Hap-happy Throwback Thursday, Retronauts! Today is a very special edition that is near and dear to my heart. This week we’re celebrating 20 years since the debut of Pokémon! Those cute, cuddly, and sometimes scary pocket monsters who swept the world by storm in the mid 90’s and continues to do so today. For this Throwback Thursday and as fans of the Pokémon legacy, we’re going to delve in to our first encounters with the phenomenon which range from generation to generation.
In 1999, I was 9 years old, and living in a time where technology didn’t have the grasp that it has on us now. Sure, we had our Nintendo’s and our Walkmans, but we still fancied YoYo’s, Water Guns and a good game of Manhunt. At this age, I received my coveted yellow Gameboy Color (which I still have to this day!), and spent many hours on it playing Donkey Kong Country. Things were great. And then one day, I saw a friend of mine in the hallway outside our 5th grade homeroom before class started, playing her Gameboy as well. I sat next to her and asked what she was playing, and she said “Pokémon.”
I remember saying, “What? What is that?” And she shifted closer to me so I can see her dimmed Gameboy screen, and on the screen was this plump little mouse with a derpy face that went by the name “Pikachu.” Looking back now, she had just reached Viridian Forest. I watched her fire-lizard Charmander beat this thing down to a fraction of its health, and then chuck a ball at it. One shake, two, and then three. A triumphant little jingle that announced she had caught the Pikachu. I was so astounded. I was so focused. I had never seen anything like this before. I remember asking her, “So what do you do?” And she explained as only a 9 year old can, “You catch Pokémon and you battle with them.”
I was sold.
Now I don’t remember when or how I asked for a Pokémon game of my own, but I received the Red Version one day. I looked at it in awe — this giant red Dragon gracing the sticker on the front of the cartridge. I was so excited to play. And play I did. I put hours and hours in to this game. Playing at recess. Playing at my grandmother’s house. Playing in the car, hoping that a passing lamppost would briefly light my journey in Kanto. One gym leader down, then three, then the Elite Four. My trusty water-type Squirtle, who solidified my love for choosing water-starters for generations to come. Who couldn’t love this game? It was amazing!
I filled up my pokédex as much as I could. Not too many kids I knew were playing it, or at least knew what it was, so I had no one to really trade with to catch all 151. I gamesharked the remaining mons to fill my pokédex, with about 99 Master Balls, and even dealing with Missingno. But it never sucked the fun out of it for me.
Flash-forward, and I now discovered the anime on the WB Channel 11. I couldn’t believe that this game; this amazing, simple yet complex game, was on TV the whole time. Every day after school became a ritual — be home by 3/3:30 to catch each and every episode. The intro to the show alone was just too good (although I did get grief in school for sharing the same name as the main female antagonist, Jessie). I introduced my younger cousin to this phenomenon via the show, and although she liked it as a kid, she didn’t keep up with it like I did as we grew older.
The Pokéworld became my favorite one to live in. I went release day to see the first Pokémon movie, and when the Johto series came out (Gold/Silver/Crystal), I became an even bigger fan (it’s actually my favorite generation next to the original). Pokémon Snap, Pinball, Stadium and later Colosseum were also in heavy rotation between my Nintendo 64 and Gamecube. When Super Smash Bros. first debuted, Pikachu was always the main choice. By the time Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald came out, I was a little disheartened because I did not own a Gameboy Advance. However, with ever-growing computer technology, Virtual ROMS enabled me to play Ruby and Sapphire at home on my computer.
But I won’t pretend that I’ve been a true fan for 17 years.
I went through a long phase of “How many of these Pokémon are they going to release?” — “These designs are ridiculous!” The drive that I had to play my favorite franchise was deteriorating, and I ended up skipping over generation Diamond/Pearl/Platinum and Black(2)/White(2). The only thing I played during this time were the remakes HeartGold and SoulSilver, if only for their beautifully redone colorful world.
It wasn’t until 2013 .. 10 YEARS LATER, that I finally felt compelled to give Pokémon a shot again after watching the first trailers for Pokémon X&Y. I’m not sure if it was the nostalgia eating at me, or the admiration of new graphics, gameplay, and design, but I jumped back into the fray and became devoted once more. As an adult, I’m able to see the true intricacies of Pokémon — battling, leveling, breeding, movesets, IV’s, EV’s, a good offense and a great defense. It’s not just “spam an attack” anymore, like it felt with the original Red and Blue versions. When Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire came out, I was still absolutely impressed by how far the franchise had come in terms of style and grace. It’s currently in my 3DS as we speak.
Although Pokémon is obviously aimed toward children and young tweens, it seems to resonate more with adults these days. It’s what we grew up on — and as adults, we try to hold on to the things that made us happiest. So to Pokémon Masters, Trainers, Fanatics, and Professors … we hope you’ve enjoyed Pokémon these last 20 years as much as you possibly could!
When was your first introduction to the franchise? Leave a comment, and until next week, have a Happy Throwback Thursday!