Twenty years ago this week, Pokemon Red and Blue was released in North America, kicking off an unprecedented international sensation. In a highly coordinated marketing blitz, Pikachu and friends rapidly appeared in the toy aisle, on trading cards, and on the cover of Time Magazine. It was the Fortnite of its era—truly the game every kid was playing.
Its success was underpinned by an RPG that was superficially very simple, but was actually well ahead of its time. The secret to its success was right there on the box: "Gotta catch 'em all." That slogan was a call to action, urging players to continue on well after the credits rolled. With the help of the Game Boy's previously forgotten link cable, Pokemon quickly became the ultimate playground game thanks to the ability to trade and battle its creatures. Well before the advent of online play on consoles, Pokemon understood the power of social gaming.
That power, combined with its incredible marketing, turned Pokemon into the kind of white hot gaming phenomenon that has rarely been equaled. Pikachu became a cultural icon almost overnight. Religious leaders were fretting about whether Alakazam was encouraging kids to explore the occult. Kids were trading the cards in schools and crying as Ash said goodbye to Butterfree.
It served to buoy Nintendo's fortunes in a period in which the Game Boy was petering out and the N64 was lagging behind the PlayStation. Pokemon would become Nintendo's ultimate portable trump card, helping to fuel the dominance of the Game Boy Color, then the GBA, the DS, and the 3DS. In that time, Pokemon has transformed from fad to cultural institution, cementing its place in the pop culture consciousness through multiple generations of gamers.
With two decades of history under its belt, there's a lot to unpack with this series, which is why we're devoting a whole week to it. We're going to talk to some of the long-standing members of the community, we're going to look back at the trading card craze, and we're going to pick the best generation. Oh, and we're going to pick the Top 25 Pokemon, because how could we not? Spoiler: There's a lot more to Pokemon than the original 151.
But mostly we're going to talk about how Pokemon has managed to remain relevant for so long. After all, Pokemania never really ended. It's only taken different forms as the series has continued to adapt for each new generation. In just a couple months, Pokemon will take an entirely new form with Pokemon Let's Go, which will return to the franchise's roots with a full console remake of Pokemon Yellow while building on the breakout success of Pokemon Go. And, of course, there's the eighth generation to look forward to in 2019.
In the 20 years since its initial launch in North America, Pokemon has defied predictions of its demise and captured one generation after another. Join us this week as we go back and find out why.
Looking Ahead for the Rest of the Week
- Pathfinder: Kingmaker [PC, September 25]: The Pathfinder tabletop RPG series comes to PC with this interesting little kingdom building game, written in part by Chris Avellone [Fallout 2, Divinity: Original Sin, Planescape Torment]. As Nadia writes in her preview, "You can build your own kingdom and rule it like a jerk."
- South Park: The Stick of Truth [Switch, September 25]: Following in the footsteps of its sequel, South Park: The Stick of Truth is on its way to Nintendo Switch as well. Both South Park games are faithful tributes to the series, but I tend to prefer the first, which was developed by Obsidian. You can decide for yourself tomorrow.
- Valkyria Chronicles 4 [PS4, PC, Switch, Xbox One, September 25]: Valkyria Chronicles gets its first true console sequel tomorrow. I wasn't sure it would hold up, but I really like it so far. Here are my initial impressions. Look for the full review tomorrow.
- Dragalia Lost [iOS and Android, September 27]: Nintendo's latest mobile venture is an action RPG developed in cooperation with Cygames. By all accounts, it has many microtransactions. Sorry, Mr. Miyamoto.
- Life is Strange 2: Episode 1 [PC, PS4, Xbox One, September 27]: The popular adventure game series returns for a sequel featuring two brothers on the run from the police. Wondering what's up with Chloe and Max? You'll just have to use your imagination.
- Dragon Ball Fighter Z [Switch, September 28]: Arc System Works' acclaimed fighter makes its way to Switch this week. Will its incredible graphics translate to the small screen? It's worth playing in any case.
- FIFA 19 [Switch, PS4, PC, Xbox One. September 28]: FIFA 19 caps off the sports game season with a full release this Friday. Fans hoping for an overhaul to career mode will be disappointed, but it plays far better than it has in the past. Go here for the full review of FIFA 19 by resident Brit and soccer nut Tom Orry.
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Lost Painting (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night)
Pardon? Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Castlevania: Rondo of Blood might be bound for the PlayStation 4 in some form? Well, this is a great excuse to highlight some music from Symphony of the Night! As if I need an excuse.
Lost Painting is one of my favorite songs off a soundtrack that's pretty stellar through-and-through. Its airy, gentle bells are an ironic pairing with some of the most brutal levels in the game (hello Inverted Chapel), but it's just a soothing piece no matter what kind of atmosphere you enjoy it in. The Inverted Castle levels of Symphony of the Night are also a bit lacking for musical variety, so when your choices of accompanying music include Lost Painting or Finale Toccata, you're probably going to choose the painting. Not to say Finale Toccata is a bad song; it's actually brilliant. Its tendency to reset every time you exit and re-enter a room wears thin pretty quickly, though.
Caty’s AltGame Corner
I don't swim, really. Childhood beach trauma and all that. But in the past year or so though, I've been trying it. I walked into the ocean in Hawaii; I swam in a lake with a giant life vest. I'm making progress. And developers Lozange Lab's Swim Out may be a nice test for me when I don't have a bathing suit at my disposal.
Swim Out has more in common with the likes of Lara Croft Go than, say, Lara Croft swimming underwater in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It's a swimming game that's mechanized through turn-based puzzles, where you must avoid other swimmers who move when you move. You must plan out every stroke to get to the other side accordingly. It also has a lovely color palette too, with bright pops of color alongside its calming whites and light blues. Swim Out is available for PC, Mac, and Linux on itch.io for $5.99, but it's on sale for $4.49 right now. It's been available on Nintendo Switch, iOS, and Android since earlier this year.
This Week's News and Notes
- We're coming off a dark week for gaming, which saw Capcom Vancouver shut its doors and Telltale reduce its staff to a skeleton crew. Both studios had their problems—Capcom Vancouver was reportedly mired in development problems, Telltale saw diminishing returns after the breakout success of The Walking Dead. But it's still brutal to see so many talented developers on the street. The reports from ex-Telltale devs who were let go without severance are especially tough to read. This happens pretty much every year, and it's a reminder of what a cruel and unstable business gaming can be.
- If you missed it, here's our report from last year about how a culture of crunch hurt Telltale in the years leading up to its layoffs.
- In slightly lighter news, the Bowsette meme is currently taking over the Internet. It started with the comic below form Malaysian artist Haniwa, and it's gone... well... it's gone places.
- Keita Takahashi is one of the few people who apparently didn't care for Super Mario Odyssey or Breath of the Wild. Caty caught up with him during PAX and found out why, and also chatted with him about his upcoming game Wattam.
- Dragon Quest XI is indeed still coming to Switch, which is good because a lot of people seem to be waiting for that version. Hopefully it includes the orchestral version of the soundtrack as well.
- Mike has been in his happy place since Spider-Man came out on PS4 earlier this month because he gets to geek out about comics to his heart's content. Here's his look at who Spider-Man should fight next in the inevitable sequel.
- So, the PlayStation Classic. It was a natural step for Sony after the succcess of the SNES Classic and the NES Classic. It will have some excellent games, including Final Fantasy VII. Will it prove as timeless as the 8 and 16-bit eras? I have my doubts. We're nostalgic for that period, but early polygons really, really don't hold up for the most part. But then, the PS1 had some amazing games: Parasite Eve, Resident Evil 2, WipeOut, PaRappa the Rapper. With the right library it could be surprisingly great. I guess we'll have to see.
- Axe of the Blood God: On this week's episode, Nadia and I examine the PS1's RPG legacy. Does it live up to its lofty reputation? And what other RPGs do we want to see selected for the PlayStation Classic's collection? Listen and find out! Subscribe here!
The Super Crown's some spicy new Mario lore pic.twitter.com/7DQe6UXvLQ— haniwa (@ayyk92) September 19, 2018