Who would have ever thought the simple childhood experience of catching bugs in rural Tokyo would spawn a worldwide phenomenon. Especially one with no signs of letting up even after two decades of existence. If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m talking about <em>Pokémon</em>, the lovable franchise built around children enslaving cute creatures in spherical prisons.</p>
In all seriousness, Feb. 27, 2016 marks Pokémon’s 20th anniversary, and Nintendo and the Pokémon Company have spared no expense in promoting this milestone. A special edition New 3DS, re-releasing the original versions of Red, Blue, and Yellow for 3DS, mythical Pokémon distribution events, a Super Bowl commercial, and tons of special merchandise are just a few of the things that are being done to celebrate Pokémon’s lasting impact on the video game industry and culture in general.
For those that question the impact of Pokémon, let me put on my Professor Pikachu glasses and I’ll educate you.
In the realm of video games, Pokémon took on the rather unfriendly genre of the role-playing game (RPG) and streamlined it for all ages. No longer did one need the encyclopaedic knowledge of the D&D rulebook or massive spreadsheets full of calculations to jump into an RPG. Pokémon did this through its main pillars of catch, train, and trade.
Unlike every other RPG at the time, the games didn’t focus on the story: it focused on your relationships with the pokémon you caught and trained throughout your rigorous journey and building relationships with others through trading and battling via a link cable. Although the graphics look primitive by today’s standards, the relationships people made with the original 151 pokémon stand to this day.
From the Squirtle I took all the way to the Elite Four to the overleveled Charizard we accidentally released to the wild to the mighty Gyarados we evolved from a pathetic Magikarp, these creatures were more than mere pixels — they were our companions, partners, and ultimately friends.
For many, Pokémon also served as their very first RPG. Although it might not perfectly represent the rest of its contemporaries, Pokémon served as a wonderful introduction to a genre focused on turn-based combat, maxing stats, and wandering massive overworlds. Honestly, my love for portable RPGs originates from the countless hours I spent playing every version of Pokémon on the Game Boy. Words cannot properly describe it, but there is something special about pulling out your handheld system and plugging away at a massive 40-60 hour experience, an hour or two at time.
Do you want to know the secret behind Pokémon’s longevity? Everything from the gameplay to the creature designs to its themes is timeless. People, no matter their age, gender, orientation, race, or any other classification system out there, will find something that relates to them in Pokémon.
You might scoff at how little the formula changes from game to game, roll your eyes over the endless stream of spinoffs, or get angry about Game Freak’s lack of creativity in new pokémon designs, but the fact remains that this franchise isn’t going to slow down. Because we all want to catch ‘em all.