What is this game that everybody is talking about this week? It's actually quite simple.
Pokémon Go is a free-to-play location-based augmented reality mobile game. This means that you're using your mobile phone's camera to look around the real world, but computer-generated elements will take up parts of the screen.
In the case of Pokémon Go this is used to make creatures from the popular Pokémon franchise appear on your screen as if they really are there. Apart from that you'll be doing pretty much everything you've done in most Pokémon games, with the end goal being to "catch 'em all". This has been the core concept of the franchise for 20 years now. That's why we're now seeing 5 to 40-year-olds stumbling around with their eyes glued to their phones, trying to catch pocket monsters. We saw something kind of similar when Pokémon Red and Blue first launched, but Go does a few things differently. Lets see how.
As in Red and Blue, you'll start by creating a trainer name that other players will see. The game already well over 20 million users (in the US alone), so chances are you won't get to use your real name, nor Ash Ketchum.
After that you'll be customising how your character looks. With fairly limited choices in terms of skin tones, hair colours and clothing you might not get a character that looks just the way you want, but that's not really a big deal. Right now you'll mostly just see your character while watching the map, and then you'll probably be too busy looking for Pokémon to pay much attention to other stuff.
Something that'll you see more often is your starter Pokémon. After creating your character Professor Willow, this game's leading Pokémon scholar, will teach you how to catch these wild creatures. He does this by introducing you to the cartoony map of the world, and placing the three classic starters there: Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle. "What?! That's not the famous Pikachu! I want that!" Fear not. It's possible to get the famous yellow rascal as well. Read how here.
With your first Pokémon in the bag, or ball if you will, it's time to start the real game. There are 151 Pokémon spread around the world (has anyone tried going up and down the coastline to find Missingno. yet?), and your goal is to catch them all. As you traverse the real world, which your GPS has represented as an in-game map on your screen, you'll occasionally come across tufts of grass. This doesn't indicate which Pokémon you might find in the area, but you will get an indication of this by tapping the lower right corner of the screen. Doing this will show you a list of the different pocket monsters in your vicinity. The more footprints beneath the individual Pokémon, the further away it is in real life. Because, if you didn't know, you'll have to physically move your body to that location.
When you finally find your first Pokémon you'll have to tap it to start the process of actually catching it. Unlike the original games you won't have to fight them before trying you luck with a Poké Ball. All you have to do is swipe the ball (or use our third tip) towards the creature. There are many theories as to how you can increase your chances of catching it, but Nintendo still hasn't said anything official. Lets just hope karma is on your side. Succeeding not only grants you a new Pokémon, but also some experience points and items.
These come in handy, as they're one of the easiest ways to increase your trainer's level, and thereby your chance to find rare Pokémon. Though that's not all. Increasing your level is also important if you want to fight other trainers or Pokémon.
In Pokémon Go you're only allowed to fight in areas marked as "gyms". To gain access to these you'll have to be level 5 and have chosen your allegiance to one of three groups: Valor (red), Mystic (blue) or Instinct (yellow). Fulfil these demands and you can start fighting.
Unlike most other games in the series you won't be selecting one out of four moves to use against your opponent. Instead you'll be fighting real time by tapping or pressing the screen to attack, and swiping it to dodge. That's why it's very important to take note of your enemy's combat power and the type of Pokémon before going into battle. If your combat power is lower than your opponent's you might want to think twice before engaging, especially if your Pokémon are weak against the Pokémon type he/she has. Remember, fire is weak against water, water is weak against lightning, and so on and so forth. We hope you know your biology.
Evolving your Pokémon is also quite different from most of the other games. In Go you'll have to use candies and stardust to make your fighters stronger. Both of these can be earned by catching Pokémon, but you'll also get candies by transferring weaker duplicates of Pokémon you already have to Professor Willow. Just keep feeding your favourites, Pokémon that is, candies and stardust, and you'll have your Charizards and Mochamps in no time.
These are just the very basics of the game, and there are still a few additional aspects to it. If there are any noteworthy landmarks nearby these might be what's called Pokéstops. By tapping these places on the map you'll usually get some Poké Balls and maybe a Pokémon egg. Eggs can be hatched by walking a certain distance. You can also buy items for real money. Sounds like a fairly simplistic game, doesn't it? So why is it so popular?
First off all, it's free. The word free makes most of us more open to a proposal. You have nothing to lose, right? Feeling good about yourself is also factor. Collectables are one of the most used mechanics in video games, and there's a reason for this. Many dream of being acknowledged for their accomplishments, and collecting the most or rarest Pokémon will give you that. It might not be other people's acknowledgement you're looking for either. Perhaps you just want to be proud of yourself.
And lets not forget the social aspect of it all. Getting to share this experience with your friends takes it to another level. Pretty much everyone can understand how to play this game, which makes it easy to share with others. Running around town catching Pokémon with friends and sharing memorable experiences is a nice way to build stronger bonds and right now Pokémon Go is the way to do it. We've seen groups of people walking around together, phones in hand, laughing as they search for new monsters to catch.
How long will it last? Who knows. The well known analyst Michael Pachter from Wedbush Securities has said it'll fade in four months, and that might be true. Right now the game is fairly simplistic and might get repetitive after a while. Niantic Labs has promised more content and features, so we're expecting it to have legs, even if it doesn't remain wildly popular as it is today. For now, let's just enjoy our time with the game and each other, without worrying about the future. Just be careful of who you trust and where you go.