If you’ve been trapped in a well for the last week, you might not have heard of Pokémon Go, the new augmented reality game for mobile devices from Niantic, Inc. If so, we’re very glad you made it out alive! Here’s what you missed: The latest entry in the long-running Pokémon game franchise adds a novel twist to the standard formula of an obsessed pokémon “trainer” character walking around the countryside collecting small, colorful creatures. This time, in order to play, you the player actually have to walk around the countryside.
If wandering around the great outdoors looking for small, colorful creatures through a handheld device sounds familiar, it’s because Pokémon Go is at heart the same as birding. Just like birding, you have to go to where the creatures are to spot them, and you may find yourself wandering well off the beaten path in an effort to cross a species off of your list. And just like birding, it’s not uncommon to run into other Pokémon Go players staring through their phones, looking to spot and photograph the same rare specimen as you.
Pokémon come in all shapes and colors. Some look like insects, others fish or rodents, and still others like . . . well, whatever this is. Of course, at Audubon we’re most interested in the ones that look like birds. It turns out that there are several. The most common pokémon in the game is probably Pidgey, a small brown bird with a cream-colored breast and wingtips and angular black markings around the eyes. If you feed it enough candy (don’t try this with real pigeons), Pidgey grows a red crest and “evolves” into Pidgeotto. Pidgeotto itself can be evolved into a larger, even more impressively plumaged form (note the larger, two-color crest and solid red tail). And it only gets better from there.
Collecting enough candy to evolve your pokémon may seem like a daunting task (on average it takes 50 pieces), but it’s really not that challenging. You can stock up by catching common varieties like Pidgey. It only took about an hour of casual strolling around the neighborhood to find enough to evolve my first pokémon—Pidgeys are everywhere in my neck of the woods. Here’s one in the beverage section of my local deli.
In fact, sometimes certain pokémon are so common that it’s annoying, especially when you’re after something specific. It’s like trying to pick a grackle out of a flock of starlings. So many Zubats!
Once you collect 10 flying specimens you can earn the title of "Bird Keeper." There are several other avian pokémon you can spot, catch, and evolve, like the flightless, two-headed Doduo, and the aggressive Spearow. Rarest of all are the three legendary birds: Zapdos, Moltres, and Articuno. No sightings of those have been reported yet, but hackers have discovered them buried in the game code so we know that they’re out there. Other avian pokémon exist, and to find them is left as an exercise to the reader (we don’t want to ruin the fun). The joy of discovery is a big part of what makes the game appealing. Niantic has included 150 varieties of pokémon in the game at launch, and are expected to add more.
If you’re interested in playing Pokémon Go, the good news is that it’s free to play and available for both Android and iOS devices. As of today, it’s only available in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany, but Niantic expects to release it in Canada, the rest of Europe, and Asia by the end of the week, with the rest of the world to soon follow. The user interface is sparse and the in-game tutorial is lacking, so you might want to find a guidebook online to help familiarize yourself with basic gameplay.
Here are some tips that you might find useful if you’re just starting out:
Catching different pokémon requires different ball-tossing strategies. The easiest ones to catch will simply sit on the ground in front of you, but some present a moving target and flying ones can be especially annoying. For those, use a high-arcing throw rather than tossing a ball directly at the creature. If you’re having trouble, tap the “AR” switch in the top-right corner of your screen. This will turn off augmented reality mode and the pokémon will stop moving so much.
Just like in real life, different pokémon have different habitats. Aquatic pokémon are more likely to be found in and around water. Grass-type pokémon are more often encountered in parkland, and so on. Pidgeys and Rattata (a rat-like creature) are by far the most common species in urban areas, except around dusk when Zubats seems to be everywhere.
Just because you have caught one specimen doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep catching more of the same species. Collecting them gives you candy and stardust, which as discussed before, are essential for raising and evolving strong, healthy pokémon. You can always swap in your excess pokémon to Professor Willow in exchange for extra candy.
To collect items from a Pokéstop, tap the location on your screen when you’re near it and then spin the disc with the photo of the landmark by swiping your finger across the phone screen.
The app is a battery hog, so if you’re planning on going out in the field for long it might be advisable to pack a portable charger. We like the Anker Powercore series.
If you reach level 5 in the game, you’ll be forced to join a color-coded “team” of your choice from either Mystic (blue), Instinct (yellow), or Valor (red). The game doesn’t change based on which team you pick, so pick the color or team name that you like the most.
It’s counterintuitive, but more than one player can collect the same pokémon. In other words, if you catch one, it doesn’t make that individual unavailable. If you locate a rare pokémon in the area, it’s considered good form to let any other players around you know so they have the chance to spot or capture it as well.
- You can even double-up on your pokémon and nature enjoyment by visiting Audubon centers and sanctuaries, many of which also happen to be Pokéstops. The Audubon Center at Mill Grove in Pennsylvania, the Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center in Texas, the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in Wisconsin, and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary (21 Pokéstops and five gyms!) in Florida are just a few options.