The Pokémon Phenomenon
I recently watched the original series of Pokémon on Netflix, as many episodes of the first series that Netflix had anyway. I thought when watching it that I would be fuelled simply by pure nostalgia especially hearing and seeing the opening credits once again. However, I was pleased to find that the show actually stood up quite well. Yes it is quite cheesy, yes there is massive exposition and obvious statements from the characters but this is a show for kids after all.
Physical and verbal humour in the show and the antics of hapless Team Rocket can still make me laugh as an adult. There are some episodes I watched that I don’t feel as if I remembered them but then again, there were some stand-out episodes that I instantly recognised while other episodes began to ring a bell after watching for a little while.
I can remember watching Pokémon in the mornings, it was the only real kids cartoon series with a continuous overall story that I watched. Eventually, a combination of growing up and timeslots moving meant that I stopped watching Pokémon although I still played the games for a long while afterwards.
Speaking of the games, a part of me was surprised to find that the original Red and Blue Gameboy games of Pokémon came before the TV series; I didn’t remember which one had come first when I was growing up. I imagine they always had a plan in mind for the game to become a TV series but that depended on the Gameboy games being a success which they were.
Pokémon Red and Blue introduced the world to 150 Pokémon (151 technically) and the rules of Pokémon such as Pokémon types and their strengths and weaknesses. Having a turn-based battle style and a levelling up system based upon the battles you win, Pokémon games took the style of a Final Fantasy game although I had never played a Final Fantasy game before playing Pokémon.
It was the perfect Gameboy game. Levelling up your Pokémon, making sure they reach a certain level, evolve or learn a certain move so that you can take on the next big challenge was one of the original grinds in gaming. At some times it was tedious to stay in one area and battle again and again to level up but overall, if you had a long journey ahead of you, the hours flew by as you trained your Pokémon up. There was a fair amount of puzzles in the game, nothing too taxing but enough to make young 6-10 year olds have to really think.
The original Gameboy didn’t have too much to show off graphics wise but at the time, seeing the Pokémon during the battle was an incredible sight. The games kept coming from there, from new games with new regions to games on the Nintendo 64. Each time, the graphics and animation got better and better to more closely matched what we watched on our TV screens.
As I finished watching the series, thought about the history of the games, I started to think about what the cynical grown-up version of me would think if Pokémon was new today. I would probably call it a soulless money grab had I not known the world of Pokémon myself.
When you think that the first game, backed by the TV series introduced 151 Pokémon, that’s already 151 toys that can be sold not to mention other accessories such as Pokéballs and action figures of Ash and company. This is especially prominent with the TV series saying for someone to become a Pokémon master, they ‘gotta catch them all’; what kid wouldn’t respond to that? Add to that, a world where the World Wide Web was in its infancy means that to learn about Pokémon moves, evolutions, where to find them, how to evolve them, you’d probably need to buy a magazine or two which I know I had.
The roster of Pokémon grew with each game meaning there were more and more Pokémon figures to buy, more games to buy. However, the games were always different, not just introducing new Pokémon but new stories, new mechanics; they weren’t simply created as a clone of the previous game with the Pokémon changed. Pokémon trading cards were also very popular. I remember having some and acquiring more but I never remembered actually trading them with anyone from school; overall it was something that passed me by.
Maybe it is my history and sense of nostalgia with Pokémon that I don’t want to see it as a money grab. Even if it were, what does it matter to me? At the time I was playing these games, I enjoyed every minute of it. I remember having Pokémon figures but didn’t demand to have every single one, just some of my favourites. On top of that, one of my all-time favourite memories as a child was receiving Pokémon Stadium on the N64.
Even as the uncontrollable excitement faded a bit, I was still playing Pokémon games on Gameboy, Gameboy Colour, Advance and Nintendo DS beyond the age of 18. Pokémon is still going strong today, 24 years after the original Red and Blue games came out. The announcement of new games and new Pokémon still brings excitement to kids and adults who grew up with Pokémon alike. The series continues on as well to keep up with the new rosters of Pokémon. Spin-off games like Detective Pikachu emerged and was even turned into a mainstream movie and while not considered a classic, wasn’t torn apart by critics like so many other video game movies are.
The formula which made the first Gameboy games so successful have been largely unchanged but a lot has been added to it over the years to improve it. The graphics have become better and better with the advancement of gaming technology but the original feel of the first games are still present. Pokémon has stood the test of time and it’s hard to see it ending anytime soon; it certainly won’t end due to a lack of interest.