Red, Blue, Green, GO! A look at Pokémon Video Games from the last 20 years
Since its release on July 6, Pokémon GO has taken the mobile video game world by storm. The iOS and Android game developed by Niantic uses the player’s location and phone camera to create an augmented reality in which they catch Pokémon in their real-world environment. Pokémon GO has been praised for encouraging physical activity, and has created other, and possibly unexpected, positive side effects.
Players of all ages and walks of life have come together to play in local public areas, creating a strong sense of community. Neighborhoods have created events to bring players together such as picnics, pub crawls, and battles at Pokémon Gyms.
Businesses have taken advantage of the hype by offering players discounts or creating PokéStops at their location hoping to convert players to customers. Churches, libraries, restaurants, museums, and shops have all gotten in on the action.
There is no doubt that Pokémon GO is a cultural phenomenon, due in part to the nostalgia it brings to players. If you played Pokémon games as a child, being able to easily play on your phone at your favorite local bar is a dream come true. Though GO‘s popularity is more obvious, the Pokémon video game series has always been wildly successful, selling over 279 million units worldwide as of February 2016. Let’s look at some of the significant Pokémon video games developed over the years.
Originally released in Japan in 1996 as Pocket Monsters: Red & Green, the RPG (role-playing game) came to the United States two years later as Pokémon Red and Blue. Developed by Game Freak for Nintendo’s Game Boy, the game has the player navigating their character through the world of Kanto using an overhead perspective. The player must capture Pokémon in an attempt to complete the Pokédex of 151 creatures. The ultimate goal of the game is to use the Pokémon to defeat the eight Gym Leaders and Elite Four trainers, becoming the champion of the Pokémon League. The Red and Blue games used the Game Link Cable so players could battle and trade Pokémon between games.
Pokémon Red and Blue set the pace for the lucrative franchise, selling millions of copies worldwide. The games have appeared in top video game lists for years, and were featured in 2009’s Guinness Book of World Records for “Best selling RPG on the Game Boy” and “Best selling RPG of all time”. IGN’s former Executive Editor Craig Harris said of the games, “Even if you finish the quest, you still might not have all the Pokémon in the game. The challenge to catch ’em all is truly the game’s biggest draw.”
Released in 1999 in Japan and in 2000 in the US, Gold and Silver were the first Pokémon games created for the Game Boy Color. Beginning Generation II of the series, they expand on the storyline of Red and Blue and take place in Johto, west of the Kanto region. The gameplay is similar to that of Red and Blue, using top-down perspective and turn-based battle scenes. One hundred more species of Pokémon were added to the game, as well as a real-time internal clock and specialized Poké Balls. The color capabilities of the Game Boy Color were shown with the introduction of rare Shiny Pokémon. Like their predecessors, Gold and Silver were critically acclaimed and sold over 23 million units as of 2010.
Developed for the Nintendo 64 in 2000, Pokémon Puzzle League was one of the first Pokémon console games, and the first game of the series produced solely for North America. The puzzle game features Ash Ketchum and other characters from the Pokémon anime. The goal of Puzzle League is to clear blocks from the field by combining three or more before the block pile reaches the top of the screen. Pokémon Puzzle League also integrates 3D graphics in which the playfield is cylindrical. Though Pokémon console games are significantly less popular than the handheld games, Puzzle League received many positive reviews and ratings, and was called “highly addictive” by Electronic Gaming Monthly.
This Nintendo DS game was developed by HAL Laboratory and Creatures Inc. in 2006. In Ranger, the player controls a male or female trainer who is permanently accompanied by either a Minun or a Plusle, respectively. Taking place in the Fiore region, the game has players capturing Pokémon temporarily using the “capture styler” controlled by the DS’s stylus. Those Pokémon are used to complete puzzles and tasks throughout the game. This release was followed by prequel Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia in 2008, and sequel Pokémon Ranger: Guardian Signs in 2010, both also developed for the DS.
The first installments of Generation VI of the game series, X and Y again follow the journey of a Pokémon trainer. Created for the Nintendo 3DS in 2013, these were the first main series games to use fully 3D polygonal graphics. The game introduced three new Starter Pokémon (Chespin, Fennekin, and Froakie) and three Legendary Pokémon (Xerneas, Yveltal, and Zygarde). A new feature in X and Y is Mega Evolutions which allow fully evolved Pokémon to temporarily “mega evolve” using special items. The games also offer the Player Search System (PSS) which allows players to battle and trade with others over WiFi. This allowed for a social element that previous games did not possess. As of June 30, 2016, Pokémon X and Y have sold almost 15 million copies.
Twitch is a social video game streaming site, and in February 2014, Twitch played Pokémon. Developed by an anonymous programmer from Australia, Twitch Plays Pokémon (TPP) was the first Pokémon event to allow global interactivity. The crowdsourced game was controlled by users’ commands through the channel’s chat room, and it was as beautifully chaotic as it sounds. The stream began with Pokémon Red which was completed on March 1 after sixteen consecutive days of gameplay. The experiment saw a total of 55 million views, the highest simultaneous participation at 121,000 players. TPP received a huge viral following and sparked the interest and praise of media outlets. The channel went on to play 20 more Pokémon games, completing Pokémon Brown (a ROM hack of Red) on June 27, 2016, and will continue the event as long as there is interest.
Pokémon has come a long way since Pocket Monsters: Red & Green, continually adjusting to current trends and technology. I can’t wait to see what Pokémon has in store for the future!