On 20 Years of Pokemon and Catching ‘Em All

on March 30, 2016 11:52 AM

From the first time we chose our starter and ventured out from Pallet Town, Pokemon has led players through an epic journey to become a Pokemon Master and catch ’em all, and since then become one of Nintendo’s key franchises and one of the most popular (and recognizable) games series across the globe.

With Nintendo and The Pokemon Company celebrating the franchise’s 20th anniversary in its ongoing “Pokemon 20” events throughout the globe, several of the DualShockers shared their thoughts, memories, and more on the series as we look back on 20 years of catching ’em all:

Ryan Meitzler, Staff Writer:

As long as I can remember, my history of playing games is tied pretty much to Pokemon.

Even going back as far as my elementary and middle school days, I can’t really remember a day that didn’t go by at lunch, after school, or at home without my Game Boy and one of the Pokemon games ready to go at a moment’s notice. From my first trip outside Pallet Town in Pokemon Red, to spending hundreds upon hundreds of hours in Pokemon Silver, and to even venturing back into the series with Pokemon Pearl, I have to give Pokemon a pretty large amount of credit for helping to shape and identify not only the kinds of games I like to play and when, but for invigorating my interest in video games as a whole: even to this day.

As far as Pokemon relates to me today, I definitely fall into just the right age group that I feel the ongoing “Pokemon 20” celebrations are aiming toward, and even though I haven’t really touched any of the more recent entries in the series (the last that I really played to any large extent being Pokemon Pearl), the series’ 20th anniversary certainly kicked off far, far too many memories of the series that I grew up with and loved: across the games, the TV series, its movies, and everything else Pokemon.

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Where I grew up with watching the TV series on weekday mornings everyday and amassed a huge collection of the Pokemon trading cards (which I still have a massive binder filled with, to this day), it all comes back to my original copy of Pokemon Red on the Game Boy, and pretty much getting addicted from there. I got my copy as a birthday gift, and from what I can recall – I don’t think I ever stopped playing it with the first week that I had the game.

Of course, ultimately that ended with my first copy of Red getting stolen at school – possibly my worst elementary school memory yet. BUT, luckily I wound up getting Pokemon Red AND Blue during the following Easter, and from there it all escalated to me finally catching ’em all.

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I was no stranger to video games by the time I had delved deep into Pokemon Red and Blue – before my Game Boy I had an NES and SEGA Master System as my first consoles; titles like Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt were pretty much my introduction to video games. Yet, Pokemon is truly the first game that I can really say made me a quote unquote “gamer.” Even though nowadays Pokemon is considered more of a “beginner’s RPG” compared to more involved series like Final Fantasy or Dragon QuestPokemon for me went way beyond its cool creatures and memorable characters.

For me, Pokemon brought together addictive gameplay and its heavy social aspects that I didn’t see in a game before. I don’t think there was ever a time I didn’t have my Game Boy and link cable in my backpack in the event of an impending trade or battle that may be waiting at school or elsewhere (since my elementary school eventually banned all things Pokemon: go figure!).

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From there, my Pokemon craze expanded into several of the series’ spinoffs: I’d probably have a hard time figuring out how many hours I spent in several of my favorite titles from the N64, such as the first two Pokemon Stadium titles, Pokemon Puzzle League, or the entirely under appreciated Pokemon Snap (which I still hold out hope for in either a remake or a new entry in the series!). I can still remember waiting for quite some time at Toys ‘R Us to get my copy of Pokemon Stadium – even though (to me at that time) the wait seemed like it would last for hours, bringing it home that night, plugging in my copy of Pokemon Red, and seeing my Pokemon battle in 3D on the big screen (“big screen” = a chunky CRT TV) was something that could only be described by a 10-year-old Ryan as “glorious.”

Nowadays, my interest in the Pokemon series has waned, mostly due to time and the constant shuffle of new releases. Though I’ve had several of the more recent installments sitting in my 3DS case – SoulSilverBlackBlack 2, and Pokemon Y – they’ve all gone untouched. Unfortunately nowadays, most of my current backlog is already composed of several massive, big commitment RPGs like The Witcher series, Dragon Age, and others – part of it just may be maturity as well.

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Yet, “Pokemon 20” and its ongoing celebrations have certainly touched me in the way that I just can’t help but want to go back to where it all began. Even though my Game Boy and copies of RedBlueSilver, and the other classic Pokemon titles I’ve had are now long-gone, the fact that the series’ recent celebrations brought back so many memories and more only speaks to the bond that I have (and probably forever will have) with the series.

Going beyond just the usual trappings of nostalgia and looking at things with rose-tinted glasses, I can truly say that Pokemon – more than any other series that I can really give significant credit – is the series that brought me into the world of gaming. And now, having just this week purchased the 3DS eShop re-release of Pokemon Red, I’m excited more than ever to jump back in to that world once again and relive the journey.

Kenneth Richardson, Staff Writer:

How can I find the words to explain the impact the Pokemon series has had on me these last two decades? Looking back over the history of the series, there have seriously been more amazing moments than I could ever hope to recall at once. Spending an entire weekend tile by tile in that huge lake fishing for Feebas? I did that. Praying that one of your last few dozen great balls stuck to a legendary before your double A batteries went out? I did that too. It’s a series that represents so many firsts for me. My first genuine RPG, my first exposure to level grinding, a process that would consume so many thousands of hours of my life.

The initial shock of seeing how different the games were from the anime is especially memorable. In the show, Ash was always able to pull something out to turn the battle in his favor. Even on the rare occasions that he lost a battle, after a short regroup (and usually, the acquisition of some powerful pokemon) he was right back on his winning streak. In the game though, wins were not handed out quite so easily. The sprinklers weren’t going to go off and suddenly make Pikachu’s attacks effective against Onyx. For that you needed to level a Caterpie into a Butterfree and learn confusion. Or maybe you found some other way.

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The games hid huge, sprawling worlds, brimming with secrets to discover and challenges. They pulled you in in a way that is seen very rarely these days, thanks in part to the lack of the now omnipotent internet. I mean, I’m sure some households had  an early start with internet back when Pokemon Yellow was released, but my own was still many years from having internet easily accessible.

Then there was finally being able to battle another human trainer with the scarce and pricey link cables. Setting those matches up was such a big to do that you were satisfied whether you won or lost the match. Watching the videogame series grow has been an incredible experience in itself. If you didn’t start with Red or Blue, you may have missed the significance of full color when you played Pokemon Gold or the importance of those fancy animations in Ruby or what a step up the sprites were in Black. Imagine the shock of seeing actual 3D models in Pokemon X and Y and are those – could they really be – updated voices for the Pokemon cries?

I’m sure every longtime series fan has fond memories of viewing their first evolution, or beating the elite four for the first time and entering the hall of fame, or seeing that first egg hatch. I also remember the saddening realization that I wouldn’t be able to catch them all in any single version of the game I owned. Then again, Ash could never seem to catch them all either, so I made my peace.

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The games always added new features and kept rewarding longtime fans with bigger and better experiences. This is not a claim that many long-running series can make in this day and age. First we had the link cables for basic single battles, and later came 2-on-2 battles and then revolving stages. Today, at any time, I can jump into Pokemon X and boot up matches with players from all around the world in minutes. I wonder if my 10 year old self would have believed things would come this far.

I remember being cheated by Celadon City’s slot machines and how it prepared me to be ripped off by real life gambling. I remember thinking it was awesome to see a GameCube or a Wii in my character’s bedroom. Remember the old man that wanted you to print a picture of your Pokemon out on the GameBoy Printer? Remember not having the slightest clue what that was or where you could find it?

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Not everyone has the patience to make laps in the same tiny patch of grass repeatedly in hopes of a legendary Pokemon populating one of your random encounters, but Pokemon fans do. Speaking of random encounters, how many thousands of them must we have survived over the last 20 years? How skilled we became at avoiding the shifting gaze of the bug catcher trainer the tenth time we encountered him. Then there was that time you were stuck in the Cerulean City gym until your best friend from middle school told you how to get the secret machine part from the pool. And don’t forget that time you got lost in that dark cave because you didn’t know you needed Flash but got jumped enough times before you made it to the exit that you still wound up in the Pokemon Center.

Over these years Pokemon has grown into an absolute cultural phenomenon and having been able to witness it reach this point is simply amazing. It feels like it hasn’t become any less popular since I first laid eyes on it all those years ago. Being part of the Pokemon fandom all these years has granted us special access to so many memorable, almost personal moments. Think of how you felt when you finished Gold for the first time and unlocked a whole other region to play through. Man, that felt awesome. These days such rich post-game hardly even appears in games and when they do the inclusions are spoiled ages before the games actually launch thanks to leaks and the internet.

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All this time I’ve been talking about the games, but Pokemon impacted us through the ongoing anime and trading card game as well. The colorful Pokemon, exciting battles and Ash’s (then) compelling journey filled so many of my weekends. Later I would watch reruns before school and then after school. That Pokerap back when there were just 150 and you had a shot at memorizing it. Plus I’ve just been lavishing love onto the main handheld games, but of course Pokemon games permeate almost all of Nintendo’s consoles since the 64. I spent hundreds of hours in Pokemon Stadium, Pokemon Snap and the list goes on, down to the newest games in the series. Pokemon is my childhood, a part of me that even now, so many years later I still feel deeply and strongly connected to. The games are still awesome.

I was a fan then, I am a fan now and I will always be a fan. Oak taught me that there is a time and a place for everything. And this is the time and place for me to say Pokemon, I love you.

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