In just a few months, Pokémon GO has become one of the hottest phone apps out there. The game holds no gender, race or age discriminations – I’m constantly surprised at who I see playing. I’ve seen both kids and parents doing laps around the park, trying to hatch a 10 kilometer egg. I’ve seen a woman in heels and an evening gown scamper out of the nicest restaurant in town, asking anyone who will listen where the Snorlax is. I’ve also seen an entire gang of teenagers in Metallica and KISS t-shirts splitting up to go look for a Pikachu. You never know who you’re going to come across.

What the hell is Pokémon GO? According to developer Niantic, Pokémon GO is a free-to-play, location-based augmented reality iOS/Android app that was released in select countries this past July. Does that clear anything up for you? If you’re like me, then probably not. Your best bet is to just play. Don’t be like some of those crazy fools on the news who have caused accidents by slamming on their brakes on the highway to catch a Meowth or have driven through the front of buildings while trying to get closer to a PokeStop. Don’t play while you’re driving, people! Don’t be a news idiot!

Instead, you need to walk. That’s the entire point of the game. Walking is everything. It’s how you find new things, gather items and hatch eggs. Here’s the deal: once you download the game, create your trainer and choose your starter Pokémon from Professor Willow (either a Charmander, Bulbasaur or Squirtle – or walk away from these guys and get a Pikachu). Then you’re shown a cartoon map version of the street or driveway you’re currently standing on. This is your playing field. Through GPS, the map changes as you walk. Pokémon generally only spawn on the street part of the GPS map, so that’s where you’ll find them. Don’t bother hiking into the woods or rowing out into the middle of a lake. You’ll just end up tired, frustrated and empty handed.

How do I catch a Pokémon? When you see a Pokémon appear on your screen, you can tap it and try to catch it. The screen will change from the cartoon version to what your phone’s camera actually sees, only now you’ll have a Pokémon in front of you. A red PokeBall will appear at the bottom of the screen. You need to swipe the ball up and at the Pokémon while it’s being circled by a white ring. The closer to the center that the ball lands, the better your throw is deemed and the more XP you get. You’ll also see a shrinking colored circle inside the outer white circle. The smaller that colored circle is when your PokeBall lands, the more likely your Pokémon will stay in its ball.

 That doesn’t guarantee a catch. The Pokémon could still break out of the ball. You have to wait and watch it roll on the ground for a few seconds. Once it rocks three times, you know you’ve got him. He’ll be added to your Pokedex (an index of all of the Pocket Monsters that you’ve caught so far). You can see him again by tapping the PokeBall icon at the bottom of the screen while you’re in search mode.

What can you do with your Pokémon? Well, you can power them up and fight them in the Pokémon gyms. You need two things to level them up – corresponding candy for the critter you want to power up (you can see the number of candies in the Pokémon’s stats in the Pokedex) and stardust. Every time you successfully capture a Pokémon, you also collect stardust. Each Pokémon requires different amounts of stardust to power up.

Why power up? Powering up your Pokémon makes him stronger, increases his CP and makes him more likely to win in a gym battle. How can you tell if your critter is a high level? Take a look at his CP rating, right there over the little guy’s head. The higher the CP (Combat Power), the tougher he is. Once you hit level 5, you can stop at the gyms you pass and choose to battle any of the Pokémon left there by other trainers. Not only can battling in gyms earn you XP, but defeating all of a rival team’s Pokémon will get you stardust, PokeCoins, and let you take over their gym with your own Pokémon.

Which team do I choose? You might notice in your travels that Pokémon gyms come in different colors. Once you hit level 5 and you visit a gym (any gym), you’ll be prompted to join a team. There’s the red team (Valor), the blue team (Mystic) and the yellow team (Instinct). There’s honestly nothing better or worse about any of the teams, so don’t worry too much about which one to join. The only time your team matters is when you come across other gyms in your travels. If the gym is the color of your team, you can choose to battle the Pokémon stationed there and earn Prestige points for your team’s gym. The more Prestige points a gym has, the more Pokémon can be stationed there to protect it. Sometimes you’ll notice that a gym bearing your team’s colors has room for another Pokémon (for example: say the gym is a Level 3 and there are only two Pokémon stationed there – that means there’s room for another Pokémon defender). Even if you decide not to battle your team’s gym, if there’s room, you can drop one of your own Pokémon in there to help defend the gym. Just remember – if you leave your monster to help defend the gym, you won’t be able to use him in other battles until he’s been defeated by a member of another team (and therefore kicked out of the gym).

If you do end up leaving a Pokémon to defend your team’s gym, you’ll earn bonuses in PokeCoins (currency worth real world money that can be used to buy things in the Shop) and stardust. As soon as you drop him in there, go into the shop and click on the little shield in the top right hand corner of the screen. Once you collect your PokeCoins and stardust, you can’t get any more for 21 hours, no matter how many Pokémon you’ve got floating around in gyms out there. Should your critter manage to stay in the gym for that entire 21 hours, you can click the shield once again and get another bonus. If not, don’t fret. You’ll get more the second you drop another Pokémon into another one of your team’s gyms.

As for other team’s gyms, you can battle those Pokémon, too. Beat them and you’ll get XP. Knock them all out of the gym with your Pokémon (battle the gym’s defenders over and over again until you’ve beaten them all and they get sent back to their respective Pokémon trainers) and the gym becomes unclaimed. This means you can claim the gym for your own team by dropping one of your Pokémon there. If you want to station a Pokémon there that you’ve just battled, be sure to go into your Items and select revive and/or potions and use them to heal your guys before you send them away. This only takes a second and ensures your Pokemon will hold his place longer in the gym. Again, don’t forget to claim your defender bonus in the Shop. Now when other people from your team come by this gym, they can add their monsters to help defend it. At least until someone from another team comes by and knocks your teams Pokémon out. It’s a vicious cycle.

How do I battle? Once you’re at the gym, you’ll be able to choose which Pokémon you want to attack the defending team. When you go to your own team’s gym, you’ll only be able to choose one Pocket Monster at a time, but at opposing team’s gym, you can choose six. As you battle, if your Pokémon fails (faints), then the next one on your team will immediately come up to replace him. There’s no attacks to choose – once the battle starts, you just tap your screen to get your Pokémon to attack. You’ll see two sets of bars at the top of the screen. The set on the left is your Pokémon’s stats while the one on the right is the other’s stats. The top bar is your health. The bottom bar fills as you battle, and once it turns blue and starts to blink, your Pokémon is ready to use his second attack. To use that attack, tap and hold the screen. This will do more damage than the smaller, “tapping” attack. If you win the battle, the defender Pokémon will faint and you’ll get the next Pokémon in the gym. Battle and win them all and you’ll get your XP, stardust and gym ownership.

How do you know which Pokémon to leave in the gym? The Pokémon with the highest CP will do the best in battle. You have to use strategy a bit here. You can leave your toughest Pokémon as a gym defender but then you won’t have him should you decide to attack another team’s gym. So weigh your options. Also, you’ll notice in the Pokémon’s stats (under the “Power Up” and/or “Evolve” buttons) that he has another set of numbers. This is the amount of damage your Pokémon’s attacks will deal out. The top number is his “tapping” attack damage and the bottom number is  his “tapping and holding” attack damage. The higher the numbers, the more damage he’ll inflict. So a Pokémon with a high CP (his health) and high attack numbers are the best ones to send into battle or take over a gym.

How do I get more PokeBalls and stuff? Again, you have to walk. Whenever you get close enough to a PokeStop (see the top picture), click on it. When the stop’s round logo appears, swipe your finger across it. As it spins, it will drop extra PokeBalls, Great (or higher) PokeBalls (for catching larger CP Pokémon), potions and revives (used for healing your fainted Pokémon), razzberries (throw them at Pokémon you’re trying to catch to increase your odds), incense (use them to increase Pokémon sightings around your person and only for you for 30 minutes) and eggs.

Eggs are another way to get Pokémon, although there’s no way to know what will hatch from an egg by looking at it. There are three different kinds of eggs – 2 kilometer, 5 kilometer and 10 kilometer. This is how far you have to walk to hatch them. When you get an egg, go into your Pokémon list (not your Pokedex) and slide your screen to the left. That’s where your eggs are stored. You can only have 9 at a time and can only hatch the amount of eggs you have incubators for, so choose carefully. Since you have to walk the entire 2, 5 or 10 kilometers, if you plan on walking a lot, take a chance on a 5K or 10K egg. If you just want to clear out your egg collection, buzz through a few of those 2K eggs. At this point, there’s no way to delete eggs that you don’t want, so you have to make your way through them one way or another. The more you have to walk for an egg, the more rare your hatched Pokémon will be, although I’ve personally hatched a rare Charmander from a 2K egg, so you never know.

As you gain XP and level up, you’ll get bonuses of more PokeBalls, revives, eggs, potions and razzberries. At certain levels, you’ll get extra incubators (for hatching more than one egg at a time – only good for three uses, however), lures and lucky eggs. Lures can be used at PokeStops to increase the amount of Pokémon spawning there for 30 minutes. Unlike incense, anyone can use the power of the lure, as long as they’re within so many feet of the PokeStop. Just go into your items while you’re near the PokeStop and select a lure. Using a lucky egg with double the amount of XP you get for 30 minutes straight. Since you get the most XP from evolving Pokémon and battling in gyms, save those lucky eggs for times when you have a lot of either one of those things going on.

As mentioned before, one way to get candy for your Pokémon (used both for Powering Up and Evolving) is to capture that type of Pokémon. You don’t need 50 Rattatas (or anything, for that matter), though, so choose the ones you want to keep and transfer the rest to Professor Willow. Every Pocket Monster you transfer gets you another candy for the remaining Pokémon of that type. To transfer them, click the one you want to send off and select the circle with the three lines at the bottom, right hand side of the screen. Here, you can choose to transfer (that Pokémon is gone forever, so be sure before you send him), favorite (one way to make sure not to accidentally transfer a Pokémon is to favorite it) or assess it. Assessing it will let you know your Pokémon’s strengths and weaknesses, so it’s definitely handy.

If you’ve ever played – or even heard of – Pokémon before, you know that certain ones can evolve. Evolving a Pokémon will turn it into a different – yet stronger – creature. Luckily, no matter how high a Pokémon evolves, he’ll always use the initial Pokémon’s candy.

As you walk, you’ll also notice shadows appearing on the bottom, right hand side of your GPS screen. These are Pokémon that you haven’t seen yet but are nearby. By my calculations, a “sighted” Pokémon can be anywhere within a 1,000 yard radius. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell which way you’re supposed to go to find that particular creature. You just have to walk around and hope it doesn’t disappear before you find it. Go straight – if the Pokémon doesn’t disappear or drop down into the second row, them keep going. If it does drop off, then turn around and walk in the opposite direction to see if it comes back. Once it does, go left or right (if you have the option) or straight. Keep this up and hopefully you’ll stumble across it before it despawns. The sightings bar will only show the nearest three, but if you click on it, there may be as many as nine close enough to you to show up in your sightings. Once you’ve successfully captured a Pokémon, his shadow will become a tiny icon of that Pokémon the next time you’re near a new one.

There’s currently a supposed walking hack that you can use to hatch Pokémon eggs without actually walking (which is besides the point, but I digress). Some say you can attach your phone to a ceiling fan or record player and as it spins around, the phone will generate movement and hatch your eggs. Here’s two reasons why I don’t think that will work: one, the app measures distance by how far you go between two different points on the GPS. So spinning in circles won’t change your phone’s GPS location and therefore not register as walking, and two, I’ve tried hatching eggs by walking in circles around my house (shut up! I was anxious to see what I had) and it didn’t register at all. And trust me, my house’s circumference is much bigger than a ceiling fan or record player cycle.

There is one hack I’ve found that works. One of the biggest complaints about Pokémon GO is the huge battery suck is causes when you’re running the app. I swear I can watch my phone’s battery drop by the minute. But I did notice that if I hold my phone upside down (which blacks out the screen), the battery holds its charge and it still registers walking and nearby Pokémon. Also, this will keep you from staring at your screen while you walk and not trotting out into oncoming traffic.

With all of the walking you have to do for this game, it’s no wonder that so many people are praising it as an exercise tool and a way parents can get their screen-hungry kids outside for once. So, if you’re feeling the need to burn off a few calories and want to be entertained and challenged at the same time, don’t be afraid to download Pokémon GO. But remember, don’t be a news idiot. Keep your feet on the sidewalks.


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