A Brief (And Super Snarky) History of ‘Pokémon’ (VIDEO)

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chris-littlechild - August 1, 2016


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Like a lot of you Ego-dudes, I’m sure, I was born right at the ass-end of the 80s. I have no memories of that decade, but I assume I spent just about all of my year or so in it either screaming, shitting myself or screaming because I’d shat myself. Good times.

For all intents and purposes, then, this qualifies me as a Nineties Child (tm). You know what that means: buying candy that you didn’t have to sell your house to afford (why the crap is everything both smaller and much more expensive than it used to be?), huge chunky-ass Walkmans, learning computer skills on a PC the size of the average studio apartment, cereal and Saturday morning cartoons, and of course, Pokémon.

Pokémon hit my high school like a freaking ton of bricks. Nobody seemed to actually play the card game, other than a couple nerdly hardcore tables in the cafeteria at recess, but holy hell. The cards were so popular –if anyone happened to bring a cool-looking Japanese card into class, they were mobbed like that hero who smuggled a Playboy in that time—that they were swiftly banned, so that everyone kept their minds on their fractions and spellings and developing libidos and such.

Said ban, natch, only made the ‘mon more popular than the phenomenon they already were. Let’s take a closer ogle at what we were dealing with here.

Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green first hit Japan in 1996. This pair of Game Boy titles were simplistic RPGs, starring a nameless little dude with ants in his undercrackers, desperate to catch ‘em all. They were set in Kanto, a suspiciously Japantastic-looking region where Pokémon live. Some of these things just look like much more interesting versions of Earth wildlife as we know it, some look utterly batshit-bizarre, and one is a goddamn palm tree on legs. Thing is, though, you have to be assed about all of them. That’s the life of a Pokemon trainer.

The ‘mon are, essentially, your battle slaves. On your journey across the world, you’ll come across a series of eight gyms, headed up by a leader. Defeating a gym leader earns you a badge, and with all eight you can enter the hallowed halls of the Pokémon League. Becoming the league champion, and so the most powerful trainer in the damn land, is the goal of the game.  

Once you’ve done that, you can enter the cave where Mewtwo resides, and spend mothereffin’ hours trying to catch the damn thing, pounding up and B because your fifth grade buddy told you that totally worked. Mewtwo, twenty years later, you’re still an asshole. Master balls are for sissies.

Along the way, you’ll have to foil the dastardly and bastardly machinations of Team Rocket, who steal other peoples’ rattatas and such for their own gains. And that, in a nutshell, is 1998’s Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue.

Funny thing is, six generations of Pokemon titles later, that’s still pretty well the exact gist. From Red and Blue, through to Diamond and Pearl, X and Y and everything in between, very little has changed. The evil team who crop up throughout the game may be different, the region’s topography changed and new ‘mon introduced, but other than that… This is probably the most stubbornly unchanging series in gamedom.

Annual-instalment type titles, like Call of Duty and sports games, are right up there too, sure. But this is one big criticism the ballbusting blockbuster that is Pokémon always gets. The main series keeps up its simplistic water-beats-fire, fire-scorches-grass’s-‘nads RPG system, plotting and such time after time.

But that’s the main series. Outside of it, the ‘mon phenomenon has spawned all kinds of weirdness.  N64’s Pokémon Snap! saw you cruising along environments in an on-rails buggy thing, photographing the critters as you passed by. A lightgun game meets safari park sort of deal. Hey You, Pikachu used some wanktastic microphone thing to allow you to ‘talk’ to a virtual pet-type Pikachu. Which would then promptly ignore your ass because it couldn’t understand your exotic non-Japanese speech. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon has become a series all its own, a watered-down roguelike, and Pokémon Dash was a DS launch title, a racing game that involved stroking Pikachu’s huge gurning face on the bottom screen to run. Or something.

This isn’t to say that the main series hasn’t made any concessions to modern life. There have been a couple innovations sprinkled here and there, like Diamond and Pearl (2006) adding wi-fi battling and trading and X and Y dropping proper 3D battle models in 2013. Overall, though, it’s been one stubborn mamma-jamma over the years.

But hell, who am I to question? This is a goldmine if ever I’ve seen one, right here. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it (too much), and the popularity of the franchise doesn’t seem to be waning at all. It got a massive rocket up the butt, in fact, when Niantic's almighty Pokémon Go hit our cell phones. You’ve been hearing enough about that one lately, so I won’t go too far into it. Suffice to say that, twenty years on, those of us who have fond memories of Red and Blue are still thrilled when a Dratini pops up in our neighbourhood. That sure says a lot.   

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