If you haven't already, you'll soon start to see people more glued to their phones than usual, perhaps taking bizarre, nonsensical routes down the streets, flicking their screens rapidly in a car park, or gathering around police stations, all the while endlessly muttering "gotta catch 'em all." Pokémon Go, the new, extremely popular augmented reality game by Niantic Labs, is set for release in more countries in the very near future, right after the company has fixed its exploding servers.
Given the game's immense popularity, competition to become the greatest Pokémon Master of all time—like no one ever was—has never been tougher, and there are some key things you should know before setting off on your journey.
Getting the App
The first challenge many players face—including those in the UK and Europe—is that the game is not yet available in their country. However, for Android users this is easily sidestepped by simply downloading a mirrored copy of the APK and running it (at your own risk). This workaround has been widely distributed; even the Guardian has produced a helpful step-by-step. For iPhone users it's just as easy: The game can be acquired by signing out of your Apple ID and changing region settings to US, granting you access to the US App Store.
Once your device is equipped with the required virtual animal kidnapping software, it's a simple matter to set up a profile and run through the game's very brief and somewhat lacking tutorial. Warning: As this game has already been released in other countries and has a staggering number of downloads, your desired username is probably not available and therefore you will have to settle for something disagreeably unaesthetic.
Catching 'Em All
Now you'll start to see little blue boxes scattered around the world. These are called pokéstops, and if you approach them and waggle your fingers on your screen in the right way, they will spew out items that assist in catching and healing pokémon. If a pokéstop happens to be somewhere you shouldn't be and a security guard walks out and confronts you (in the real world—look up from your phone to check), just let them know that you're trying to acquire some extra poké balls. When thrown, these open up and incarcerate the wild creatures, ready for battle against other people's creatures. This capturing-and-battling process is the crux of your in-game progression.
The general consensus seems to be that battles can be won by effectively mashing your screen as fast as possible
In order to advance quickly, it's important to know a few essentials about locations and items. Firstly, if you see rustling grass on the map, this indicates an area in which a wild pokémon has a higher chance of being encountered. If there are pokémon nearby, the wise hunter knows to consult the graphic at the bottom-right of the screen. This shows which types of pokémon are in the vicinity, and roughly how far away they are from your current location. Expand this graphic and analyse the footprint icons: If there are three of them, it means the pokémon is a fair distance from you. Two, you're getting warmer. One, prepare your poké balls. Zero footprints means that your prey is most definitely within capturing distance and at this point you can feel like a real apex predator by imprisoning it within your solitary confinement sphere.
Most pokémon can be caught with a single poké ball (just chuck it at its face with some degree of accuracy) but if you're lucky enough to stumble upon a rarer or more evolved pokémon, it may take several poké balls to take it down.
If you want to track down specific pokémon, a general rule of thumb is to remember that pokémon are element-based, and they tend to spawn near corresponding real-world elements, like lakes, grass, atop volcanoes, or inside the MI5 building. Different pokémon also appear at different times of day, so venture out around midnight with some snacks if you want to catch a Haunter or a Golbat.
For speeding things up it's recommended to use an item called an incense pot. When tossed on the ground, it will temporarily shroud you in an alluring cloud of fragrance, producing a scent that pokémon apparently can't resist.
One similar essential item is a lure module, which, when activated at any pokéstop, will attract a whole variety of pokémon to that location for all players to access for 30 minutes. Let's say you're the owner of a coffee joint or a shopping mall and you want to attract more customers. The Pokémon Lure Module can just as easily be thought of as an Actual Real World Human Lure Module—if your establishment is filled with an army of virtual creatures all day long, the evidence suggests people will flock to you in order to catch them, in the process perhaps also purchasing your goods. Everybody wins. Most of the time.
Once you reach level 5, you can gain access to pokémon gyms, which are sort of virtual arenas of unceasing slaughter and perpetual war. These giant hubs allow you to crush pokémon from competing teams and take over their turf, in doing so creating a steady stream of pokécoins that can be used to purchase more goodies—goodies that can then be used to assist in the further crushing of more players. The general consensus seems to be that battles can be won by effectively mashing your screen as fast as possible and disregarding the dodging of incoming attacks. See this detailed and useful guide by Reddit user PowerFang for more on gym battles and making your pokémon battle-ready.
A true master of virtual creature warfare, PowerFang explains that gym control works on a prestige basis: the more prestige a gym has, the higher its level, and the more pokémon that can be stationed there to defend it. If you annihilate the pokémon in an enemy gym, its prestige lowers, and if it lowers enough you can take it over for your team. Increasing the prestige of a friendly gym involves going full Fight Club and basically having your pokémon punch each other over and over again until the gym levels up, which will then make it much harder for other players to take it over.
Unless of course those players are blatant cheaters…
Powerful gyms are all well and good except it's likely that, if you live in a relatively populated area, they've already been taken over by early adopters, or by players from another location using a particularly effective trick: GPS spoofing, which is a very simple method of feeding false coordinates to your phone's GPS, making you appear to be somewhere you're not. In being able to teleport anywhere in the world, it is possible to very quickly acquire excellent gear and level up extremely fast, eviscerating all in your path with, say, a Snorlax army trained so heavily that they spit liquid hell juice on anything that dares confront them. Is your local train station defended by these impossibly tough pokémon even though the game was just released in your country? That's the result of GPS spoofers zipping across the globe and wrecking your low-level area for their own profit and general amusement.
Generally, faking your phone's location is relatively simple. It's usually a case of downloading one of many "fake GPS" apps and enabling mock location settings. This option can be found in Developer Options on Android devices.
Tricking Pokémon Go is mildly more technical, but still not much of a challenge. Because the game can detect basic GPS spoofing and does not work properly if it's enabled, players have had to use custom modules that mock the mock location settings so that apps can't detect whether or not they're being used. Put simply, it's about gaining root access (i.e. privileged control) to your device, thus granting you the freedom to set yourself up with a variety of tinkering tools that allow you to modify useful areas of your device that would otherwise be restricted. In this case, mocking the mocking settings must be done without interfering with APKs at all, avoiding detection from Pokémon Go. This module, under the Xposed framework, is said to do the trick and has around 114,000 total downloads—21,000 in the last 24 hours.
However, this is a very unwise thing to do if you want to keep your account. "Using tools or techniques to alter or falsify your location" is defined as cheating under the Pokémon Go trainer guidelines, so in doing so you could face the wrath of the Niantic banhammer. Also, if you're not at all familiar with jailbreaking and the like, you may accidentally wreck your phone trying to configure these settings.
If careful resource planning and strategic poké-warfare isn't your thing and you wish to advance at a staggering rate with no effort or risk whatsoever, you can of course use the greatest cheat of all: in-app purchases. Virtual currency packs exist and range from about $1 to $99. These packs come in the form of the game's main currency, pokécoins, which allow you to purchase nearly all of the most useful items, including Lure Modules and poké balls, meaning you will no longer have to walk around for hours looking for certain item drops.
Freemium games are often cynical pieces of work and we must deduct Pokémon Go some points for that, but thankfully it does seem that all of the game's features can be fully enjoyed without the need for spending real money, at least at this stage.
Taking all of this into account, it appears that it's not easy to become the world's greatest Pokémon Master unless you use shenanigans of some form to reach the top. That being said, even if the entire in-game world is monopolised by a single super-team of spoofers who have spent thousands on virtual currency, you can still go about your personal quest of catching every single pokémon, which is most definitely what it's all about. Just try not to fry your phone by walking directly into a lake to catch that Magikarp.