20 years of Pokémon: Cards, cartridges and cartoons

I can still remember the first two Pokémon cards I ever owned: A Weedle and a “Gust of Wind” card. They were given to me by a classmate who had “like, 8 of those” and was surprised that I hadn’t discovered what would be the biggest gaming franchise I’d ever follow.

After that, Pokémon exploded into my life like no other hobby/obsession ever had. I spent all my pocket money on cards, wishing for a shiny Charizard every Saturday – one of my classmates had one, and he was almost beat up for it a few times. I collected over 500 cards in a few years and used to play in the tournaments held by Woolworths, and it wasn’t long before I discovered the cartoon version on Sky 1. I was absolutely obsessed with it all: the anime style of drawing; the silly, slap-stick humour and of course the idea of these pocket monsters co-living with humans. Pikachu was, and always will be, my favourite character. Cheeky, funny and unwaveringly loyal, Pikachu embodied many traits that I would aspire to have on my quest to be a Pokémon Master… Er, get a successful career and family life.

My first memory of the game would have been roughly 1998/1999 when my Uncle, Aunt and cousin came to stay for a weekend. “He’s absolutely OBSESSED with that Pokémon game!” My relatives cried, pointing at the boy staring at his little hand-held console. I already owned a Gameboy Classic by this point, but he had the colour version along with a copy of Pokémon Blue. Hearing the word “Pokémon” piqued my interest enough, and I asked him to show me what he was playing.

I still remember feeling absolutely wowed at the games. Pokémon games aren’t loved for their graphics or dynamic dialogue or combat options, but rather for their simplicity and commitment to the world created for the game. I watched him forge a path through the infamous Ice Cave, fight off what seemed like a zillion Zubats and catch a few Pokémon to show me how it’s done. He even let me have a shot, even if it was only for ten minutes. I watched him play the game all weekend long, my dad knowing fine well what was coming next: I wanted – needed – my own copy. It wasn’t long before my sister and I were bought a copy of Red and Blue respectively and the rest, they say, is history.

Pokémon remains the only game where my mum had to shout at me to “Put that down, it’s been hours!” to which I’d reply “It’s only been, like, 15 minutes!” In reality, it’d be more like 4 or 5 hours. But I wasn’t the only one obsessed with this new phenomenon; my sister and dad were equally intrigued. My dad used to game a bit when he was younger on the NES and SNES and he enjoyed the challenges of beating difficult challengers and training up Pokémon when I couldn’t be bothered, as well as enjoying the snazzy 8-bit soundtrack.

I always remember coming downstairs one Saturday morning to find my dad, Gameboy in hand, coffee in the other, with frustration written all over him. He had tactically saved just before battling Articuno, and had tried and subsequently failed to catch it. I loved that he took the game as seriously as I did and that he understood that I couldn’t just “Turn it off” in the middle of an Elite 4 battle.

After Red and Blue came Yellow, which will always be my favourite version. Besides having lovely colours and new graphic depictions of the Pokémon, it was more “true” to the show, which by this point I was trying to watch every hour of every day. Also, Pikachu following you around and smiling at you with love hearts all over the place was the best feeling in the world. Silver and Gold were our next editions, as well as a super cool Pokémon air hockey game my nanny gave us one year. I went to the Cinema to see both the Pokémon movies (and to receive a Mew card!) and bought the special editions on video, got myself the coolest cuddly Pikachu in the world and carried on trading and battling my sister and friends. My friends and I also tried (and failed) to play Pokémon Stadium and Snap on our friend’s big brothers’ N64, but he was having none of it.

Admittedly, I didn’t buy another Pokémon game until Pokémon X. I kept playing all my original games until eventually the Gold game was unable to store saves and I lost like thirty level 100 Pokémon. I re-watched all the old shows on Netflix and streamed the movies online. I even installed an emulator on my phone and laptop so that I could play Pokémon Crystal and all the other older versions. I bought my 3DS in April 2014 and got Pokémon X not long after. Pokémon X is so similar yet so different from the originals with aspects such as Mega Evolution, the wireless sharing and battle abilities of the Nintendo DS and all its modern tech, and the reoccurring theme of get Pokémon, get badges, get money. This helps in the seemingly never ending quest of trying to finally catch ‘em all.

Now that we’re in Pokémon’s 20th year, Nintendo are releasing a rare/ancient Pokémon every month as a thank you to the players. I had originally missed Mew, but managed to get myself a sweet Celebi. On Facebook, I am a member of the IGN UK “Duckhunt” group, a bunch of truly dedicated and friendly gamers from all over the UK, and some beyond. So kind, in fact, that a member of the group gave me a free Mew code. Waiting for Mew to download was surreal. For over 15 years, I had been yearning for a Mew of my own. I didn’t have the cheat software or tech to download or hack Mew from the original games and in both Gold/Silver and Blue/Red/Yellow. Mew was the only one I was missing. And now I finally had one. Even my dad was super excited, saying we’d been waiting a hundred years for a Mew.

My “Somewhat Vain” Mew…

And now I finally feel that my Pokémon journey is complete. It’s a game you can pick up at any time, during any stage of the game or even in your own life, and play till your heart’s content. I am planning on getting Sun when it is released, and will probably keep playing Pokémon long after they stop making them – though I’m not sure when the Pokémon train will come to an end.

Thank you, Nintendo, for 20 years of adventure, friendship and excellent battle music.






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