I wasn’t exactly sure how big Pokemon Go was going to be. I knew it was going to be a hit with the legions of people who are already Pokemon fans. That was a given. But since its release a few days ago, I’ve been bombarded with questions about Pokemon and Pokemon Go. I’m going to clarify a few things about the craze, so the less informed can get in the know about Pocket Monsters, aka Pokemon.
The game people are playing right now, Pokemon Go, isn’t a new type of game. One of the developers of Pokemon Go, Niantic, released a similar game called Ingress for the Android and IPhone platforms a while back. If you have absolutely no interest in Pokemon whatsoever, but you’re curious to see what kind of game people are playing, then Ingress is your best bet. The game is played in the real world, with your phone as a tool. The game places you on a team, and then you’re encouraged to walk around to find items, located strongholds, and battle for supremacy. Pokemon Go is incredibly similar, but uses the Pokemon franchise as its theme.
Now, Ingress was wildly popular, and it has millions of players. I can almost guarantee Pokemon Go has already exceeded the number of players Ingress has. There was never a number of news stories running about Ingress, people weren’t playing the game at Holocaust memorials, there wasn’t anyone finding dead bodies in low lying areas. What makes Pokemon Go popular isn’t the game itself; there’s a number of games, including Ingress, offering the same sort of game. It’s popular because Pokemon is popular. So how did Pokemon get so big?
Let’s rewind the clock twenty years, back to 1996. The original Pokemon games were released for the Gameboy, the handheld portable game console by Nintendo. The game was based on the creators childhood of capturing bugs. There’s two objectives to the game. One, catch all the Pokemon and complete the Pokedex, an encyclopedia of Pokemon. Two, train a team of Pokemon that’s powerful enough to challenge the other trainers in the game world, eventually going up against the Pokemon Leagues ‘Elite Four’, the best trainers in the game.
The second part of the game is straight forward. The game works on a giant ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ mechanic. Pokemon are strong against some, weak against others. If your opponent is using fire type Pokemon, you can use water type to subdue them. Your Pokemon lineup would included matches for each Pokemon in your opponents line up. If you have a wide enough variety of ‘Mons, you can easily defeat anyone you go up against.
The first part of the game is a little more difficult. You see, in order to catch all the Pokemon and complete this Pokedex, you need to catch all 151 variety of Pokemon. The thing is, there’s two versions of the game that were released. Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue. You can’t capture all the Pokemon with just one game cartridge. You need both copies, two Gameboys and a Link cable. The premise was, if you had a copy of Red, and your friend had a copy of Blue, you could trade the Pokemon that were exclusive to each game.
The game was immensely popular when it first came out, and there was a cartoon featuring Pokemon released at roughly the same time, with a full length feature film not too long afterwards. Kids went crazy over the both the game and the cartoon, and adults who played video games found that the game play could be incredibly complex.
You wouldn’t believe how far the rabbit hole goes.
What you need to remember is the original Pokemon video games were incredibly well thought out games with a very deep strategy system that was engaging. The other point worth remembering is that nostalgia’s a powerful thing, and we all have things from our childhood that we look back fondly.
I grew up with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers and Super Mario. If you ever enjoy any of these things, track them down and give them another look. You’re going to find out two things. First, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers were absolutely abysmal cartoons. They were really nothing more than toy commercials, and the fact that my younger self enjoyed them makes me think less of six-year-old Mr. Charlton. Secondly, Super Mario still holds up. Even after thirty years, it’s still fun to play.
Pokemon has the same nostalgia factor with people thirty and younger. My girlfriend was part of the bracket that got the full dose of Pokemon when she was a kid. So it’s really no surprise to me a free Pokemon game for the mobile platform is doing well. If you’re sick of hearing about Pokemon Go, then read below, and you’ll know how I feel.
The Illustrious Mr. Charlton
p.s. Truthfully, I was always more of a SimCity kind of guy, anyways.