Pokemon Go is a full-blown phenomenon, with millions of downloads and excitement only growing after players got through their first weekend of being real-life Pokemon trainers. The game is heavy on fun but light on explanations -- particularly if you're so excited to start playing that you blitz through the opening tutorial.
So maybe you've downloaded it, fired it up and then gotten, well, completely lost. If you're completely mystified by how this game actually works, here are some basics to get you out there and catching Pokemon in no time.
Once you download the app, you'll be asked to sign in. You can sign in using an existing Google account. Or, if you're not so keen to connect your Pokemon identity to your Google identity, then you can also sign up with the Pokemon Trainer Club, which is an account with the Pokemon Co. From there, you design your character and pick your first Pokemon. Then you can get going!
And you will have to actually get going. The whole selling point of the game is to walk around the real world to find the cute little critters. This not only encourages you to explore your own city, but also -- gasp! -- gets you outside and around other people. In fact, this is not really a game you can play while stationary. Sometimes Pokemon will come to you, but more often than not you have to go to them.
As you walk around and catch more Pokemon, your character will level up. Leveling up lets you take on stronger Pokemon, and also gives you items that can help you throughout the game.
Once you have your character set, the game will show you where you are on a map of your area. But, you may notice that the map looks slightly different -- littered with special spots called Pokestops, which are significant to the game. More on that later.
As you walk around, Pokemon will appear on your screen. Certain Pokemon are likely to appear in certain places -- water Pokemon, for example, tend to hang out near lakes and rivers. You should feel your phone buzz or hear it make a noise when this happens. Once you see the Pokemon, tap on it. That should take you to the capture screen. A Pokeball appears at the bottom of the screen -- use your finger to fling the ball at the Pokemon in front of you to catch it.
You may notice that different colored shrinking rings appear around the Pokemon -- if you can get the ball through the ring without it touching the ground, you get a bonus for a skillful throw.
Players can actually find out which Pokemon are closest to them by looking in the bottom right-hand corner, where there should be a white box with a picture of Pokemon. This box tells you which Pokemon are nearby and approximately how close they are as well.
Each Pokemon should have between 0 and 3 footsteps underneath their picture. As you get closer to a Pokemon, the number of footsteps go down. When there are no footsteps below a Pokemon, get your flinging finger ready because it's right next to you!
Every time you catch a Pokemon, you also get two other things -- stardust and candy that is specific to that particular Pokemon. You can use these items to "power up" your Pokemon, to make them better able to battle, and to improve your chances of catching strong wild Pokemon.
You can also use candy to evolve your Pokemon into more mature (and stronger) forms -- think of it as moving from baby to adolescent to adult. The number of candies you need to do this varies by Pokemon. You can also turn in Pokemon that you don't want to earn more candy by tapping "Transfer".
What if you run out of Pokeballs? That's what those Pokestops are for. These are placed at points of interest throughout the city, and give players items in exchange for interacting with them. As you pass by a Pokestop, it will change shape. Tap on these transformed Pokestops, and you'll be taken to the stop's screen. Swipe the center disc to get items such as potions that can heal your Pokemon, more Pokeballs or eggs that let you hatch new monsters.
If you get an egg at a Pokestop, you'll be able to hatch it and keep the Pokemon inside. To do that, you'll need an incubator. Every player gets a free incubator for playing the game. Once you place the egg inside, you'll have to walk a certain distance -- 2, 5 or 10 km -- with the app open to hatch the egg.
Occasionally, you'll also see bigger icons on the map. These are gyms. Players can access the gyms once they've reached level 5. When you do get gym access, you'll be asked to choose a team -- Team Valor (red), Team Mystic (blue) or Team Instinct (yellow). The teams have different personalities and are represented by different colors, but are in all other ways equal. (Except, you know. Go Team Mystic.)
Each team fights for the control of the various gyms in the area, which basically gives them bragging rights. (Who doesn't like bragging rights?) If you battle an enemy gym and win, you can gain control of it. You'll have to leave a Pokemon there to protect it, and face other challengers. If you train at a friendly gym, you increase the gym's level and strengthen it against future competitors.
When you battle, you have to be fast. Players tap on the screen to attack, and attacks move in real-time. (In traditional Pokemon, you play by turns.) As you attack, you can also build up to a special attack, which will cause more damage. But while you're on the offensive, you'll also have to swipe the screen to dodge incoming attacks.
Gym battles are a great way to earn experience and to earn Pokecoins, which let you buy items that help you in the game.
There are a few types of items in the game that are important to know about as well. To use them, tap the Pokeball from the map screen, and select the items menu.
Potions and revives help heal your Pokemon after they've been through a tough battle. It's good to keep them on hand if you're going to hit up the gyms a lot. Lucky Eggs, which can be earned or bought, will double the amount of experience you get from each action, allowing you to become stronger more quickly.
Other items help draw Pokemon to you while you're collecting. Using an incense will draw Pokemon to an individual player. Lures can be placed in a Pokestop to draw more Pokemon to a particular area for everyone. You can tell which Pokestops have lures attached to them by looking for swirling petals. This is why you're seeing hordes of players descend on seemingly random points.
All of these items have a 30-minute time limit.
You can also use items called berries in battle. Berries will calm a Pokemon down for one throw, or can keep a Pokemon from running away. To access your items during a capture, tap on the backpack icon in the bottom right-hand corner.
It seems a little strange to think about having to prepare to play a video game, but Pokemon Go is also basically an exercise app. So you should consider bringing water and sunscreen. Maybe a dashing baseball cap.
You should charge up your phone completely before heading out, since all the location tracking and camera use can tear through a battery pretty quickly.
Also -- and I can't repeat this often or clearly enough -- don't play Pokemon Go while driving. Just don't do it. The game is designed for a walking pace, meaning that you'll either be moving past things too quickly to get much out of it, or you'll be driving dangerously slow and prone to stopping in inconvenient places. You can drive to a different neighborhood, park legally and then scour the area for the Pokemon you want, but don't be a jerk. In fact, just generally pay attention to where you're going, and be respectful of those around you.
This is a huge gaming event, and a good way to get a lot of people interested in a fun community. Don't be the one to ruin it for everyone. Let us have nice things, everyone.
Finally, go hunting with a friend, or a few friends, if you can. This makes things more fun, since you can let each other know when new Pokemon pop up. It also can hopefully help protect you against injury -- "Hey, watch out for that crack in the sidewalk!" -- and against those who are preying on Pokemon Go players.
Pokemon Go is a lot of fun if you're willing to get into it. Use these tips to play well, stay safe and catch 'em all!