As we build up to the 20th anniversary of Pokémon in February 2016 and look hotly ahead towards brand new things such as the green blob Pokémon, we're going to take you back on a monthly journey through each of the generations of Pokémon, starting with the first Generation.
The build-up to launch
It all began when a man from Game Freak, Satoshi Tajiri, had an idea based on his hobby when he was younger, bug collecting. As he grew up he saw the idea grow based on how kids were more in towns and so wanted to create something with monsters that kids would battle, but not get injured or die. When the Game Boy was released he decided the system was perfect for it due to the link cable which would allow for players to trade. Influenced by various Japanese RPGs Game Freak began work on Pokémon, then known as Capsule Monsters, and it changed a lot as development progressed; beta images can be found online. Eventually Nintendo was pitched the idea and loved it, with Shigeru Miyamoto suggesting splitting the game into two versions with different Pokémon available in both versions. From that, Pokémon started to become what we all remember and love about the series.
The main series
From the long period of pre-release, Pokémon Red & Green were finally released on February 27th 1996 in Japan. The games followed your journey through the Kanto region, battling the 8 Gym Leaders and facing up against Team Rocket throughout your journey. With Miyamoto's idea of two versions for trading and battling being strong marketing tools, the games flew off shelves, revitalised the Game Boy, and the massive phenomenon begun.
However, all was not that great with the games. There were a multitude of glitches and the graphics of the Pokémon weren't highly rated. From that, a third version of the game was quickly in development known as Pokémon Blue. This game featured upgraded graphics and had far less glitches than the predecessors. It was released in Japan through CoroCoro Comics in October 1996, but eventually got a retail launch three years later in Japan in 1999.
Then came the decision to bring it to the west. During localisation there were fears that the cute Pokémon designs wouldn't go over well in the west and there were calls for the Pokémon to be redesigned to be more beefed-up, in order to placate the different likes of the western audience. The President of Nintendo at the time, the late Hiroshi Yamauchi, resisted these requests and the Pokémon remained true to the source material. That wasn't all the trouble for the localisation, however.
While working on it, it was discovered that the game couldn't simply be altered with text, but rather the games would have to be fully reprogrammed. In doing so they used the base code for the Japanese Pokémon Blue, with its updated engine and graphics, and used the encounter data from Red & Green to make what we know in the west as Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue, which came in the US in September 1998 and Europe in October 1999 and ended up selling a global total of around 23 million units.
Following the success of the animated series, a fourth main series game was developed, this time with some focus on the brand new Game Boy Color called Pokémon Yellow, or in Japan just Pokémon Pikachu, which focused on Pikachu having the character follow you outside of its PokéBall - it matched the anime series and had sprite work based on the art style of the show.
So we come to the Pokémon of this Generation, and there are so many classics. Granted, that could be because these are the ones many of us grew up with, but the designs have become so iconic.
The starters were Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle, which became fully evolved as Venusaur, Charizard and Blastoise, three of the most iconic Pokémon known to exist. These were your partners throughout the Kanto region.
There were also the first ever legendary Pokémon, from the majestic legendary birds of Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres to the genetically modified Psychic-type Pokémon, the most powerful Pokémon of the time, Mewtwo! It also had the first Mythical Pokémon, Mew, who was put in by Shigeki Morimoto when he shouldn't have included it, but then was revealed later as a mystery to get people talking before finally being released as an event.
But the starters and legendary Pokémon aren't all, there are many classic Pokémon like Machamp, Tauros, Gyarados and more, many of whom have become favourites to many.
For a full list of Pokémon, you can find them here: http://www.serebii.net/games/generation1.shtml
You can't think about the classic Pokémon generation, back when it was in full swing, without thinking back to the anime. Spoilers ahead on this section.
On April 1st 1997, over a year after the games were released, the Pokémon anime began in Japan, while it came to the UK and US in 1998 before the games were released. This series focused on new Pokémon Trainer Ash Ketchum and his partner Pikachu who he obtained after oversleeping and missing out on getting Bulbasaur, Charmander or Squirtle. This helped make Pikachu the overall mascot of the entire franchise.
As he travelled through the Kanto region to collect badges he destroyed Misty's bike, causing Misty to decide to travel with him, and then met the Pewter City Gym Leader, Brock, who also joined Ash on his journey. They were constantly harassed by Team Rocket who, after seeing the power of this Pikachu, wanted to try to capture it and bring it back to their boss.
Defeating all the gyms, Ash eventually made it to the league where he met a trainer called Richie but eventually lost. Following the loss, he travelled to the Orange Islands to retrieve the mysterious GS Ball and enter the Orange League while he was there, partnering with Misty and their new friend, Pokémon Watcher Tracey Sketchit.
There were two movies during this generation. The first was heavily linked into the anime and features the legendary Pokémon Mewtwo, the Mythical Pokémon Mew and their fight as Mewtwo tried to understand his existence and inevitably create a new world for him and his clones. The second movie, Pokémon 2000, introduced the legendary Pokémon Lugia and told the story of the three Legendary birds fighting in the Orange Islands causing massive storms that could destroy the world. These movies were hotly received and started an annual movie legacy that continues to this day.
The main Pokémon games are just a small part of the overall video game landscape that Pokémon has helped cultivate. There have been numerous spin-off titles in the generation. These titles often give a different look at the Pokémon world providing different gameplay mechanics, different aesthetics and often on different consoles.
The most notable of which is the Pokémon Stadium series. This series allowed for you to connect your Game Boy games up to the Nintendo 64 and play the games in full 3D and even play in multiplayer against your friends. The Stadium games are notable in that the late Satoru Iwata was given the battle system without any reference material and managed to convert it from the Game Boy to the Nintendo 64 in less than a week.
The first Pokémon Stadium was released in 1998 in Japan only. This game only allowed for a small fraction of the Pokémon to be played and featured a limited amount of modes, with trainers being made up from the 1996, 1997 and 1998 Pokémon championships in Japan.
The second Pokémon Stadium is the one which was released internationally and allowed for all 151 Pokémon to be played. It beefed things up with elements such as the Gym Leader Castle, being able to play your Game Boy games on the TV and most notably having 9 of the most iconic mini-games kids could play such as the amazing Sushi Go-Round.
Pokémon Snap is another of the Nintendo 64 games released. This game had you play as Todd Snap, who was introduced in the anime, as he went through Pokémon Island capturing Pokémon, this time on film with his camera. Your photos would be rated by Professor Oak and you could even print them out at special Kodak stations in the US or when the Wii re-release came out, send them to friends. We still await a sequel.
Hey You Pikachu is a game that never made it to the UK. In it, you used a special microphone peripheral for the Nintendo 64 to talk to Pikachu and help it do certain tasks and just generally play as a virtual pet.
Pokémon Puzzle League is the only Pokémon game to have never been released in Japan. This game was a take on the Panel de Pon style puzzle game and was fully based on the anime. You chose one of three Pokémon to face up against the Gym Leader and Elite Four's Pokémon to play through and win the puzzle challenges. It also featured a multiplayer mode and a special 3D puzzle mode.
Pokémon Pinball is one of the Game Boy Color spin-offs. This game was simply a pinball title where you had to catch all 151 Pokémon. It uniquely had a special rumble feature built into the cartridge. There were even special bonus mini-games to find and defeat to get the best high score.
Finally, there was Pokémon Trading Card Game. This game was an RPG that utilised the popular Trading Card Game and made a story about you starting as a new card player who wants to go through and beat the Club Masters, and then the Grand Masters. This game fully took all the mechanics of the trading card game and put it into a fun package.
So what is the Trading Card Game? In October 1996, Creatures Inc., one of the companies that helped in development of the games, started a Pokémon card series. This series was modelled on the games and featured Pokémon battles with similar type mechanics. It spawned many sets to this day, with thousands of different cards being created over the years and billions of cards having been sold worldwide. There were numerous sets in the first generation to get at least 1 card for each Pokémon out. It also included a Team Rocket set which introduced Dark Pokémon and two gym sets which showcased the Pokémon of the in-game Gym Leaders of the Kanto region.
As we approach November 1999 in our retrospective, the first generation of Pokémon comes to an end, but this generation is arguably the most iconic. It's the one that began it all, with some of the more iconic creatures such as Pikachu, Charizard and even Tangela. When many people think of Pokémon, they think back to this era. While the games may not be the most technologically advanced, and some of the Pokémon with some of the more generic designs, this generation will always be the one which many will look back on with fondness.