goes black, the game becomes inactive and you will have to unlock the screen to continue playing.
The only simple solution is for you to set your screensaver to activate after five or more minutes, but this will continue to apply when you've stopped playing Pokémon Go.
This problem does not exist on iPhones.
People Doing Stupid Things
The game has got a lot of press because some of its players did stupid or disrespectful things. Various warnings have been added to the game advising the player to act sensibly and like a decent human being. Here are some of the things people have done:
- Walking into lampposts, benches, each other or even on to busy roads through not looking at the real world.
- Playing the game in a cemetery while people were mourning their loved ones.
- Walking through an active minefield in Bosnia.
- Playing the game while driving, resulting in crashing the car.
- Breaking into someone's house to reach a pokéstop and being killed by the occupant.
- Walking through a dangerous neighbourhood in Guatemala, resulting in being shot dead.
If you keep your wits about you, you should have no problems and can enjoy many happy hours of gameplay.