In 1996, the Pokémon franchise exploded onto the scene and everyone was immediately obsessed. While kids battled it out in the playground with the Pokémon Trading Card Game (PTCG), Game Boy consoles were confiscated as students tried to “catch ‘em all” at the back of the classroom on the Pokémon Red and Blue video games. There simply was no denying it: Pokémania had officially taken over the world.
But what even is Pokémon? What are its origins and how is it still so successful almost 30 years later? To find out, we must take a trip across the ocean and back in time to Tokyo, Japan, to find a very young man called Satoshi Tajiri…
As a child, Tajiri loved nothing more than spending time in his garden and the local woods with his bug net, catching all types of insects and tadpoles. It was this childhood hobby that would inspire him to create a video game where collecting different creatures would be the main objective. Another avenue of inspiration came from the very popular Japanese TV show Ultraman, from which the concept of giant monsters that could be stored in small capsules and would fight each was taken.
With the help of another game designer, Ken Sugimori, Tajiri formed the then-small company called Game Freak and pitched the idea to gaming giant, Nintendo. The concept, however, was rejected on multiple occasions.
Enter Shigeru Miyamoto, legendary game developer who had past ties with Nintendo. Miyamoto tutored Tajiri on how to pitch Pokémon and finally, the gaming giant agreed to fund the project. After the funding was successfully acquired, Game Freak’s team grew, with Junichi Masuda coming on board to compose the games’ iconic music and sound effects.
Designer Sugimori was tasked with creating all 151 original Pokémon, which, as you can imagine, was no small feat. Initially, Tajiri and his team wanted to call the game Capsule Monsters but due to trademarking issues, the idea was scrapped and they instead opted for Pocket Monsters—which, of course, was abbreviated to Pokémon upon its international release.
Pokémon Red and Green were the first instalments in the franchise, but these groundbreaking games took Game Freak a whopping six years to complete and even almost caused the company to go bankrupt, leading to five employees having to quit due to financial problems.
Tajiri himself worked countlessly around the clock but, ultimately, his hard work paid off as Pokémon Red and Green were released on 27 February 1996 in Japan for the Nintendo Game Boy.
As you probably know, Pokémon gave players the opportunity to catch, train and trade 150 monsters in order to become a Pokémon master. To start with, the sales weren’t anything to write home about. But then players discovered a very rare, secret Pokémon called Mew, the fabled 151st Pokémon which could not be caught by normal means.
This led to popular Japanese magazine CoroCoro to host a competition where they would distribute Mew to just 20 players. Because of the character’s rarity, the competition received over 78,000 entries—which, in turn, caused the sales of Pokémon Red and Green to skyrocket.
A follow up game, Pokémon Blue, was released later in the same year and this secured Pokémon’s future, with a North American and Australian release of Pokémon Red and Blue in 1998 and a European release in 1999.
Competitive Pokémon is one of the most popular forms of playing the monster-catching game—from official video and card game events taking place on a small scale in local stores around the world to the huge annual Pokémon World Championships which brings together the best of the best in the industry to battle it out.
But where did this all start? Well, let me take you back to the beginning once again. Pokémon Red and Blue introduced us to the world of Pokémon and laid the foundation for the competitive scene. Here, Pokémon were given hidden points called Individual Values (IVs) and Effort Values (EVs) which determined whether your Pikachu would pull its weight or not.
IVs essentially determine the level of a Pokémon’s stats. The more IVs in a stat, the stronger it would be. EVs, on the other hand, grant Pokémon stat boosts upon levelling up. Depending on the types of Pokémon faced in battle, different stats would gain EVs. For example, defeating a Pokémon with a high ‘Special Defence’ stat would grant you one EV in the same category. By carefully raising their Pokémon, players could make them the strongest they could be.
Due to these attributes being hidden, and the first two games being ‘broken’ in many ways—not to mention the lack of connectivity—a competitive environment didn’t come together until the release of Pokémon Gold and Silver, but even then it was restricted to small local groups here and there.
Generation three, Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, is where the modern competitive scene was conceived. With the introduction of Natures and Abilities, Pokémon of the same species were now dramatically different to one another. Natures gave a stat an increase in power at the cost of a decrease in power in another stat, while Abilities gave ‘mons a passive effect to help them out in battle, from altering the weather to stopping certain status effects. Pokémon was now ready for its competitive video game debut.
It wasn’t until 2009, after the release of Pokémon Diamond, Pearl and Platinum and the introduction of online connectivity, that the first Pokémon World Championships were held. A card game competitive format had previously existed, but an official video game sphere helped increase competitive Pokémon’s scope and allow for new players to join in on the fun.
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Over the years, Pokémon has grown increasingly easier, with many new features making the series of video games feel like you’re on training wheels the whole time. However, thanks to one man and his comic way back in 2010, Pokémon got a whole lot harder for those willing to take up the challenge.
Enter the Pokémon Nuzlocke Challenge, an increased difficulty run of the games that gave a new lease of life to the beloved franchise. For those of you who don’t know what a Nuzlocke is, it’s a self-imposed set of rules that makes a Pokémon game harder. The core rules are as follows:
1. If a Pokémon faints, it is considered dead and must either be released or placed in a PC box for the remainder of the game.
2. You may only catch one Pokémon per area. If you fail to catch it or knock it out, then you must wait until the next area before attempting to catch a new Pokémon.
3. Finally, you must nickname each Pokémon you capture. This is to make you become more attached to the critter so when it inevitably gets knocked out, you feel as much emotional pain as possible. Ouch.
Since its conception, players have added their own rules—such as monotype Nuzlockes where you can only use one type of Pokémon, or ‘Shinylockes’ where the same Nuzlocke rules apply but you can only use shiny Pokémon (incredibly-elusive Pokémon that have a different colour palette and sparkle upon being encountered). They have also become a huge source of entertainment on streaming services such as Twitch and YouTube, with content creators such as Alpharad, Zwiggo and JaidenAnimations producing some of the most-watched Nuzlocke content in cyberspace today.
For those wanting to start their own Nuzlocke journey, all you need is your favourite Pokémon game and Nintendo console to play it on. Then you just have to mentally prepare yourself for the emotional damage this children’s game is about to put you through. Good luck.
Pokémon is known for many things, but its worst-kept secret are the elusive shiny Pokémon that can be found in the video games.
For those who haven’t encountered a shiny Pokémon before—I’m not blaming you if you haven’t—the odds of finding one are literally one in 4,096, and an astonishing one in 8,192 from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl and back. Shinies are Pokémon with a different colour palette than its normal version and they come with a short sparkle animation when they appear in battle. For example, Charizard is normally orange, whereas a shiny Charizard is black in colour.
Other than having a different shade and being extremely rare, they are identical to their regular coloured counterparts. However, their elusivity has caused many players to take shiny hunting very seriously. Much like with Nuzlockes, shiny hunters have taken to Twitch and YouTube to document their dazzling encounters and share the journey with their fans.
Shiny hunting has become so beloved that there is even a community-led event every year dedicated to finding as many shiny Pokémon as possible. Dubbed ‘Safari Week’, players are tasked with going to the safari zone—a special area where you can catch rare Pokémon—in either Pokémon FireRed, LeafGreen, Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, HeartGold, SoulSilver, Ruby, Sapphire, or Emerald and have one week to catch as many shiny Pokémon as possible.
The safari zone is chosen because Pokémon are much more likely to escape, meaning the capture of a shiny Pokémon found there is a huge achievement. Gamers post their results online and using a special scoring system, the player with the most points at the end of the week is crowned the ‘Safari Sleuth’.
Since 1996, Pokémon has been present in almost every form of media. From TV and video games to trading cards and cuddly toys, there is no denying that it’s one of the most influential and adored franchises in history.
Because of this, many enthusiasts have taken it upon themselves to create fan art, toys and even their own video games known as Pokémon ROM hacks based on the series. People have also mashed together Pokémon and other popular franchises such as Disney to create some awesome Pokémon fan art of Disney princesses as Pokémon Trainers and what kinds of Pokémon they would have.
Others have further created popular items from the series, such as a real-life functioning Pokédex. Heck, even the creators of hit mobile app Pokémon GO have masterfully crafted some found-footage horror shorts of Ultra Beasts (alien-like creatures that were heavily featured in Pokémon Sun and).
With the influence Pokémon continues to have on so many people around the world, there is no end to the creative ways fans celebrate and express their love for the 26-year-old phenomenon. And with the release of the newest entries, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet on the horizon, the beloved franchise shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.