Concerning Pokémon, one can either be entirely cognizant of its games, anime, movies, trading cards, and all things Pokémon, or be completely perplexed by the current Pokémon frenzy that has seized the internet. Regardless of which category you belong to, take a seat, select your preferred beverage, and unwind because we are about to embark on a journey back in time to the genesis of Pokémon.
Pokémon is an abbreviation for “Pocket Monsters,” which is its original Japanese name. The Game Freak company, which was established by Satoshi Tajiri and Ken Sugimori, laid the groundwork for this franchise in a gaming magazine during the early 1980s in Japan. Tajiri was the writer while Sugimori was the illustrator. They soon recognized that the arcade game scene at the time was not lively, and hence, they resolved to develop games themselves. These games were published by Nintendo on the NES and Game Boy, including games for SEGA like Magical Tarurūto-kun on the Mega Drive, SEGA’s console. During its period as a developer, Game Freak even had its titles published by Sony back then.
When Tajiri and his team presented the idea of Pokémon to Nintendo, the publishers did not really comprehend it. Nevertheless, due to the success of Game Freak’s previous titles, Tajiri was given the benefit of the doubt, and he worked with Shigeru Miyamoto as a mentor to create Pocket Monsters: Red and Green. This game combined monster collecting and trading, and thus began a franchise that went on to become the second-largest gaming franchise ever, after Mario, which is also owned by Nintendo.
On 26 February 1996, the Pokémon franchise debuted in Japan in the form of both games on the Game Boy. At its core, Pocket Monsters: Red and Green was a very rudimentary Japanese role-playing game. You act as a Pokémon trainer, journeying the world, collecting the ubiquitous little monsters (which were inspired by Tajiri’s childhood interest in insect collecting), and training them in battles with other Pokémon.
Initially, you begin with one Pokémon, and one of the goals is to “catch them all.” However, to obtain all 151 Pokémon, you needed to trade with other players. Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green were different versions, and each had a few Pokémon unique to it. Players could use Nintendo’s Game Boy link cable to connect and trade Pokémon, as well as battle with each other.
The turn-based Pokémon battles were the other crucial aspect of the game. Playing The Final Fantasy Legend on the Game Boy had shown Tajiri that the system could accommodate more than just action games; it could also accommodate role-playing games. In Red and Green, you also journey to various Pokémon gyms, and battle their leaders to obtain badges. This process becomes more challenging as you progress. Eventually, you face off against the best Pokémon trainers in the land, and also defeat an evil mega-corporation. (Most Japanese role-playing games in the genre end up having the same basic plot.)
Red and Green went on to sell millions of copies.
The trading and collecting mentality to achieve “100% completion” is what made the games more social, as is evident in the current craze over Pokémon Go on iOS and Android. The philosophy of two games per release in the main series continues even today. Pokémon Sun and Moon will be released in November, adding yet some more to the current 721 total number of Pokémon.
Each release of the Pokémon franchise garnered millions of sales, with the 2002 release of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire for Game Boy Advance featuring the new innovation of double battles, emerging as the top-selling games for the system. Even years later, the fan-favorite games were remade in 2014 for the 3DS system. As is typical with popular franchises, game developers often update their games with better technology and visuals, which is why Nintendo has released multiple versions of their popular games across new consoles and handhelds, including Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen, remakes of the original games using a newer engine.
The fourth generation of Pokémon games arrived on Nintendo’s new handheld system, the DS, and included games such as Diamond and Pearl, which continued to add new Pokémon and mechanics while retaining the classic gameplay. The DS also saw the release of HeartGold and SoulSilver, an enhanced version of the Game Boy Color game Gold and Silver, using the Diamond and Pearl engine. The fifth generation of Pokémon games arrived in 2011 with the release of Pokémon Black and White, selling 2.6 million copies in just two days in Japan.
With the release of the Nintendo 3DS and the enhanced New Nintendo 3DS, the franchise entered a new era of technology and graphics. Pokémon X and Y were the first games to feature polygonal 3D graphics in the franchise and were the best-selling games on the Nintendo 3DS at that time. In 2014, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire were released, which were remakes of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire for the 3DS.
Aside from the games, the Pokémon franchise has expanded into a social and media phenomenon, with a hugely successful anime that has aired over 900 episodes and 18 movies. It has also influenced pop culture, with references appearing in TV shows and video games. Pokémon merchandise can be found worldwide, with theme parks, cafés, and exclusive stores dedicated to the brand. Although Nintendo has not had a large presence in India, the anime and movies have been shown on Cartoon Network since 2003.
This brings us to the events unfolding in the latter half of 2016. Niantic, the proficient developer of Ingress, in collaboration with The Pokémon Company, proffered Pokémon Go, an unparalleled augmented reality game for smartphones and tablets. Unless you have been living under a rock, you are undoubtedly aware that with Pokémon Go, you embark on a physical journey to catch virtual Pokémon.
The game harnesses your device’s GPS to pinpoint your physical location and that of various wild Pokémon in the virtual world, and when you are proximate to one, you may utilize your phone or tablet to scan the surroundings. The app superimposes the Pokémon onto your real-world view through your device’s camera, thereby presenting an augmented reality experience.
Pokémon Go has already garnered an impressive user base of over 30 million and has had a resounding impact on the gaming industry, Nintendo, and even politics. In a matter of weeks, it has been utilized in a political campaign by US presidential nominee, Donald Trump, with news reporters being interrupted by colleagues as they play the game. The game has even been used by criminals to orchestrate their heinous activities by exploiting the game’s location data.
Although Pokémon Go is not yet available in India, many enthusiasts have resorted to registering accounts from other regions to get their fix. After the release, Nintendo’s stock market valuation skyrocketed above even the likes of Sony, increasing by $9 billion in just five days.
The Pokémon franchise is a vital component of the gaming industry, particularly handheld gaming. As Japan, and the rest of the world, moves towards mobile gaming, the traditional handheld console market is waning. Nonetheless, Pokémon has consistently sold millions of copies, ensuring its dominance in the handheld gaming space, with Yo-Kai Watch posing the only real challenge within Japan.
With Pokémon Go taking the world by storm, the franchise may have finally settled into the mobile gaming space. Already, it has raked in a whopping $35 million in revenue, without launching in India and China, two of the most significant smartphone markets.
The history of Pokémon is an important lesson on many fronts, illustrating how a simple hobby for one person, when combined with the right artist and director, can evolve into a global phenomenon that shows no signs of waning. The parallel between people buying gaming consoles to play a single game series and people purchasing handheld systems to play Pokémon games is noteworthy.
Since the release of Pokémon Go, I have noticed a significant surge in game sales for Nintendo platforms across various online and local import stores. I can only imagine how immense the game’s popularity will grow once it is launched globally, and more individuals venture out to capture mythical pocket monsters. In conclusion, Pokémon is here to stay, so you might as well familiarize yourself with it and try to catch all of them.