News Article

Feature: A Brief History of Pokémon - Part One

Posted by Kai Jackson

Contracting Pokémania

In the mid-nineties, an epidemic spread across the world. First discovered in Japan, it soon spread across the pacific, consuming vast areas of America. We were powerless to stop it. No cure was to be found. Before long, it broke America's shores and hit Europe with similarly devastating effect. The worst affected were children, contracted through playground encounters commonly known as 'trading.' Symptoms included crazes, compulsive behaviour, fights breaking out between best friends (better known as 'battling'), and terrible fashion sense. This was Pokémania.

To find a cure to the virus – which rages to this day – we have to go back to where it all began. Not in the mid-nineties, but earlier still. To the late eighties, and an unassuming man in Japan known as Satoshi Tajiri. Satoshi had grown up in the country, spending his childhood chasing and collecting insects. He noticed that children in the bustling cities didn't have the same opportunity as he had, and began to formulate an idea for a game.

Taking inspiration from the then-brand-new Game Boy link cable (imagining insects travelling up and down the wire) and the Gashapon toy capsules as portable storage units, Tajiri came up with the idea of collectible, trade-able, evolvable, battling monsters. He presented his idea to Nintendo under the title Capsule Monsters.

Nintendo didn't like it, so Tajiri went back to the drawing board to revise his plans. Due to copyright issues, the name had to be changed – first to CapuMon and then the now-familiar Pocket Monsters. The concept was pitched again and, with the captured interest of Shigeru Miyamoto, was finally green-lit for development.

Development of the title took a demanding six years. Low budgets nearly resulted in the bankruptcy of Tajiri's company Game Freak, with several staff leaving and long, unpaid hours for those who remained. Game programmer Shegeki Morimoto added in the 151st Pokémon – the hyper-elusive Mew – and it was decided that this should be hidden and only available via a public event.

Pokémon Red and Green Versions were finally released to sale on February 27th, 1996. Initially sales were modest, but the discovery and highly exclusive distribution of Mew through CoroCoro magazine soon whipped buyers into a frenzy. With a highly competitive metagame and many elusive monsters to find, evolve and trade, Pokémon became a cultural phenomenon. A third edition was quickly made available – Pokémon Blue Version – featuring improved graphics, sounds and several bug fixes.

It wasn't long before the franchise expanded outside the games. The official Pokémon Trading Card Game came first in October of the same year. With the same compulsive collectability – unique artwork, ultra rare holofoil cards and special editions boosting desirability - and a highly competitive game, the TCG stormed in sales in the same way the games had. The epidemic had taken hold.

Several manga adaptations and inevitably a televised anime series followed, telling the story of a young trainer on his way to collecting the eight badges of the Kanto region, whilst evading the villainous (and often hopeless) Team Rocket. In a nod to Tajiri and Miyamoto, the hero was named Satoshi and his rival Shigeru. Satoshi's companion Pikachu was the true star of the show though, the enormous popularity of the Electric-type mouse Pokémon quickly placed him as the franchise mascot and most instantly recognisable character.

The localisation team originally pushed to have the designs changed – fearing that 'cute' creatures wouldn't go down well with Western audiences.

The craze did not go unnoticed by Nintendo of America, and the decision was made to bring Pokémon to the West. The localisation team originally pushed to have the designs changed – fearing that 'cute' creatures wouldn't go down well with Western audiences – but fortunately the suggestion was rejected and the original designs remained. The anime came first on the 7th September 1998, renaming the hero Ash Ketchum and rival Gary Oak. Sporting the slogan Gotta Catch 'Em All! and the signs of a collectable storm brewing, it sent fear into the hearts of parents' bank accounts across the nation.

The games themselves hit on the 30th September that year, by which time the epidemic was already taking hold. The Red and Blue versions received in America were a culmination of the Red, Green and Blue versions present in Japan, featuring Blue's improved features with the Pokémon distribution levels of Red and Green. The Trading Card Game soon followed in January 1999, published by hobby gaming veterans Wizards of the Coast. Local and national tournaments of both the games and the cards ensured that the juggernaut would not stop any time soon.

The franchise exploded – it was soon impossible to find anything that didn't feature the yellow mouse. Toys, t-shirts, bedspreads, socks, backpacks, fast food, stationary... nothing was spared. It became a global phenomenon that has rarely been matched before or since. Playgrounds rang with the sounds of acted-out battles and cards being traded, and rumours of how to catch Mew in-game.

Oddly, one of the most popular creatures was never intended at all. Glitch Pokémon Missingno became the games' anti-hero and an important cult character. This jumble of broken data would replicate hundreds of the sixth item in your bag, but produced all manner of bizarre side-effects when captured. Corrupted save files, transportation to broken areas commonly known as Glitch Cities and occasional game crashes and resets landed it a respected – if feared – place in the series history.

Meanwhile, back in Japan, the games received their first 3D adaptation: Pokémon Stadium on N64. The game only included 42 Pokémon, not the full roster of 151, and demand for a full version soon resulted in the announcement for a 64DD expansion. The 64DD was a commercial flop, so the project was canned and instead a standalone sequel was created as Pokémon Stadium 2. To confuse matters, Pokémon Stadium was never released outside Japan, and instead it was Stadium 2 that released globally under the name Pokémon Stadium.

The anime series hit controversy in both regions, with several episodes taken off-air. Most infamously, the episode Electric Soldier Porygon featured strobe-like flashing effects, resulting in several hundred Japanese children suffering seizures. It picked up the unfortunate record of “Most Photosensitive Epileptic Seizures Caused by a Television Show” in the Guinness Book of Records, and was later satirized in a scene on The Simpsons, and has never been officially re-broadcast anywhere in the world.

A fourth edition of the main series games was created – Pokémon Yellow Version – taking several cues from the anime. Here the player would begin with a Pikachu who would usually travel outside of its Pokéball and could be communicated with, expressing various emotions depending on the situation. Like the anime, Pikachu could not be evolved, and Team Rocket's Jesse and James would also make occasional appearances. Other than these (and an enhanced colour palette on Game Boy Color), the games were largely identical to the previous editions, setting the standard for 'enhanced editions' in the generations to follow.

The anime also received its first movie – descriptively titled Pokémon: The First Movie – in 1999, and would begin to bridge the gap towards a new generation of games. Second generation Pokémon Togepi had already played a prominent role in the series, and the legendary Ho-oh had even made a brief cameo in the very first episode, but the movie would finally introduce several more to eager fans and begin to tie up the first generation saga. With the promise of an epic duel between the two greatest legendaries, and an exclusive promotional Mew trading card to boot, Pokémon: The First Movie grossed $31 million in its opening weekend, for a short time holding the record for Highest Grossing Opening for an Animated Movie.

The time had come for a new generation of Pokémon to take centre stage. On November 21st 1999, the highly anticipated Pokémon Gold and Silver versions would be released to the public. With 100 new Pokémon and a whole new region to explore, it was time to start catching 'em all once again.

Stay tuned to Nintendo Life for part two of this brief history of Pokémon, coming soon.

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User Comments (67)

xDeltasLight

#3

xDeltasLight said:

Aww yeah good times. I remember I was in 4th grade when I saw my first episode of Pokemon. I was instantly hooked.

Pokefanmum82

#4

Pokefanmum82 said:

I remember seeing the first Pokemon movie in theatres with my little brother and trading through the game with my little brother. This was my first video game ever.

Squashie

#5

Squashie said:

A very interesting feature, all we need now Nintendo is the original games to come to 3DS Virtual Console...

GuardianKing

#6

GuardianKing said:

I remember being in 3rd grade, and seeing all the older kids with their Gameboy Advances and wondering what they were playing (since I was born when Gen 1 was released, I grew up with Gen 3 <3).

It only took me two months after receiving my GBASP to know all 386 Pokemon (at the time) and beat FireRed 5 times.

Since, I've beaten FireRed 57 times (because I was the only one at school who could fluently read English, so all the kids I grew up with in Quebec asked for my help), memorized all 649 Pokemon and own/played every single main series game along with most of the spinoff.

Hurray for Pokemania and addiction. :P

Chomposaur

#7

Chomposaur said:

damn for a micro second i thought the original Pokemon games was announced for the 3ds VC

bizcuthammer

#9

bizcuthammer said:

Pokemon is the sole reason i ever got a gameboy. And a gameboy advance. And a DS. Its also partially the reason i bought a 3DS, though mario 3d land, kid icarus and luigi's mansion 2 helped convince me when they were announced. I will always have to get nintendo handhelds, because nowhere else can i play pokemon, which is easily my favorite portable game series.

Oopsiwin

#10

Oopsiwin said:

I first saw a friend playing Pokemon blue on the school bus when I was in 4th grade and I'm still a fan to this day! It would be cool to see a home console adventure

Rensch

#11

Rensch said:

Pokemon is the most addictive game ever. I remember being in the final year of elementary school when it came out. Within months everyone was into it, to a point where it became scary. Kids started stealing trading cards from the younger kids, resulting in them being banned from the schoolyard. I never cared much for them and got tired of the cartoon quickly, but I remained a fan of the game. That is where the whole thing started and getting a copy of it was great. This was the closest thing to being a real trainer. Not only that, but it turned out to be very addictive and well thought out. The Gold and Silver versions were even better and have not been topped ever since (except the DS remakes). Never was I so stoked for a game as in the spring of 2001. Bought Gold as soon as possible. I hope I can finally say the new X and Y versions will be better than the Johto games this October. Still stoked like a kid for it.

DarkCoolEdge

#12

DarkCoolEdge said:

I put more than 100 hours into Blue. It was an awesome game but then Silver came my way...and it was even better! I played it more than 200 hours, making it one of my most played games (third to Diablo II and Dragon Quest IX).
I even played (and spend in) a lot the cards game for a year.
But then I tried Ruby and couldn't stand more than 30 minutes, the spell had worn off. I haven't bought another Pokemon game besides WiiWare's Rumble since. Can X or Y revert the situation? Only time can tell...

Luffymcduck

#13

Luffymcduck said:

Pokémon was the first RPG I ever played. When I first saw it I though it would be a real time figthting game but instead it was turnbased where you chose attack commands. "What's this? Why are they standing still and you have to choose attack commands?" Oh, boy great times. And I´m still playing Pokémon. Gonna be exciting October when I´m gonna catch them all in X & Y.

Xlll

#14

Xlll said:

Really interesting read! Only one thing though, I've been lead to believe that Dragon Quest 5 is what influenced pokemon, due to dq5 monster capturing mechanic. Wanna play some pkmn now haha

Geonjaha

#15

Geonjaha said:

A game that was ahead of its time. A series that remained ahead of its time for quite a while. Now however, while it refuses to go anywhere, it is falling behind. Unfortunately I feel there's not much spectacular in new Pokémon games nowadays that you cant find in other similar franchises that have learnt to evolve.

I'll still hold precious memories of those early games though - they were great.

@Xlll - Many people believe that Pokémon came up with the monster catching genre, but it was indeed started before it came about. Dragon Quest V is where the Dragon Quest series started its forays into the area, but it still wasn't the first to create such a game.

dknintendo

#16

dknintendo said:

one of the best franchises ever and that will never change
I think pokemon x an y will bring the hype back that the first generation had as it is in 3d

TwoSmoove

#17

TwoSmoove said:

@Rensch Yep, it still is the closest thing to being a trainer. If you don't have Black/White 2, I'd recommend giving those a try to tide you over for X and Y. They are the only games that top the gen 2 remakes in my opinion. There is a lot more to do, plus you can challenge the gym leaders and champs from every region (which was one of the best selling points to me). I do miss walking with my pokémon though.

Zodiak13

#18

Zodiak13 said:

I will be playing this for the 1st time (I own them all and just fire them up to make sure they work) when X/Y are released. Gonna play it with my son and hope to have a blast. Never looked fun to me when I was younger.

Randomname19

#21

Randomname19 said:

When I was a kid I loved the anime but i never cared for the games. Now I don't care even for the anime(altough I was shocked when I saw Pikachu used as a source of electricty and loved when he saved Samus from Ridley in Brawl)

pntjr

#22

pntjr said:

I never played or watched Po,emon as a kid, because my parents were strict on religion. Looking back on it now, I feel like I missed out on something amazing.

dew12333

#23

dew12333 said:

I remember the buzz that came out of Japan for this was incredible, the Internet has killed a lot of that now. I looked forward to something that I knew very little about, it's a shame you don't get that nowadays.

Cesco

#24

Cesco said:

I'm wondering if we'll ever see the original Pokemon blue and red on the 3DS Virtual Console ?

hendie001

#25

hendie001 said:

I have been a nintendo fan since i was 7 when i got my first nes but i still have never played pokemon. Don t even know where to start.

Grayjedi13

#26

Grayjedi13 said:

I don't think it's likely we'll see virtual console releases of Gen I or Gen II games, since some the main features, like trading and battling other players, wouldn't be easily included. Also gen I is quite unbalanced and has a TON of bugs. There really is a good reason why Gen III didn't let you import Pokemon from earlier games. I think it's much better to remember them through rose (or blue) tinted glasses.

Quite honestly the GBA and DS remakes are far better, although I know the GBA carts are getting a bit pricey and some people might not have a GBA or DS anymore to play them on (Side note: Never get rid of older gaming systems kids). I'd bet pretty good money that we'll see a new remake of Red/Green on the 3DS someday. Don't hold your breath for Ruby/Saphire though.

Captain_Balko

#28

Captain_Balko said:

This entire article is a total nostalgia blast. Ah, to be young and free, without a care in the world except for how long your batteries on your Gameboy would last and how you were going to finally defeat the Elite Four...

BakaKnight

#29

BakaKnight said:

Pokemon... bought red when it came out in Italy, I was in primary school back there and now I am in university waiting X & Y ^O^

I guess Pokemon was a constant in my growing up, funny how it always appear as a game I used to play with friends in every period of my life; that's just how amazing this serie is :)

xinoeph

#30

xinoeph said:

I seriously can't imagine my life without pokemon. I've been playing near constantly for 8 years now lol.. Its been a calming familiarity just to lose myself in my quests trying to catch them all. My family moved houses many many times in my childhood because of my dads job, and pokemon has been the one constant in my life. Unfamiliar hotels and long drives? Fine as long as i had my gameboy along with me :) Good times haha

Seriously there's a reason this became a huge phenomenon.. These games are like cr*ck for kids

GamerZack7

#31

GamerZack7 said:

This article fills me with a strong sense of Déjà Vu...anyway, nice, well-written article Kai! I enjoyed reading every bit of it! ;)

bassoongoon

#32

bassoongoon said:

Great article! So much nostalgia! When I think of my childhood, my thoughts always return to pokemon. My first game was Yellow. I later had Crystal. I have also played through Sapphire, Diamond, Black, Mystery Dungeon, Hey You Pikachu, Colosseum, Pokemon Channel, etc...

The only Pokemon game that I did not enjoy was Pokemon Black. I really disliked that game. I have loved all of the other games. I am really excited for X/Y.

I was a huge fan of Pokemon Stadium 1 & 2, I would love nothing more than to see an expansive Pokemon Stadium 3 title! Not another Colosseum (even though I loved the first colosseum) but a full fledged successor to Stadium 2! I have emulated both stadiums on my computer with friends, but it does not hold the same magic as playing the game in front of the TV. If they will not release a sequel they could at least put both Pokemon stadiums on VC (or if I had my way: a sequel AND both games on VC).

Does anybody else share my Stadium 3 sentiments?

Squid

#33

Squid said:

Aaah, this just makes me love Pokemon more than I already do. And I never knew that bit about Pokemon Stadium! I really like your articles, Kai, can't wait to see the rest.

Williaint

#36

Williaint said:

I wasn't going to be part of the "Poke-phenomenon". I Think my brother got Pokemon blue for his birthday, and I really enjoyed it, as well...
It's one of those RPGs that you Gotta Play again!

@younglink1990
Wow! What a ripoff!

xerox

#37

xerox said:

good times..back than i was in the 3t grade and played football(socer) and i remember a day when we had a game and a guest supporter come'd to me and he said : hey you if you let a goll in for our squad i have 3 pokemon cards in exchange and i was like: WHAT ! let me see them first hahah. besides yet im in the university and have made 2 clips about pokemon in my free time here are one that i just made before 1 2 days. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwzZPnXpILI besides great and a very emotional articel

DerpSandwich

#38

DerpSandwich said:

This is my childhood, right here. My entire middle school experience was completely dedicated to Pokemon.

Suicune

#39

Suicune said:

FireRed pissed me off as a kid, only Pokemon game i've played I haven't beaten.

Lobster

#40

Lobster said:

Oh, this article brought back so many memories! I was in fifth and sixth grade when Pokemania hit the US and all of this went down. You can see it in my yearbooks, which I still have somewhere. Fourth grade? Nothing. Fifth grade? Kids in Pokemon shirts. Sixth grade? There's a candid shot of me with a Pikachu toy on my shoulder! :D

I can't wait for the rest of the article, or articles if you are going to be doing them on gen at a time.

Arcamenel

#41

Arcamenel said:

This definitely takes me back. I got Red Version and my first Gameboy at 9 years old as a reward from my mom for getting a perfect report card. I didn't even realize it was as big as it was until I saw a lot of my friends playing the game literally weeks later. My mom got me and my siblings Blue version the following christmas and the rest is pretty much history. I'm 23 now and the Pokemon franchise is right up there with Harry Potter as one of the biggest parts of my childhood.

ParSnake

#42

ParSnake said:

Ahh... I wish I could've enjoyed the older games, but the first Pokemon game I bought was Black version!

BulbasaurusRex

#47

BulbasaurusRex said:

I actually have that edition (1999) of Guiness World Records.

Fun fact: In Red/Blue/Yellow, you can visit the Pewter Museum to find Space Shuttle Columbia...which in 2003 tragically broke apart on reentry. Oops! Unsurprisingly, it was not included in the FireRed/LeafGreen remakes when they were released in 2004.

mikeyman64

#48

mikeyman64 said:

I remember when my sister and I got Game Boy Pockets. I got Pokemon Blue and she got Donkey Kong Land. I thought Pokemon was horribly boring and traded her for DK. Early that next year (1999, I think), I was so jealous after watching her play Pokemon that I asked for Red version for my birthday. The rest is history. :)

The Christmas that Gold/Silver were released there were two identical presents under the tree both labeled "Ben or Bess." We opened them and picked our flavor. She decided on Gold so I took Silver. A lot of my pokemon memories are linked with time spent playing/trading my sister.

Zombie_Barioth

#49

Zombie_Barioth said:

This certainly brings back memories, especially all the hype and excitement when Gen II was first announced and the steady trickle of information afterwards. I was just about 6 years old when they came out and were my first Gameboy games. Its kinda funny (and scary) to think about how the series is almost as old as I am.

I still boot up one of the old games from the franchise's past from time to time, and sometimes I try my hardest to pretend its 1998 (or whenever) again too.:D

Royalblues

#50

Royalblues said:

The need to catch them all, as well as battle them with your friends before the lunch period ended to see who was the best there ever was in school made the Pokemon games legendary among video games.

Oscarsome

#52

Oscarsome said:

Ahh, so good old memories! Pokemon Red, I love you. glances at drawer where the game still remains

Also, I searched that seizure-enducing episode from the anime on YouTube and I can definitely see why it gave seizures to the poor Japanese kids.

dadajo

#55

dadajo said:

I remember me and my brother getting firered on gameboy advance for christmas. That was where it all started lol. I still love pokemon and buy each new game day one when they come out. (though my brother claims he has "outgrown" it, but that is his lost) Firered though was that game where you play it and you are so amazed by what the game offers. The moment I remember the most is finding Articuno at the bottom of the Sea Foams Islands and spending all night playing it trying to catch it. Also watched the oringal anime from our local libary having some vhses. I can't stand the new direction the anime has taken, but I recently watched the old ones again and I say it still holds up. Lastly (since this a long comment) anyone who wants to get into the series I suggest black2/white2, heartgold/soulsilver, or my favorite pokemon spinoff conquest (sorry snap. conquest is better)

JuanitoShet

#56

JuanitoShet said:

I'm pretty sure I'll ALWAYS be a Pokémon an. I've been so since as far as I can remember.

My first game was Yellow, I think, and I played it on my Kiwi Game Boy Color. A relative of mine had Red & Blue, so I got to play 'em all.

The first Two Generations will always be my favorites, 'cause they're the ones I've played the most, especially as a kid. Lots of fond memories that reallu touch home.

I love Pokémon. :)

KodaSmooss

#57

KodaSmooss said:

Very nice article! I still remember the old days when it was not known and I was already playing it. That was a kind of "dream come true" game. 151 monsters which can evolve, gain abilities... That is still awesome actually!

Gregor

#58

Gregor said:

@squashie What the hell is the point when they can put FireRed and LeafGreen on there instead. There is no point. So take off your hipster glasses please. Red and Blue are COMPLETLY obsolete to play, even for nostalgia purposes.

Benjamin

#59

Benjamin said:

@squashie If the original Red and Blue games were released on VC with local trading and battling via the 3DS IR, people would go bananas.

Benjamin

#60

Benjamin said:

@Fusion14 You're perfectly entitled to your opinion, even though you're wrong.

FireRed and LeafGreen were enjoyable, sure, but bear in mind that they both censored and changed much of the original game. Yes they added additional content, but the cuts that came with it tends to be the defining factor of which game I choose to play now and then. I would eagerly buy up Red or Blue on the VC - I can't say the same for FireRed and LeafGreen.

RaylaxStaff

#61

Raylax said:

Thanks for the feedback guys, glad you liked the article :)

And thanks Tom for finding that giant title screen art heading the article, which I'm now using as my wallpaper :3

Gregor

#62

Gregor said:

@Benjamin But what about all the new mechanics that make the game important? what about actually being able to get your pokemon to a modern game? WHAT ABOUT DEM GRAFICS?

KiwiPanda

#63

KiwiPanda said:

I can't even express how Pokemon-crazy I am, and how much of one I always have been... Sapphire was my first video game. I devoted hundreds of hours to getting ready for VGC '11, my first real video game tournament, still in Juniors. And after I lost in the second round, it kind of hurt. A lot >.< But I kept up with the competition, seeing who placed in nationals and things like that... and in the end, the person I lost to was one of the few Smogon and Skarmbliss users that did VGC at the Juniors level (He ended up getting second or something at nationals)... and I came to find I was the closest to beating him at my respective regional event (Plus I didn't EV/IV train, I did it old-school >:3). I got back with the game, and I'm a PokeManiac, now...
Nice article, @Raylax :D
Plus because of Pokemon, there are plenty of creepypastas to read... :3
Facts You Probably Don't Care About: The Lavender Town Theme was technically done five different ways across the span of a beta, Japanese originals, other originals, FR/LG, and HG/SS.

BulbasaurusRex

#64

BulbasaurusRex said:

@Benjamin Um, what exactly was cut from FireRed and LeafGreen other than Space Shuttle Columbia and the Missingno bug? Meanwhile, they added in the added types, balancing, bug fixes, hold items, breeding, happiness, and weather from the second generation; the GBA graphics, abilities, natures, EVs, and double battles from the third generation; as well as the brand new Sevii Islands area with several of the second and third gen Pokémon. I have to agree that FireRed and LeafGreen make Red and Blue obsolete.

Now, Yellow Version on the other hand still has some good exclusive experiences between starting with Pikachu, catching all three normal Kanto starters, battling Jessie and James, and the special surfing Pikachu mini-game (as long as you have Pokémon Stadium or some kind of cheat device).

Fuzzy

#65

Fuzzy said:

This was the only version I really played (Blue Version), and had a lot of fun with it at the time. So many hours....

Would probably pick it up if it came to the 3DS VC for a bout of nostalgia.

Sakura_Moonlight2421

#66

Sakura_Moonlight2421 said:

It was quite refreshing to be the only one at school without a Gameboy till that Christmas when my brother and I had matching Gameboy colors in clear purple and a pair of Pokemon Red and Blue.

Ahhh memories of old when it first started.

Neferupitou

#67

Neferupitou said:

i DO remember the burning battles on my prime old N64 between friends or the gym leaders.. oh man, such AMAZING times! (wheres da time machine!?!)

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