Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I Started ‘Pokémon GO’

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Some of these are things you should know right at the start, like before you even start playing, other items will hopefully just shorten the learning curve a bit, because so much about Pokémon GO is frustratingly vague and almost nothing is clearly explained.

So, here are ten things I wish I knew when I started Pokémon GO:

1. You Can Pick Pikachu As Your Starter

Seriously. I thought this was a joke too, a kind of “Mew under the truck” urban legend that had already sprung forth on day one, but it’s actually true. Right at the beginning of the game when you are given the usual Charmander, Bulbasaur, Squirtle choice, pick none of them. As in, physically run away from them. The game will jump them over to try and follow you, but by the fourth time you do this, it gets the message you don’t want any of them, and surprise! There’s Pikachu, joining the party. Now, as anyone knows who has played, your “starter” is ultimately not terribly important (in two days I have all three original starters from eggs/wild captures), but this is a fun little trick you can tell your friends about regardless.

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 2. Catching Higher Level Pokémon Requires Some Actual Strategy

At first, Pokémon GO seems like it’s simplified the capture system to the point of stupidity, as you just lob Pokéballs at the faces of wild Pokémon until they relent. But, once you start seeing 100+ CP Pokémon in the wild, they will start breaking out. And ones that are 300+? They will prove mighty difficult to catch unless you understand that there are a few finer points to the system. First, there’s an entire aspect to capturing most people will miss. If you press and hold the Pokéball, a ring around the Pokémon will start shrinking. When it reaches its smallest circumference, that’s when you should throw, as they are the easiest to capture at that point. Also, the color of the circle matters. Green shouldn’t be a problem, yellow will be tougher, red will be very hard. You eventually get treats you can lob at Pokémon to reduce this level, and make capturing easier. Combine these two tactics, and you should have a better shot at capturing stuff, and later you will unlock more secure types of Pokéballs as well. I still do not know exactly what makes Pokémon flee. Sometimes it seems like they get bored after too many breakouts, other times they flee immediately, so it’s not quite clear how this system works.

3. Battling Is Also Slightly More Complicated Than It Looks.

The first thing you might realize about battling is that in addition to mashing an opponent’s face, you can also swipe to dodge attacks, though it seems hard to use this tactically. But more importantly, I think a lot of people may not realize that each Pokémon essentially has a “special” meter that builds as you attack, and you can use filled bars to unleash a more powerful attack, that you launch by holding down a finger on your enemy. The system is pretty chaotic despite this, but some of these moves can do some seriously damage, and they can singlehandedly win you fights if you actually remember to use them. Battling is still pretty lame, but it’s a tiny bit more complicated than it initially appears.

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4. You Can’t Cheat Egg-Walking Easily

One of the more “go” aspects of Pokémon GO is the fact that you have to walk around to hatch incubated eggs that will turn into Pokémon that probably are not in your area. The game tracks your movement using GPS, not a pedometer, so walking on a treadmill does nothing to hatch eggs. Similarly, trains or buses or cars do not seem to work either, as there’s some sort of speed limitation that knows just how mobile you are. I’m not sure about biking. Biking slow may work, but quickly, almost certainly not. So prepare to walk around your subdivision or block quite a bit if you want those eggs to hatch. Buy a few incubators to reduce the grind, but those will cost you a couple real-life bucks. Honestly, they’re the best item sold in the store though, in my opinion.

5. Almost Nothing Seems To Track When the App Is Closed

This is one aspect of Pokémon GO that really seems to be a problem, and a huge cause of battery woes. The game will not alert you when Pokémon or PokéShops are near unless the app is open. It will not count your steps. It will pretty much not do anything except drain the timer of your consumables (which is BS, and Niantic owes me like $10 for servers destroying my incense parties). So you will literally have to be that guy or girl walking around with your phone in hand, or at least paying really close attention to sounds via headphones or buzzes while you have the app open in your pocket. I really hope this is addressed in the future, at least for the step part. This may be them trying to sell those $35 wristbands that buzz when Pokémon are around.

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6. You Have To Beat A Rival Team Into The Ground Repeatedly To Take Over A Gym

The gym system is a little confusing at first. First I didn’t understand I was fighting other players (I thought I was fighting NPCs like in the original game). Then I didn’t understand why I wasn’t kicking them out once I beat them. As it turns out, you have to lower the “gym rep” all the way to zero in order to make it “neutral” and then you can station one of your Pokémon there. This involves beating a gym two, three or more times, unless you have some team members around to back you up. If you can heal after each fight, this is actually pretty easy to do depending on your CP levels, but the system is not terribly well explained in the game itself.

7. Holding Gyms Gives You Free Stuff

You may wonder what the point of holding gyms is other than bragging rights, and there is actually a tangible benefit to it. For every gym you either lead (as top CP badass) or support (also note: you can station Pokémon at friendly gyms as “back-up”) you will get a daily package of a pretty significant amount of currency. I think you also get it the first time you take over a gym each day, but otherwise, you have to control a gym for a full 24 hours. Right now, things near me are crazy and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone have a gym for a full day. I lead one gym and supported another yesterday, but I lost both of them in about six hours. Ingress players tell me this happens often, and not to get attached to “your” gym because you will be losing it all time. That’s most of the fun of the competitive aspect of games like this.

8. Evolve Non-Primary Duplicates For XP

You quickly learn that you will be shoving lots of extra Pokémon into the meat grinder for candy, once you start amassing a lot of low level duplicates. Once you have a max evolution version of a Pokémon, it seems like you’d want to just upgrade that and not look back. But, for some of the most common Pokémon near you, they can be a bonus source of significant XP. Say you evolved your Rattata into a Raticate but you keep finding eight zillion Rattatas. Well, save a few, and use all that candy (and zero stardust) to evolve them for 500 XP a pop. There are probably only a handful of Pokémon that you will find this often, but trust me, this is a great use of extra candy which costs you nothing of significance and will really help with leveling.

9. It’s Tough To Know When To Invest In Pokémon, And When To Hold Of

Pokémon GO’s leveling system sort of sucks. You’re encouraged to pump up Pokémon with expensive stardust infusions, but you will quickly learn that you can easily find another Pokémon at a higher level, and you’ve essentially wasted your resources. For example, I pumped up a 60 CP Drowzee from the start to 120, but later found a 140 one, so everything I invested was pointless. Usually, it seems like the smart play to keep your highest level base Pokémon and transfer the others. Either wait until you have the candy to evolve them, or until you find their evolved form in the wild, then once they reach their second or third stage, really begin to invest. For single-stage Pokemon, it’s hard to tell. I tried to pump up what I thought was a decent 250 Jynx, and lo and behold after spending a ton of stardust, I found a 380 one a few hours later. This aspect of the game can be really frustrating.

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10. Tracking Is Super Unreliable Right Now

I think I have most of the game’s systems down right now, but “tracking” is one that still eludes me. I have heard so many conflicting reports about tracking, I don’t know what to believe, and I’ve never done it effectively myself. Right now, the rumors are that if you select a Pokémon from the “nearby” list, it will pulse as you get close. I’ve also heard the footprint symbols are 100 meter intervals, and you have wander around until they shrink from three to two to one, and then Pokémon will be somewhere near you. I have also heard that people have tried all these things and had zero luck doing it. This aspect of the game is so perplexing, yet obviously hugely important, I literally contacted Niantic directly to ask them how exactly this tracking system is supposed to work, but I haven’t heard back yet. For now, don’t drive yourself crazy over those “nearby” silhouettes.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but there’s still plenty to learn. Feel free to share your own tips in the comments.