Though it’s reached a quarter-century, Pokémonis just as spry as it used to be.
I was struck recently by the harrowing realisation that, should I audition for next year’s X-Factor, I would be classified not as one of the Boys, but as a ghastly, washed-up Over-25. My early twenties have been spent half-heartedly resisting adulthood, reluctant to accept that the rest of my life will be spent writing cover letters and responding to emails. Come pandemic, and the monotony of a locked-down afternoon inspired me to fire up my old Nintendo DS, which was preloaded with the cartridge of Pokémon Pearl Version. The instant I was serenaded by the tinny blare of the title screen fanfare, I was 10 again.
This year, the Pokémon franchise has itself become an Over-25, but it has somehow managed to stay hip and down with the kids.
The intense nostalgia I experienced may literally be the Pokémon Company’s most valuable commodity; not only do legitimate copies of barely 10-year old games sell online for hundreds, but faithful remakes of previous releases are produced quite frequently. In fact, should I wish to re-experience one of the more comfortable journeys of my early adolescence, I can buy a copy of Pokémon Shining Pearl later this year.
Since the original 1996 games, Pokémon Red & Blue, were enhanced and remastered in 2004 as FireRed & LeafGreen, remakes have become eagerly anticipated additions to the series for nostalgia junkies like myself. The comforting familiarity of the traditional Pokémon experience is enough to keep many coming back, with a little tolerance afforded for minor gameplay innovations. The core series games may be completely formulaic as a consequence, but the franchise still knows how to capture an imagination.
The allure for younger generations, who have no longing for the good ol’ days, is still obvious. Very few children will turn their nose up at a game in which you discover all sorts of creatures, raise your personal favourites, trade with your friends, and, should it please you, blow up others with a “Fire Blast” or “Thunderbolt”. Exploring, collecting, and battling are the perfect foundations upon which all Pokémon games are built.
From this juvenile premise an extremely nuanced online competitive scene has developed. Obscure knowledge and absurd levels of dedication are required in order to make your assembled team strong enough to challenge others in a game that evokes the spirit of chess. A near-infinite combination of moves and strategies are available to you, as you try to anticipate what your opponent might do with their turn. It’s easy to see the attraction for all ages.
We’re now into the eighth “generation” of Pokémon, with the original cast of 151 monsters being joined over the last 25 years by 742 others, each someone’s favourite. The main series of games have spun-off an animated TV series enduring almost the entire length of the franchise, several movies (including a live-action blockbuster), a hugely popular trading card game, and an app that convinced everyone to go outside for a few weeks. Billions will have encountered Pokémon in some capacity, and every person will have a different experience to associate with the franchise. For some, it’s an excuse to hang out with friends or a welcome distraction at the end of a long day. For some, it’s just a way to cling pathetically to your childhood for a few more hours in the face of other responsibilities. Others genuinely want to be the very best, like no-one ever was. The Pokémon franchise is rare in that it can truly be said to have something for everyone, and I’m sure it’ll be with us for another 25 years.