Everything Beginners Need to Know About Pokemon GO

Catch 'em all with this guide

Pikachu Outbreak Festival

Tomohiro Ohsumi / Getty Images

The Pokémon GO release was highly anticipated. However, no one expected it would fly to the top of both the free app and top-grossing charts, taking the iOS world by storm. This unprecedented success came despite the game's buggy launch. New players also had little direction when they fired it up. If you're just starting out and want some help, this guide will have you capturing Pokémon on your iPhone or iPad like you were born to be a trainer.

This guide applies to both the iOS and Android versions of Pokémon GO.

The Set-Up

More than one observer has pointed out that Pokémon GO seems to be lacking a point. It's not the kind of game you can win by finishing every level. You could catch every Pokémon that's in the game, but the developers will add more as time goes on.

There's an in-game reason for exploring the world and catching Pokémon, as a kindly professor needs some help with his research. Your job is to catch the pocket monsters in the wild. Yes, you do need to travel around to get the most out of the game.

Professor Willow gives you a mission in Pokemon Go

That's where Niantic's special expertise comes in. Like their previous game, Ingress, Pokémon GO uses the GPS sensor on your phone or tablet to determine your location. Then, it populates the world around you with more or less appropriate Pokémon (see Magikarp for the less part of that sentence). It also uses your camera to make it appear as if you're facing off with the ubiquitous creatures in the real world. You can also turn off the AR aspects with a tap, but that defeats the purpose.

The Art of Throwing Pokéballs

After you locate a Pokémon in the wild or at home, catch it and add it to your collection. You do that using the time-honored tradition of throwing Pokéballs at it, which never makes them quite as upset as you might figure.

Tap a nearby Pokémon on the main map to enter into a showdown. The camera uses wherever you are standing as the backdrop. To throw a Pokéball, swipe up from the picture of the red and white sphere at the bottom of the screen.

A player catches a Sentret in Pokemon Go

It might take a few throws to get the hang of it, as you need to flick in the right direction and with the right relative speed to hit the Pokémon.

Tougher, rarer creatures might require more than one throw, but don't throw wastefully. Even though Pokéballs are easy to replenish, your supply is not unlimited.

Visit PokéStops

In-between catching Pokémon, check out the PokéStops in your vicinity. On the map, a PokéStop looks like a thin blue tower with a cube on top. PokéStops are mapped to landmarks in the real world, often churches, libraries, statues, fountains, historical markers, and the like.

As you walk, your trainer avatar gives off a pulsing blue circle. Once you get close enough that the PokéStop appears in the circle, it will change shape to have a large blue circle on top. Tap it to see a picture disc, which you can spin by swiping across.

Doing so will produce a variety of free items, including Pokéballs. It pays to visit the PokéStops around you often, especially because they recharge often. A recently used PokéStop turns purple, but it reverts to blue when you can hit it up for supplies again.

Eggs and How to Hatch Them

The other benefit of visiting a PokéStop is that it could yield a Pokémon egg. You never know what may hatch from it, but it's a good method for adding to your collection when there aren't many Pokémon in the surrounding area.

To hatch an egg, it needs to be incubated. One of the things that the otherwise not very helpful professor gave you was an incubator. Head to your Pokémon inventory, swipe over to see the egg, then tap it. You'll see any unused incubators below and can tap one to start the process.

You need to walk to hatch eggs in Pokemon Go

There's just one catch: The incubator is powered by your walking, and you must cover a specified distance of at least 2 km (approximately 1.2 miles) to hatch the egg. The people who made the game want you to get out and move around, and this is one way to ensure you do it.

Don't drive around in the car. PokémonGO knows when you're moving too fast to be on foot. You won't get credit for the distance traveled that way toward hatching any eggs.

The Care and Feeding of Pokémon

After you capture a Pokémon, tap it in your collection to see its combat power, vital stats, attacks, and more. There's also a record of when and where you caught the Pokémon so you can remember you grabbed one on your aunt's lanai.

A view of the Pokedex in Pokemon Go

While there isn't a ton of combat in Pokémon Go, be prepared for the fights to come, you'll want your Pokémon to be as powerful as possible. Doing so means using two different resources, but also making some tough decisions.

Every time you catch a Pokémon, you'll be rewarded with two things: stardust and candy. The former is universal, while the latter is specific to that type of Pokémon. You can spend a few hundred stardust and one or more pieces of candy to power up any Pokémon, leading to an increase in combat power and HP.

The other option is to save your candy because gathering enough allows you to do the evolution. As experienced Pokémon trainers know, evolving bumps the monster up to a more formidable form, boosts all stats, and opens up new attacks.

The choice is yours, but here's a tip: Spare Pokémon can be given back to the professor for extra candy. So if you want to evolve Pidgey into Pidgeotto, catch a lot of the buggers and swap all but one of them back for more candy.

An Introduction to Gyms

Once you reach level 5 you'll unlock Gyms. These are also located at notable places in any given area but are more obvious on the game map because Gyms appear as large towers.

A gym in Pokemon Go
 Niantic

First, you'll be asked to join one of three teams: Spark (yellow), Mystic (Blue), or Valor (red). The consensus is that your team choice doesn't affect the game in any way, so feel free to pick your favorite color.

When you encounter Gyms, you'll see if your team controls it by what color it is (totally unclaimed Gyms are silver, but those probably don't exist anymore). If the Gym is controlled by your team, tap it and assign a Pokémon to help defend it. That unlocks the Defender Bonus icon in the in-game store, which you can visit for free stardust and PokéCoins, the game's in-game currency, approximately once per day.

Attacking a Gym controlled by another team is outside the scope of this guide, but if you're itching for a fight, bring up to six Pokémon to battle. Tap for basic attacks, hold down for special attacks, and swipe left or right to dodge enemy attacks. And good luck, because Gym battles don't always work right and are usually impossible when they do.

Items Make the World Go Round

Tap the backpack icon in the main menu to see the items you own. You start the game with the ability to carry 350 items total, meaning your trainer must have one XXL backpack.

A player prepares to throw a lure in Pokemon Go

Along with the Pokéballs discussed, there are other items that you can find at PokéStops or buy from the store. Here's a quick overview of what you'll find:

  • Egg Incubator: It helps to hatch Pokémon eggs as you walk. You start with one free incubator, gain a second one at level 6, and can buy more from the store with PokéCoins.
  • Camera: Takes those hilarious pictures floating around the internet of Pokémon in the darndest places.
  • Incense: Lures Pokémon to your area for 30 minutes. Useful when you can't travel but know there are Pokémon relatively nearby.
  • Revive: Brings Pokémon who have fainted, otherwise known as getting knocked out in a Gym Battle. Restores the Pokémon to half of its max HP.
  • Potion: Healing item that restores 20 HP to a Pokémon.
  • Lucky Egg: Doesn't give you a new Pokémon but instead grants you double XP for 30 minutes.
  • Lure Module: Feeling social? This works like Incense but must be used at a PokéStops, as it plugs into the slot above the picture disc. Other players can take advantage of the lure effect as well.
  • Bag Upgrade: Allows you to carry 50 more items.
  • Pokemon Storage Upgrade: Allows you to have 50 more Pokémon in your collection.

While buying items is always an option, don't forget that you'll find plenty of the basics, like Pokéballs and healing items, just by visiting PokéStops on a consistent basis. If you do come by some PokéCoins, it's wise to save them for the Lure Modules and storage upgrades.