How 'Pokémon Go' will work on your smartphone

Niantic and The Pokémon Company explain the basic gameplay.

At last, Niantic and The Pokémon Company are ready to talk about Pokémon Go. Until now we've seen and heard relatively little about the game, save for what was shown in its reveal trailer last September. But following a leaked video from SXSW, the pair have finally divulged how the app actually works. As you walk around with your smartphone, it'll occasionally vibrate to indicate that a Pokémon is nearby. Tapping the screen will throw a Poké Ball, which can be obtained along with other items at a "PokéStop." These stores will be based at "interesting places" including museums and monuments, encouraging exploration.

Some Pokémon will be limited to their natural habitats. So if you want a Squirtle or Poliwhirl, your best bet will be to head to a river or the ocean. As you play, your trainer will grow in rank, opening up access to new Pokemon and better probability Poké Balls at the PokéStop.

If you catch the same Pokémon multiple times, there's a chance that one of them will evolve. Furthermore, you can pick up a Pokémon Egg at your nearby PokéStop and hatch it by walking a set number of steps. These mechanics should ensure that your travels are always rewarded -- even if you hike up a mountain, only to find yet another Caterpie at the summit.

It's unclear at the moment if there will be a traditional battle system. Niantic is teasing a competitive element similar to Ingress, its previous location-based smartphone game. You can pick from one of three teams and then assign a specific Pokémon to a gym -- if it's empty, you'll capture it for your team and fortify its defences, otherwise you'll be challenging for superiority with one of your favorite monsters. "Using the Pokémon you've caught, engage in battle with the defending Pokémon at the Gym to claim control," The Pokémon Company explains.

If you want to play without peering at your phone all day long, Nintendo will sell you a Pokémon Go Plus. It's a small, teardrop-shaped device that attaches to your wrist and connects to your phone over Bluetooth. It will notify you of in-game events, such as new Pokémon sightings, using vibrations and an LED light. The button on top supports "simple actions," but it's not clear what those are beyond catching Pokémon.

Pokémon Go is still on track for a 2016 release, with an "early field test" scheduled for Japan soon. Alongside Pokémon Sun and Moon, there's a lot for fans to look forward to during the franchise's 20th birthday.