Over the past couple weeks, delving into the new installment of the Pokémon series, Pokémon White Version 2, has been as enjoyable as that first time I popped Pokémon Red Version into my shiny new Gameboy Colour on a fateful Christmas in 1999. As far as video games are concerned, Pokémon was my childhood, since I grew attached to Pokémon Red and the nascent anime series more than any other game on my PS1, or any other kid’s cartoon on TV at the time. Thus, looking at my old Pokémon Red Gameboy cartridge, my old Pokémon trading card binder, my VHS tape of Pokémon the First Movie, or my Pikachu plushie that I’ve stubbornly held onto into my adulthood hits me with a larger, healthier dose of nostalgia more than anything else I’ve kept over the years.
The significance of the thing in my life can’t be credited entirely to the thing itself, however. I soon learned that after I was spellbound by Pokémon, I Choose You! appearing on my television and acquiring the game a short time later, that I wasn’t the only one. About a day or two after the first episode of the anime came out, an acquaintance of mine at Primary School asked me the pivotal question: “Hey, you heard of Pokémon?” What seemed like overnight, to every kid, Pokémon was suddenly the shit, the dog’s bollocks, the best thing since sliced bread. My School’s designated “toy day”, a day where we were allowed to bring some toys from home to play with and goof off with them all day might as well have been “Pokémon Day”; All of the toys that my schoolmates brought were Gameboys with Pokémon games in them, link cables to digitally battle and trade, and Pokémon cards to likewise battle and trade in paper form. This was in a small middle-of-nowhere village in Southwestern England, mind you.
I later discovered that, by that point, Pokémon was a sublime worldwide phenomenon. Nintendo had a powerful triple-threat strategy of video games, a TV show, and trading card game that had 7-12’s and their parents by the balls for a peak of about three or four years. It was plastered everywhere and on everything, and the effects it had on pop culture, and my generation’s culture as a whole were palpable. To this day, those words from the original Pokémon theme song, “I wanna be the very best, like no one ever was,” still echo and resonate in the hearts of countless thousands. That’s a large part of my nostalgia, I was part of a pop-culture movement, and I got to share my unbridled excitement with other people because everyone loved it. I was the only one who loved Crash Bandicoot and Tomb Raider, but Pokémon was universal. Looking back, it was magic.
So where did the magic go?
The death of the slogan was the death of popular Pokémon.
In all honesty, the initial heyday of Pokémon was a fad. And as we all know, a fad lives fast and dies hard, a firework that fizzles as fast as it explodes. However, unlike most fads, Pokémon never died. In 2013, it is still the second most best-selling video game-based media franchise (behind Mario), and it is still loved and celebrated by a significant many. Of course, it is no longer the media juggernaut it once was. The unforgettable slogan, “Gotta catch ’em all” went defunct in 2003 around the release of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire for the Gameboy Advance because the ever increasing number of Pokémon was making it that much harder to actually catch them all, especially with some rare legendary Pokémon like Mew and Celebi that could not be caught through conventional gameplay. This occasion marked the public’s general weariness of the franchise, and though Ruby and Sapphire and every other Pokémon game that’s been released since continues to sell gangbusters, it’s no longer the mainstay of playgrounds the world over anymore.
The TV series has also suffered greatly. What was once the charming adventure of Ash Ketchum’s journey to become a Pokémon Master has become a stagnant, repetitive expedition with no end. Ash battles trainers and catches Pokémon, collects eight gym badges, enters the Pokémon League, loses, and then goes to another region and starts over again. Rinse and repeat. When it was originally airing, the show was a great supplement to the games that showed a more organic approach to Pokémon that the games and cards couldn’t capture, but now it is little more than a continuing advertisement to the games, which have managed to improve and diversify over the years while its soulless anime counterpart shambles along behind it, clinging to its coattails. The cards, similarly, have stagnated and lost their novelty. Needless to say I don’t affiliate myself with the TV show and the cards any longer.
The games have, admittedly stagnated in their own way too. Like the TV show, for example, each game is catching and battling Pokémon, collecting eight badges, defeating the villainous organization, challenging the Elite Four, rinsing and repeating. Then what keeps us coming back?
To put it simply, over the years they’ve just gotten better. Hindsight is 20/20 and looking back, Red and Blue were a balancing disaster. They are near and dear to me still, but as gaming experiences they have aged like milk, so to speak. Psychic types were ridiculously overpowered, there were obvious glitches (no obtrusive ones, thankfully, remember Missingno.?), and just general irritations like plodding through menus and caves, and having to save the game to access the PC storage box. The mechanics in general were underdeveloped, and later releases have improved and diversified Pokémon as a whole.
Another reason, for me personally, is that I’ve come to love and respect the new Pokémon that are introduced with each new generation. I’m always excited to see what kind of inventive designs and type combinations they’ll come up with next, and oftentimes they’ll end up as my partners in my new adventure. New mechanics, like passive abilities and new techniques, small as they may be in the grand scheme of things, only add to the depth and uniqueness of each individual Pokémon, and thus also to the depth of the game. It’s an experience that hasn’t been properly emulated anywhere else, and I always find myself coming back for more.
My continued relationship with Pokémon is not shared by as many others as when I was a kid. Many of those that loved Pokémon during its heyday and moved on after its fall from sensation often look at the new Pokémon with scorn. To them, the Bulbasaur and Charmander of those old days are sacred, and the Tepig and Oshawott of today are trampling on their sacred ground and have no right to exist. And to that end, it is proof to me that Pokémon isn’t cool anymore. I however, will not just respect its past, but its present and future as well, so long as it continues to engage me. It is because of that that I look forward to the new XY generation of Pokémon and the 3D time-devouring gameplay it will surely bring.
Good ol’ Nostalgia