This month marks the 20th year anniversary of the franchise, with the first two games, “Pokémon: Red and Green” released in Japan on February 29, 1996. The games would be released as “Red and Blue” in America. Nintendo celebrated the occasion with an ad that premiered at the Super Bowl last week. Many people walk around on Sonoma State University’s very own campus sporting Pokémon clothing.
“Pokémon” is a multimedia franchise that started out as a video game, but has spread out to a 909 episodes and counting anime series with two different spin offs, 19 movies, six of which has gotten theatrical release in the United States, and a card game. The first set of games featured 150 Pokémon but that number has ballooned to 721.
“Pokémon Red and Blue” is a role playing game (RPG) that allows the player to explore the world and capture and train Pokémon. Pokémon are creatures of various species with different powers. The name is a combination of the words pocket monsters. The object of the game to catch and train as many Pokémon as the player can. Then the players battles other Pokémon trainers. The goal, outside of catching each type of Pokémon, is to find all eight Gym Leaders and beat them, which would then let the play challenge the Elite Four, a group insanely powerful trainers, in a row in order to become a Pokémon master.
The part of the game that drew in fans was the freedom. If one prefers cool looking dragons, there are several Pokémon for that. If one likes cute looking pets, there are Pokémon for that. The open-world, non linear game play helped to foster a feeling of exploring this huge world. The player needed to have some creative thinking and the time to explore every building or cave if they wanted to find certain types of Pokémon. The late nineties were also the dawn of the internet. Many a fan went online writing or looking for secrets of the Pokémon world. For many young people, this was the first time they really experienced this kind of thing.
The brilliant thing about “Pokémon” was the need to find other people. The thing with each main game, Nintendo releases two version of that game, “Red and Blue”, “Gold and Silver”, and etc., and each version would be the same basic game, but some Pokémon could only be found on one particular version.
This means that someone with Red version would have to find someone with Blue version and trade with them if they wanted to catch them all. This cemented a communal feeling among the fans. It was more than bonding over something you liked, and you needed friends with the second version of the game. Kind of like electronic baseball cards.
The show should also be mentioned. The “Pokémon” anime first aired April 1,1997 and has been regularly been producing new episodes. It broke into the mainstream like no other anime before or since.
The show follows young Pokémon trainer Ash and his Pikachu as they travel the Pokémon world and meet more Pokémon. It’s set up helped capture the exploring feeling that the games had. It also gave the show a sense of continuity that most kids shows didn’t really have at that time. When Ash caught a Pokémon, it would show up in a later episode. Ash would travel with a goal in mind, get all eight badges and get in the Pokémon league. Each episode brought him closer to that goal. It was neat to see a story progress.
The show helped move Pikachu into the spotlight, turning him into the mascot of the entire franchise. It helps that Pikachu’s design is cute, simple and surprisingly unique-looking. When you have a Macy’s Thanksgivings Day Parade balloon made after you, you’ve officially made it.