We Can’t Catch Them All

I remember the first time I came across Pokemon vividly. I was outside the school cafeteria bundled in a coat and mittens waiting for the teachers to finish counting heads to make sure none of us had fallen into the trash or soup pot or had been abducted in the two minutes and 100 feet since they had last counted us.

I was standing there in line and some kid in front of me pulled out this glittering masterpiece of modern art. It was, as I would later find out, a legendary and super-rare holographic Charizard card. The impression I got was that to be in possession of such a card was akin to carrying the nuclear code case, or a $1 million lottery ticket. I watched while kids resisted the urge to break the line and rush over to ogle the shining cardboard tucked neatly within a thick plastic protective case.

But the wonder of the card was superseded when I learned about the handheld video game that had inspired the cardboard version. The next few months were a blur of low-resolution gray-greenish and blackish pixels beating the tar out of each other with fireballs and lightning and other such Pokemon things. It was great. And then, it was over. I outgrew it. I was done.

This bout of nostalgia is born of the recent release of Pokemon X and Y for the GameBoy’s descendent, the Nintendo 3DS. The ad for the game got me wondering about what has transpired in the media and gaming empire that is Pokemon since the days when my thumbs were active in the attempted catch of ‘em all.

1996

After six years in development, the games we now know as Pokemon Red, Blue, and Green are released in Japan for the Nintendo GameBoy. Green was done away with for international purposes. The games’ creator, Shatoshi Tajiri, a former bug collector who had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, is worth approximately a shitload of money.

Pokemon Gold Released

FIGHT YOU COWARD! Although that Pidgeot looks pretty badass.

FIGHT YOU COWARD! Although that Pidgeot looks pretty badass.

The release was staggered between 1999 for Japan, late 2000 for North America and Australia, and April 2001 for Europe (losers).

This is where things went a little wild. There had been 151 original Pokemon. This edition added a solid 100 new ones to the world, which mean you had to spend about 66 percent more time wandering through the tall grass hoping to be mugged by a ruthless creature so you could justify your inhumanity.

There were also spinoffs for the N64, but you’ll recall, the early 2000s were looming and PS2 and the X-Box were about to make N64 a thing of the past.

2002

Pokemon Ruby, Sapphire, and remakes of the original Red and Green are released. These versions introduced — holy hell — 135 new Pokemon, bringing the total to 386. Don’t try and tell me there aren’t folks out there who could name them all. I can’t and I won’t. This game was panned for dropping some of the additions made to the PokeWorld in the ‘99 editions, but there were spinoffs aplenty for the DS and GameCube.

You can tell it’s an advanced platform by the advanced font.

You can tell it’s an advanced platform by the advanced font.

2006

Nintendo launches the Diamond and Pearl versions for the DS in Japan, with the US version arriving on stands in 2007. By now you should be picking up on a theme of expansion. 107 new Pokemon, bringing the total to 493. To me, this Tajiri fellow appears to wish he was a global poacher. But of course the versions sold and more spinoffs ensued.

2010

Black and White bring 156 new Pokemon, bringing the total to 649 GOD DAMN POKEMON.

This brings us to now, and that commercial I was talking about.

X/Y was released last weekend, to mostly positive reaction. The 69 new Pokemon now put us at a total of 718. The first Pokemon game on the 3DS, it sold more than 5.5 million first-day copies — a record for the 3DS platform.

Some kid is watching a classmate tapping away at the newest version, and he’s about to fall in love with that wonderful universe. And some day he’ll put the next handheld Nintendo system down. Will he feel the same mix of regret and relief that he stopped when he did?

photo credit: Mrs. Gemstone, Creative Commons/flickr