It’s really started to dawn on me this month – I’m getting old. So many beloved gaming franchises are celebrating big anniversaries and I can’t quite believe it. It was Mario’s 35th last year, this year it’s the turn of Zelda and Link, and Resident Evil and Pokemon turn 25 this year. It really is quite frightening.
Another reason as to why I’m feeling old, is that I turn 30 today. That’s right, I share a birthday with the Pokemon (Pocket Monsters) franchise, having been born five years before the first games in the series, Red and Green, hit Japanese shelves in 1996.
You heard that correctly, Green. Pokemon Blue was actually released as a “mail order” special edition in Japan a few years later. However, for western markets, Blastoise was adopted as the game’s mascot, and in 1998 (after a seemingly eternal wait of over two years) Pokemon Red and Blue hit stores in the west, but it took a further year for the game to come out in Europe. However, when these original games were remade for the Game Boy Advance in 2004, their origins were honoured and they were titled FireRed and LeafGreen.
Of course, the stroke of genius here by Nintendo was in the subtle differences between each version. Whether that was visually, or down to exclusive Pokemon featuring in each, it encouraged players to work together and completionists were compelled to buy both versions.
These games were the swansong for the original Game Boy, and turned out to be an absolute worldwide phenomenon. I remember us all constantly playing them in primary school on every break, I had asked for Pokemon Red for my birthday that year. We were completely captivated by the imagination and possibilities in the big wide world of Kanto, on the small screen. So much so that the school quickly moved to ban it, followed shortly by Pokemon trading cards due to them being such a distraction. A few kids getting ripped off for their best cards probably helped that along too.
I think it’s fair to say that these games were revolutionary, and the perfect blend of adventure, story, battling and exploration allowed pretty much anyone to dive in and play. After choosing your starter Pokemon from Professor Oak and heading out of Pallet Town, the game started to open up to reveal a vibrant world populated with all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures.
Of course, a key pillar of the gameplay was each Pokemon having a simple set of stats, along with a “type”, and associated moveset. The trick was learning how the types fared against each other, and thus being able to change tact mid-battle if necessary. These straightforward, but complex enough, strategic elements provided a real depth of variety for players, meaning each had their own individual experience of the games.
Before long you would need to store Pokemon in your PC as you filled your PokeDex, taking on gym leaders specialising in certain Pokemon types and racking up the hours in your quest to become the world’s number one Pokemon trainer. The games had an incredibly strong sense of progression, and through this helped the player to feel as if they had really achieved something through a significant time investment.
Of course, as enthralling as the single player adventure was, Pokemon was also about playing with friends. The revolutionary link cable meant that battling and trading Pokemon with your mates quickly became a reality. Everyone’s first aim was to find a friend with the opposite version, in order to complete their PokeDex. An example of one of Game Freak’s many master strokes was requiring some Pokemon to only evolve into their third forms when traded, which encouraged players to get together and help each other out.
There are so many legendary childhood memories I associate with these games. Whether it’s pulling off the infamous cloning technique to acquire the ultra rare Mew, surfing along the shores of Cinnabar Island to catch Lv100+ Pokemon and hoping not to encounter MissingNo., or just simply taking to my strongest six to battle the Elite Four, nothing quite captured my imagination at the time like Pokemon Red.
Of course, there were times (certainly during the dark days at the end of the GameCube era) where some predicted the franchise would fizzle out. However, today it remains a multibillion dollar success story, with Pokemon Go exposing the franchise to millions more would-be fans, along with the latest entries in the main series being released on the Nintendo Switch.
I could quite happily bang on about Pokemon Red and Green for several more pages. However, I’ll spare you that and leave you with some final thoughts. I can’t overstate how much I love the Pokemon franchise, and it’s because of these original games that I do. They hold countless precious childhood gaming memories for me, and captured my imagination like nothing else. Here’s to the next 25 years.
As always, let us know your Pokemon thoughts. The comments are down below.