Pokémon: A Dominant Force Since Its Start

Pokemon illustration

Some of us already knew it was coming. For others, it was just here one day. The introduction of the Pokémon (stylized thay way to note the Japanese pronunciation) franchise to North America was swift and seamless. 

The first generation Game Boy games (well, most of them), the anime television series, and the collectible card game, published by Wizards of the Coast (known at the time for Magic: The Gathering), took the world by storm.

While Pokémon was immediately popular shortly following its release almost three years earlier in Japan and had already set sales records that topped just about every game released ever to that date, it was unusual for something of that nature to achieve such rampant popularity in just about every corner of the globe nearly overnight.

Packs of the trading card game were in high demand and had to be rationed off by retailers who were unable to maintain a steady supply. Stores with official supplies directly from Wizards of the Coast would sell at retail price but limit the number of packs a customer could purchase per day.

Your local comic or hobby shop might not have such a limitation, but was likely to gouge the price to several times that of retail per package. The merchandise was everywhere, and Pikachu, who served as a series mascot due to the role it played in the anime series, quickly became a household name that almost everyone was aware of for a time.

Where Did it Start and Just How Many Pokemon Games Are There?

The first Pokémon games were Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green for the Nintendo Game Boy, in 1996. This marked one of the first times that what was theoretically one game was broken up into two different versions. Of course, one of the allures of Pokémon that has been around since the beginning is the need to ‘catch ‘em all’, the ultimate goal that has permeated through all Pokémon games since.

 In order to do so, you would need to know someone that had whichever version of the game you did not, and trade with that person using the Game Boy link cable accessory, since not all the original 151 first-generation Pokémon would appear in either individual version of the game.

Following the success of the initial launch, a special limited edition of the first game, Pokémon Blue, which could only be obtained at official Pokémon Stores, was released. This version featured alternate graphics for each of the Pokémon that appeared in the game.

When the game came to America towards the end of 1998, the decision to pair the blue version rather than the green version with the red version was made, largely due to the fact that there was different artwork in the two versions, setting them further apart.

People probably like red and blue more in terms of general popularity, although green is the color that is exactly the opposite of red on the color wheel.

Since then, subsequent generations of games featuring the same model of usually two, sometimes more versions of that iteration of the game, have been released. The main series of Pokémon games in order of chronological release by generation are as follows, including the special director’s cut versions in each generation that were released a time after the initial titles.

Generation One: Pokémon Green, Pokémon Red, Pokémon Blue, Pokémon Yellow

Generation Two: Pokémon Gold, Pokémon Silver, Pokémon Crystal

Generation Three: Pokémon Ruby, Pokémon Sapphire, Pokémon Emerald

Generation Four: Pokémon Diamond, Pokémon Pearl, Pokémon Platinum

Generation Five: Pokémon Black, Pokémon White, Pokémon Black 2, Pokémon White 2

Generation Six: Pokémon X, Pokémon Y

Generation Seven: Pokémon Sun, Pokémon Moon, Pokémon Ultra Sun, Pokémon Ultra Moon

Generation Eight: Pokémon Sword, Pokémon Shield

This list does not include the various re-releases of each version for Virtual Consoles.

Pokémon games have also featured many remastered and updated versions over the years. The following is a list and which versions they correspond to:

Pokémon Red = Pokémon FireRed

Pokémon Green = Pokémon LeafGreen

Pokémon Yellow = Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee!

Pokémon Gold = Pokémon HeartGold

Pokémon Silver = Pokémon SoulSilver

Pokémon Ruby = Pokémon Omega Ruby

Pokémon Sapphire = Pokémon Alpha Sapphire

There are also many spin-off games. A rough count of the spin-off games alone includes more than sixty. Of course, it is hard to determine in some cases exactly which spin-offs count as actual Pokémon games and which technically shouldn’t be included in the list.

The total tally at this point and coverage on non-standard platforms such as niche consoles and various types of PCs is ludicrous enough that we can fairly assume no one out there exists who has actually caught ‘em all (prove me wrong, I dare you!).

Pokemon illustration

How Has Pokemon Changed Over 25 Years of Main Series Releases?

Being a Pokémon Master was a tall order in the beginning. Since the count in subsequent generations has for the most part been a cumulative total rather than just the newly introduced Pokémon for that generation, the first generation involved actually catching the fewest number of Pokémon in order to have caught em’ all.

However, fiddling with the Game Boy link cable was a tedious and often frustrating ordeal. There have been various ways to transfer Pokémon you have collected from each generation to each following generation since the Gameboy Advance generation three games, and the generation one and two games.

An abridged breakdown: certain versions of the game either transfer to a more recent generation or directly to the Pokémon Bank service that is at the center of everything. Through that service, Pokémon can be transferred to a Nintendo 3DS Pokémon game, or to Pokémon Sword and Shield on the Switch.

Other games, such as the Virtual Console remakes of the Game Boy Pokémon games, Pokémon Go, and both Pokémon: Let’s Go titles have pipe ways in at some level of the service.

In recent times, all Pokémon games have featured some sort of online connectivity in which one can connect with, trade, and battle with other players from various parts of the world.

If you don’t want to start from an older generation and proverbially put your Pokémon through college to get them where they need to be in the year 2020, it is likely that you can catch ‘em all simply by using the online features found in Sword and Shield to organize trades with your friends or use the random wonder trade feature.

Screenshot from the Pokemon anime opening theme

Pokemon Has Transitioned From a Mere Franchise of Games into a Corporation. Is This a Bad Thing?

In the beginning, there was Nintendo, Game Freak, and Creatures which all played a role in the creation of and upkeep of the Pokémon brand. As the franchise and all its branching into various merchandising grew bigger over the course of the late 90s, a blanket organization was established in The Pokémon Company to oversee the making and license of the entire brand. Each of the original three holds shares in The Pokémon Company to this day.

Anything Pokémon-related goes through The Pokémon Company to get the licensing. For example, the popular mobile app and augmented reality game Pokémon Go is developed by San Francisco based software studio Niantic, but certain creative decisions must go through The Pokémon Company.

With the fanbase of the franchise possibly exceeding a billion people worldwide, fans are making their voices heard when there are grievances with Pokémon games. Pokémon Go is constantly the target of such grievances, as the fans who are passionate about the game feel Niantic often mismanages the game, is slow to provide updates, feedback, and features, and is just out of touch with its player base in general.

Recently, Pokémon Sword and Shield, the eighth generation Pokémon games on the Nintendo Switch, have also been the target of criticism due to the decision to cut many Pokémon from earlier generations, and create a special abridged Pokedex dubbed ‘The National Dex’ for this most recent generation of Pokémon Games.

This decision was reversed following backlash and the release of Sword and Shield with an announcement to include DLC that adds many of these monsters back into the game, though, at a price. 

The Pokémon Company pushes billions of dollars in sales every year. Between these two points of contention as well as others, The Pokémon franchise has frequently been criticized again and again in recent years. The popular opinion of the masses proposes that The Pokémon Company has gotten lazier over time, and no longer has the best interest of the fans in mind.

With the entire franchise operating under the shadow of a corporation that has the final say in any creative decision, it’s often hard to determine who to place the blame on. Is Niantic managing Pokémon Go poorly, or are they held back by The Pokémon Company and missing opportunities as a result?

Did the creative team behind Pokémon Sword and Shield make the decision to neuter the Pokedex into the National Dex, or were they pressured into a quicker development cycle to push more sales rather than create the optimal product? Was the promise of paid DLC planned from the start, and should fans be angry that what should be a baseline feature of the game is locked behind a paywall?

One thing’s for sure: Pokémon isn’t going anywhere. Even those who hate some of the decisions made regarding the direction of various aspects of the franchise in recent years continue to love and support Pokémon, and will probably do so till the bitter end, with many grievances.

(C) The Pokemon Company, (C) Nintendo
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