Today, February 26, is a momentous day for fans of Pokémon. Twenty years ago to this day, the first Pokémon titles released on the Nintendo Game Boy as Pokémon Red and Green. I remember my early childhood, where my dad had the big, bulky Game Boy of old, and setting aside his Tetris cartridge and putting in my Pokémon Blue version, and hearing that opening theme for the first time. From that point on, I was hooked. Catching Pokémon, trading them with friends using the link cable, collecting all of those cards (though sadly, I never obtained the Base Set Charizard), and making friends because of those games; it’s safe to say at this point that the Pokémon series was a large part of my childhood.
Look how much the series has evolved since then. Earlier, on a Pokémon-centric Nintendo Direct, Nintendo showed us fans just how far the series had come: from 1996’s blocky sprites to the most recent three-dimensional Pokémon X and Y versions. The mechanics of the games have evolved with time: with the addition of new types, new strategic elements, and the Mega Evolution. The franchise has spawned its own anime series with over 800 episodes thus far, a myriad of spin-off titles that take place in various settings separate from the core series, a thriving trading card game, an ubiquitous amount of merchandise, and a voraciously competitive Pokémon community. It has since become one of the most renowned video gaming franchises in the world. Based on data obtained in March 2014 from a previous Pokémon week, according to Polygon:
- The Pokémon video game franchise has sold more than 260 million games worldwide
- The Pokémon trading card game has shipped more than 21.5 billion cards to 74 countries in 10 languages
- There are more than 800 episodes in the Pokémon animated series — it is now in its 17th season
- There have been 17 full-length Pokémon feature films
- The most recently-released Pokémon games, Pokémon X and Pokémon Y(which launched worldwide on Oct. 12, 2013) sold nearly 12 million copies globally in their first four months
Based on those figures, Pokémon is a cultural phenomenon. Its star mascot, Pikachu, has made its way into popular culture as a recognizable icon, with a similar level of recognition as Mario.
The level of excitement for Pokémon has not been this high for quite a while. The last titles to be released from the core series was November 2014, with the remake of Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. Pokémon spin-off titles have been releasing in the interim, with games like Pokken Tournament making an appearance at Japanese arcades, on the Nintendo Wii U, and even at fighting tournaments such as the Evolution Championship Series tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada, this July. Pikachu gets its own video game in the form of Detective Pikachu on the Nintendo 3DS, and the series decided to go mobile by partnering with Niantic to create a virtual reality Pokémon title that takes place in the real world: Pokémon GO. Nintendo has been rallying fans up in many ways, stating that 2016 will be the year for Pokémon fans. At Superbowl 50, Nintendo brought out an ad that urged fans to remember the franchise, and to be ready.
On the 20th anniversary, the seventh generation of titles was announced: Pokémon Sun and Moon versions, coming to the Nintendo 3DS in the holiday season. Fans collectively lost it. Personal opinion here: Pokémon X and Y were among the weakest of main series titles. With a focus on three-dimensional models for Pokémon in battle, the titles fell flat for many in several departments. Many speculated, that due to the legendary Pokémon Zygarde receiving so many different forms, that the third Kalos title, a rumored Pokémon Z, would be brought out as the next game. The anime even called its latest season Pokémon XY and Z. In a way, I personally am glad that Nintendo chose not to do a third game that polishes the mistakes of the first games. A seventh generation of Pokémon could be what Nintendo needs to revitalize the Nintendo 3DS; the company has reported that there would be a reduced sales expectation, slashing their overall sales by one million units. The series formula has gotten rather dry, and some of the new Pokémon felt uninspired, drab, and out of place in the universe. With the advent of downloadable content, it is always possible to revisit the Kalos region again. The advent of the seventh generation should, and must, bring everything together. It’s my hope that Nintendo creates a more engaging story line, to draw in its fans who have stuck with the franchise from the very beginning.
Nintendo and The Pokémon Company have quite a bright future ahead of them. With Pokkén Tournament coming very soon on March 18, Pokémon GO slowly making its way out for release, the re-release of Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow on the Nintendo 3DS, and Pokémon Sun and Moon this holiday season, the franchise is about to take off to unexplored heights. As a fan of Pokémon from the very beginning, it’s been a wonderful 20 years, and I look forward to seeing many more.