Happy birthday, Pokémon

Timeless childhood favorite reaches major milestone

February 27 marked the 20th anniversary of a series held near and dear to many: Pokémon. Considering a majority of undergraduate college students are between the ages of 18 and 22, it’s safe to assume that many of us grew up with this series and its many adaptations; be it the video games, the trading card game, the television shows, the movies, or something else. Pokémon has become a major staple in the current industry while maintaining a permanent home in our nostalgia.

The original concept behind the Pokémon video game series was conceived by Satoshi Tajiri in 1990, around the same time as Nintendo’s release of the original Game Boy. The basis for this idea came from Tajiri’s childhood hobby of collecting insects. This hobby, combined with six years of work, morphed into Pocket Monsters: Red & Green, the first iteration of the main Pokémon video game series, which was released by Game Freak on February 27, 1996 in Japan.

Following the immediate success of the two video games, the series expanded into a franchise consisting of games, consoles, movies, television shows, trading cards, comic books, and more, having a significant impact on each area. Currently, nearly 30 video games have been released as part of the series and some 50 spin-off games have been produced.

Each game follows a generally consistent format for gameplay and mechanics with improvements made at each iteration. To begin the game, the player reaches the appropriate age of 10 years old to begin a Pokémon journey. They are gifted their first Pokémon from a professor, who also conveniently lives one town away from the player.

The player then travels through the fictional region with three goals in mind: battling other Pokémon and their trainers to strengthen their own Pokémon, documenting information about all species of Pokémon for the Professor, and capturing as many species of Pokémon as possible in hopes of becoming a “Pokémon Master.” Furthermore, the player encounters two more goals as the game progresses: defeating the hierarchical “Gym Leader” system in hopes of becoming the region’s Champion and single-handedly thwarting the evil plans of a criminal organization.

On the day before the Pokémon anniversary, Nintendo announced plans for Pokémon Moon and Pokémon Sun versions, which will serve as the fifteenth main-series video game release. Very little is known about the game so far, except for a redesign of the Pokémon Center and Pokémart interiors and the possibility of new Pokémon species. The game is currently scheduled for “late 2016.” Additionally, an entirely different, augmented reality game experience, Pokémon GO, is also under development and will be released to iOS and Android this year. This game is being developed jointly by Pokémon and Niantic, Inc., and is expected to be similar to Ingress.

In addition to the video game series, there are other components to the series. The Pokémon Trading Card Game was released in 1996 in Japan and in 1999 internationally, and quickly became one of the most played card games of all time. The Pokémon anime television series has been airing internationally for almost as long as the games have been in existence. Also, 19 Pokémon movies have been released with another to be released in the coming months.

In addition to the series’ popularity, some Pokémon have also become popular icons of their own. The most prominent example is the series’ mascot, Pikachu, an adorable, yellow “electric mouse” that grew to fame by being chosen as the first—and favorite—Pokémon of Ash Ketchum: the television series’ main character. With his loveable appearance and friendly personality on the television series, it is easy to see Pikachu’s appeal.

For the anniversary, Pokémon is holding a series of events, some of which are already underway. For each month, a distribution for Pokémon X, Y, Omega Ruby, and Alpha Sapphire versions are being distributed, some via Wi-Fi and some via wireless at Gamestop locations. Until tomorrow, March 24, Celebi is available for download over Wi-Fi from the Nintendo Network. Starting April 1, Jirachi will also be available for download over Wi-Fi. A full list of upcoming distributions can be found on the special anniversary website at

Overall, it’s safe to say Pokémon holds a near and dear spot in many of our hearts. The series has advanced and changed drastically over its 20-year tenure, and it will be interesting to see how the series evolves and adapts to the next few years. But, at the end of the day, we still want to be the very best, like no one ever was. Catching them is still our real test; training them is still our cause.