16 Tips for Starting Out In Pokémon Go

Pokémon Go, the first game that lets you catch, raise, and battle the pocket monsters on mobile devices, has continued its meteoric rise with its recent full launch in Canada. The game’s brilliant use of AR and GPS technologies, combined with its creation of a full-blown fan community that rivals any on the internet in just a few days, proves that it’s a great product (even if there’s a few changes that need to be made, and that playing the game isn’t as safe as it could be).

But one thing Pokémon Go struggles with is explaining itself. For any new players out there, here’s our top 16 tips for starting out in Pokémon Go.

16. The game is fundamentally different from all of the other Pokémon games

Old pokemon style

This is one of the biggest barriers to the game for people that love the classics developed by GameFreak for Nintendo’s handheld systems. Going from a structured, much more JRPG-influenced adventure in fictional destinations to a primarily AR-based free-to-play mobile game can be quite the adjustment, especially if your expectations aren’t in line with the reality. Pokémon Go is not the Pokémon MMO people have been waiting for, nor is it the type of game that entries like Pokémon X and Y and Pokémon Sun and Moon will be. You can’t do as much with your Pokémon, leveling, catching, and battling all work differently, you have a personal level as a trainer that’s increased by doing in-game activities and unlocks new rewards and items, and there’s even less of a story than there is in a normal Pokémon adventure.

Once you get past that and see Pokémon Go for what it is -- a fun activity that lets you explore nearby locations in a whole new way -- you’re sure to have much more fun.

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15 You don't use Pokémon to catch other Pokémon — it's all in the throw

Ash from Pokemon

Of the many interesting things you should know about Pokémon Go, the way catching monsters works is probably the most important, mainly due to the increased importance of catching Pokémon in Go.

In traditional Pokémon games, one encounters Pokémon in the wild, fights them with their own pocket monsters to weaken them, and then captures them. Theoretically, trainers only need to catch any specific Pokémon once, as they can then battle other trainers and wild Pokémon to make them stronger. In Pokémon Go, however, the little Pokés aren’t involved in capturing at all -- all you can do is throw Pokéballs at the wild creatures you encounter until you catch them.

As the game progresses, you'll find the wild Pokémon gradually getting harder to capture. At this point, you'll want to start feeding them Razz Berries, which make them much easier to catch.

14 Time your throw with the circle, and be aware of curveballs

Pokemon go target circle

It’s only natural that a game would flesh out once-simple mechanics if they’ve eliminated so many others, and that’s exactly what Pokémon Go does with throwing Pokéballs. Manually throwing the orbs adds a host of new factors to consider (essentially, players want to throw their Pokéballs by flicking them to make physical contact on top of the Pokémon, without hitting them during an attack or animation), not the least of which is the target circle that appears on Pokémon you encounter.

The circle is color-coded, with green circles indicating an easy catch, orange circles a difficult one, and red a very difficult struggle, but it also gradually shrinks in size until it resets. According to Niantic’s official support page, Pokéballs are most effective when the circle is at its smallest. If you’re feeling fancy, you can use your finger to spin the Pokéball until it shines before tossing it, which provides a curveball bonus if successful, but spinning the ball makes it harder to aim, so use your own judgement. 

A heads up, as you progress in the game, spinning the Pokéball will become something of a necessity (as the wild Pokémon you encounter beome stronger), so you might want to get used to spinning as early as possible.

13 To get good Pokémon, you're going to need to leave the house and explore

Pokemon go outside

In Pokémon Go, the Pokémon are distributed throughout the world using GPS data, which theoretically places the monsters in logical environments -- concentrating water type Pokémon near rivers and beaches, for example, or making Pokémon more common in grassy areas.

While this isn’t exactly how it works in practice, what seems to be certain is that you won’t find nearly as many Pokémon in your house as you will exploring nearby areas. In fact, some people have reported being unable to find any Pokémon in their house at all (though with how crazy things have been in regards to the game, staying at home might be safer in some places. Looking at you, Florida). So get on those shoes and get ready to walk, because...

12 The game rewards you more for walking than driving (but biking is okay)

Bike Riding in Pokemon GO Trailer

Mischievous players might be tempted to just hop in their car or on the bus, sit back, and let the Pokémon come to them without putting in any legwork, and hatch eggs (items obtained at Pokéstops that produce seemingly random but occasionally rare Pokémon after moving a certain distance) in minutes of low-effort driving.

Unfortunately, Pokémon Go is one step ahead: the game stops counting “steps” towards the hatching of an egg if the player is moving too fast, and it’s difficult to stay within range of Pokéstops (more on them later), gyms, and wild Pokémon if they’re constantly in motion. The game is best played while walking, as players can most easily stop to interact with the environment while on foot. Biking, however, also works, as it’s easier to pull over and stop on a bicycle, and most bikers will be going slowly enough that their motion will count towards hatching eggs.

11 You need to keep your phone "on" in your pocket while playing

Pokemon Go display

This is one of the more counter-intuitive aspects of Pokémon Go, and one of the more baffling design choices. As anecdotal experience, several stern reminders from public officials, and even the game itself tells us, it’s a bad idea to walk around with eyes glued to a phone and ignoring surrounding hazards; instead, players should keep the phone in their pockets and pull it out when it vibrates, indicating a nearby Pokémon.

However, unlike nearly every other modern smartphone app, Go does not work when the phone’s display is turned off -- you must leave your phone completely active in order to use the application. This might get changed in a later patch (especially with concerns about Pokémon Go’s rapid battery usage), but for now, just know that you can’t treat Pokémon Go like the other apps on your phone.

10 Visit Pokéstops early and often!

Pokestops in Pokemon Go

Entirely new to Go are Pokéstops: designated places of interest you can visit in the real world to claim various in-game rewards. It cannot be emphasized enough how important Pokéstops are to Pokémon Go, especially if players plan on enjoying the game without making any in-app purchases.

Aside from avatar level-ups, Pokéstops are your main sources of items like potions, Pokéballs, eggs, and more, and are usually placed in focal points in neighborhoods that make them easy stops on walks to other destinations. Plus, Pokéstops allow players to use an item called a lure module to attract large numbers of Pokémon to the location for thirty minutes -- if you see flower petals on your screen near a Pokéstop, hurry up and get over there!

9 Make good use of Pokéstop items

Pokemon go pokestop items

Some of the items you can pick up at Pokéstops are fairly self-explanatory--you can use Pokéballs to catch Pokémon, potions to heal them, and revives to wake them up when they faint. But others are rarer, and in addition to being new to the series, they require a little more forethought in order to be used most efficiently.

Lucky eggs, for example, are consumables that double trainer experience gain for a half-hour; as evolving pokémon and hatching eggs are two of the most effective ways to gain experience, players should time their lucky egg usage as closely as possible to evolutions and egg hatchings.

Speaking of eggs, players must place eggs in incubators in order to hatch them, with every player starting out with an incubator with infinite uses and occasionally picking up incubators good for a few uses each at pokéstops. Use your infinite use incubator on eggs that will hatch quickly while giving eggs that take five, or even ten kilometers of walking to hatch to the breakable incubators, as this will let you cycle through your eggs as quickly as possible while keeping your incubator around a bit longer.

8 If you want to power up a Pokémon (and yourself), catch as many of that Pokémon type as you can

Pokemon go wild pokemon

In past Pokémon games, the main reasons to catch multiple of the same type of Pokémon boiled down to tangible differences like abilities, natures, and invisible stats that affected breeding. All of these features are absent in Pokémon Go, but capturing and recapturing Pokémon is more important than its ever been, thanks to the candy system.

Basically, whenever you capture a Pokémon, you get three candies that correspond to the first creature in that Pokémon’s evolutionary line. These candies are required to improve your pokémon’s CP, or combat power, as well as evolving it into a more powerful form, and since the most inexpensive evolution in the game still requires a whopping twelve candies, you’re going to spend a lot of time hunting for creatures you’ve already caught, catching them, and transferring the weaker ones to the professor in-game for an additional candy.

7 Gym battling is much simpler than you think

Wartortle in Pokemon GO

Gym battles are the only form of Pokémon battles currently in Pokémon Go, but they work very differently from battles in the past. Like Pokéstops, gyms are real-world locations you interact with in-game, but unlike Pokéstops, they can be claimed by one of the three factions you’ll join in-game, who can place Pokémon to protect the gym while they’re away.

Fighting at gyms might seem intimidating, but the mechanics of fights are very simple: tap the screen to attack enemy pokémon, and press and hold your Pokémon to use a special move. That’s pretty much all that there is to it -- dodging is performed by swiping left and right on the touchscreen, but so far seems fairly unreliable, especially given the nature of the game to lag or even crash sometimes. As long as your Pokémon is close to the gym leader’s in CP and has a neutral or advantageous type combination, you’ll probably be fine. Instead of tactics, there’s another factor in gym battles that’s much more immediately important…

6 Gym battling and gym training is more attrition than anything else

Pokemon Battle in Pokemon GO

Beating the Pokémon at an opposing gym doesn’t directly eliminate that Pokémon from the gym’s roster -- instead, it decreases the gym’s prestige level, which will automatically remove weaker Pokémon from the gym as it drops below certain levels until it hits zero, at which point it can be claimed for your team.

If you’re challenging a gym that’s on your team, you can raise the prestige level by fighting against the gym’s Pokémon, raising the prestige with every victory. Whether you’re strengthening or weakening a gym, the process involves fighting the same Pokémon over and over and over again, which means that time and healing items, rather than skill, are the two biggest determinants of victory. Speaking of items...

5 Keep an eye on your items

Pokemon Go Inventory

Unlike past Pokémon games, Pokémon Go has an inventory system that can fill up if players are carrying too many items. Worse still, the system counts each item individually, rather than counting them as categories. In other words, having 100 revives counts as 100 slots of the initial 350 item limit filled, rather than simply counting as 100 items in one of 350 categories.

What this means is that players that rarely battle or catch Pokémon, but still frequent Pokéstops and level up, may run into a situation where they run out of an item and lack the room in their bag to refill their supply. There are two remedies for this problem: keeping a close eye on your inventory and using (or disposing of) items accordingly, or making use of in-app purchases.

4 Some buys are better than others

Pokemon go currency

Bags with more inventory space, Pokéballs, incense, and more can all be purchased with real-world money in Pokémon Go’s in-game shop. However, the shop doesn’t let users buy the items they want directly, instead forcing them to buy an in-game currency in fixed amounts, with the hope being that players will spend more money to get an amount of currency that will let them buy everything they want. With that knowledge in mind, it’s definitely best to conserve money and buy only products that are worth the price -- as tempting as it is to by 200 pokéballs, you’ll run through them in no time and could easily just get more by visiting a few Pokéstops.

Instead, we recommend that you buy bag and storage upgrades that let you carry more Pokémon and items with you, or at least rarer items like lures and incubators that aren’t commonly found at Pokéstops.

3 Evolve your Pokémon before powering them up

Pokemon Go Evolution

In the old Pokémon games, making your Pokémon stronger and evolution were very closely tied together, with most Pokémon needing to level up in order to evolve in the first place. But in Pokémon Go, the two processes have been separated, with players having to choose between spending several candies once to evolve their Pokémon, or regularly spend a few candies and some stardust (another in-game currency earned by catching Pokémon) to power up their CP levels.

Given unlimited candies and stardust, there doesn’t seem to be a definitively better method to powering up Pokémon between maxing their CP out before evolving them, or evolving them and then raising their CP. However, due to the immediate power boost afforded by evolution, the relative scarcity of CP, the additional Pokédex entry you’ll get from a newly evolved Pokémon, and the experience you’ll get from evolution, most will find that evolving their Pokémon needs to be the higher priority than slowly training it up beforehand.

2 Be prepared to deal with a lot of quitting and logging back in

Pokemon Go Server Issues

This is a frustrating problem, and so far the only way to minimize it is to recognize early on when the game has crashed and quit out, rather than waiting for the game to do so itself. If your Pokémon, avatar, or Pokéballs are just frozen on-screen and the spinning Pokéball icon for “loading” keeps popping up and vanishing, it’s probably time to quit out of the game, boot it back up, and hope for the best. 

1 Learn how the Pokémon tracking system works

Pokemon go nearby activities

Of all Pokémon Go’s poorly explained mechanics, the tracking system for Pokémon -- represented as a small grey tile in the lower-righthand corner of the screen that expands to a three-by-three grid of Pokémon when touched -- is perhaps the most crippling, as it’s not only under-explained, but very poorly implemented. For starters, there’s no directional notification; the only surefire way to tell whether you’re walking towards a Pokémon is a change in the number of footprints below the pokémon’s outline.

Three footprints indicate that the Pokémon is fairly far away, two means it’s pretty close by, one means it’s just a few meters away, and no footprints means it’s about to appear (not that the game tells you this).

However, there’s an additional wrinkle that’s just as crucial to the tracking system that was only broken down recently by Forbes. Basically, the Pokémon on the three-by-three grid are arranged from left-to-right and top-to-bottom by distance, with the Pokémon in the top left closest and bottom right furthest. Searching for Pokémon is easier when you use these two systems in tandem (again, not that the game ever tells you that).


Are there any essential tips or tricks that starters need to know that we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments section!

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