October 1999 isn’t exactly a time that I can draw an infinite amount of memories and nostalgia from, mostly due to being as old as time itself (OK, 31. But I feel it alright!?). With that being said, it was around this time when my Mum walked me into Woolworths and let me buy ‘Pokémon Blue’ for my ‘Game Boy Pocket’.
From then on, I would classify myself as a Pokémon trainer. My first ever starter was ‘Bulbasaur’ and started a tradition of picking a grass type in every preceding generation. This wasn’t just a by-chance purchase where I liked the look of it, one of my childhood friends imported a copy of ‘Pokémon Red’ from America some months earlier (‘Murica got it in Sept 1998, who else remembers the blight of being a British gamer!?)
A Link Cable to the Past…
I checked it out when he got it and it blew my mind, I was new to turn-based RPGs at the time and was quite happy playing platforming titles. I agreed to get Pokémon Blue to help my bestie finish his Pokédex and because I was super hyped up. It feels like a past life looking back at these early memories of Pokémon, using link cables to trade Mons, buying a light up magnifier so I could level grind all night so I could battle my friends in school in the morning, pressing down and B because we all thought it would increase our catch rates. It was a magical time.
The marketing of ‘Pocket Monsters’ in the west was second to none. Not only was the hype real for the Game Boy games, the Anime had just started to air and the Trading Card Game landed. Game Freak, Nintendo, 4Kids and Wizards of the Coast were literally peddling Japanese endorphins to kids, It was glorious! Due to the anime distribution rights with Warner Bros, there was a weekly ‘Pokémon League’ down at the Warner Bros. store in Manchester that my Dad used to take me too. Some of the kids even had underground betting rings that used to see other kids lose their decks if they lost, imagine fight club but for 11/12 year olds.
As time moved on I completed my Pokédex, used my ‘Game Boy Printer‘ to print out my certificate and had a level 100 team. I had a full Base set collection with two powerful competitive decks for the TCG (Which at the time was broken as hell, Prof. Oak trainer card anyone?) and I wanted to know what was next. Luckily for myself and my group of friends, we all managed to convince our parents that the internet was awesome and we needed it. This was around the time Internet usage was free after 6pm and was otherwise chargeable by the hour, not including the 2 mins it took for a modem to dial up and connect. Even whilst writing I can recall the smell of my Dads solid wood ‘Bureau’ which was complemented by a hot aluminium, cream white piece of arse running ‘Windows 95’ (500MB Hard Drive if memory serves me right).
This was also around the time when ROMs started to come into pop culture, discovering all the Eastern exclusive SNES games we had missed out on (Mostly DragonBall titles, but I’ll save that for another article). ‘Pokémon Gold and Silver’ had just hit Japan, and I was gurning for something fresh within the franchise. The time between Eastern and Western releases used to be so great that people would upload 80/90% Fan translations of Gold and Silver, which were terrible but playable to a point. I remember playing through 4 gym badges worth of verbal diarrhoea on a keyboard and old CRT before coming to my senses and waiting for a western release.
Round Two, Johto!
In November 2001, My Mum and Dad took me to ‘Electronics Boutique’ in Blackpool to buy me Pokémon Gold (Side Note: Why am I suddenly remembering what everything smelled like!?). My journey to Johto was filled with more thrills than before, and was complemented nicely by the TCG Neo / Neo Destiny expansions covering the new Pokémon from Gold and Silver. What an amazing time to be alive and be at the age where a franchise could literally be your life.
I later dabbled in ‘Ruby / Sapphire’ and the ‘NDS’ ventures, more so ‘HeartGold and SoulSilver‘ for nostalgia. I didn’t truly get back into the fandom until the release of ‘Pokemon X and Y’ on the ‘3DS’, 3D Pokemon Sprites and a full game to enjoy them in? Sign me up! I once again completed my Pokédex, built a team and all the rest of it. I later auctioned and traded my Wizards of the Coast Pokémon Cards to start playing in the latest generation, which had changed a lot but was somehow familiar. Once again, I was hooked!
By the time the ‘Nintendo Switch’ Pokemon outing ‘Lets Go Pikachu and Eevee’ was announced, I was reviewing games on various platforms for Vodafone Global and myself under various monikers. I was invited as press to ‘Nintendo’s UKVS’ event in 2018 to preview Smash Bros. and other titles, little did I know that Pokémon was going to make an appearance! It turns out I was the first member of the UK Press to play the demo of Let’s Go, which is still a massive achievement in my writing career and a nod to my younger self (It is more or less a Pokémon Yellow remake afterall).
Although Let’s Go! Received bad press for its ‘Pokémon Go!’ catching mechanics and simplified gameplay, I found it to be a pleasant experience that will also get a new generation of fans along for the ride. Nothing wrong with that! Although I will admit, It was heartbreaking to swap Nintendo Switch consoles to find my save data wasn’t cloud saved. DAMN YOU SAVE EDITING SOFTWARE! DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!
I have currently lived in Pokémon Shield for the best part of 100 hours, and I can hand on heart say that I am thankful for the development team to not include the ‘National Dex’. Its complete overkill and the content in the titles is more than enough for players to be getting on with. Breeding is more streamlined, especially with the advent of candies, mints and a move tutor being available in every Pokémon Centre. It’s a much smoother ride and is a breath of fresh air for a first generation player such as myself.
The Dark Side of Fandom…
Much like my last article based on the Star Wars Fanbase, the Pokémon fanbase really lost it’s excrement on the lead up to the launch of the current generation. Im talking gamers literally threatening development staff with physical harm for missing out some Pokémon, when did the Pokémon community start allowing trash to be associated with it? I’m a member of various Facebook Pokémon groups for Sword and Shield / Pokémon GO!, and everyone is lovely and is more than happy to help out one another. It’s just one of the sweetest Fandoms i’ve had the pleasure of being a part of, then this? Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again!
Even the new Anime is taking risks by not sticking to one region whilst introducing elements from the next generation, I’ve been out of the TCG scene for some time but Tag Team cards look interesting the last time I checked. In my humble opinion, the Pokémon franchise has never been in better shape! Considering it’s the highest grossing Franchise / IP in the world… EVER!, I doubt nothing is going to stop Pokémon either.