Believe it or not, the enduringly popular Pokemon franchise is now 20 years old and has dominated various entertainment mediums since its birth way back in 1996. Based around the concept of battling monsters that can fit in your pocket with the help of special technology, the idea of Pokemon has swept the globe and captured the imagination of generations of children
. Here we look at the 20 successful years it has enjoyed at the top.
Pokemon Red & Green
In 1996, Nintendo released a new video game for their portable console, the Gameboy, which was a role-playing game that revolved around you capturing and battling an array of weird and wonderful monsters that could fit in your pocket via the contraptions of Pokeballs, hence that name Pokemon - a portmanteau of pocket monsters .
It was not understood the cultural impact of this game would have on the world but with the ability to battle and trade these creatures with friends with dual games having distinct variations it was an instant hit with the youth of Japan, where it was released, with 151 original Pokemon to collect and trade spurring a frenzy of activity in order to "catch 'em all". Suddenly, an empire was born.
Pokemon Red & Blue
After the unprecedented success of Red and Green in Japan, a third edition was issued later in the year as Blue and it was Red and Blue that would be launched in America, Australia, and Europe two years later with Green being the special edition. This was the first time that the rest of the world outside Japan got their hands on the pocket monsters and were soon as taken by it as they were.
With the groundwork already in place in Asia, the plans for rapid expansion of the franchise and subsequent world domination were on the cards.
After the initial success of the video games, a trading card game was developed where the player took on the role of a Pokemon trainer battling their collection against others. Where this succeeded was that it was also based around collecting all 151 Pokemon and so it became a trading phenomenon in parks and schoolyards across the world as people desperately tried to complete their collections and battled it out for supremacy.
Tapping into the same zeal and fervor that led to the desire to battle and trade with each other on the video games was key to the success of the card game and as, over time, more Pokemon have been added to the roster and more expansions and variations of the cards were released it became a cornerstone of the franchise with over 21.5 billion cards sold to date.
By 1997, the Pokemon craze was in full effect all across the world and so, to capitalize on this, a tv series was produced to give a back story to the characters in the game and to provide action-packed Pokemon adventures that gave the creatures their own unique personalities and actions and made them something more relatable than just the beasts you saw on card or in-game.
This started life as the Pokemon anime series in Japan which was soon serialized globally. So popular and enduring is the cartoon's success that it is still going strong today with over 800 episodes made since its launch. With a catchy theme tune and awesome intro, there is now a generation of twenty-somethings that can probably still sing it in its entirety.
It wasn't just television that the franchise was moving into but comic books as well.Often following a similar story arc to the TV series or filling in blanks and leading on from stories, the manga was a huge hit in its home country of Japan.
Less so in others due to comic book culture but it was still another incredibly popular string to its bow as it was tightening its grip on the global market.
By the year 2001, there was a trilogy of Pokemon movies released using the characters from the TV series to go on much larger scale adventures. Far from being just an expansion of the anime, though, these films were well received for the positive moral messages alongside action-packed entertainment. When the first one was released it was a major cinematic event with tie-ins and promotions abound wherever you turned.
It followed the story of the 151st Pokemon and gave further backstory and intent to the creatures furthering their appeal with their own singular unique personalities. This led to people choosing their favorite Pokemon based on personality tropes which led to greater marketing options for the franchise.
In its other entertainment forms, such as film and TV, the public was introduced to Ash, a character who had been given a Pokemon outside of the regular starter Pokemon and befriended it to a point that it actually walked around beside him rather than staying in a Pokeball like others. With Pikachu becoming a recognizable character in his own right people soon started to identify him as one of their favorites and wanted to emulate Ash in the video games.
A special edition of the game was released where you started the game with a Pikachu that followed you around and it tied in with other areas of the franchise. This was launched for Nintendo's new portable console, the Gameboy Color, which meant, for the first time in the game, you could see your creatures in full color.
With the brand now such a powerful force, the very first Pokemon store was opened in Tokyo in 1998. Building on the desire for their own individual Pokemon it sold stuffed toys of each one alongside games, posters, and the films. It rapidly became a sort of mecca for Pokemon fans with many in the West envious of their Japanese counterparts.
This signaled the strength of Pokemon as it now had its own exclusive stores that would rapidly expand across borders in order to cater to fans across the globe.
At the time of its release, Pokemon stadium was a revelation. Allowing to use your Gameboy cartridges on the Nintendo 64 console, you could battle your Pokemon in a 3D setting and see the visuals of their individual moves close up as well as play the Gameboy games full screen on your TV.
Its compatibility with the Gameboy games meant that it encouraged users to collect and trade more Pokemon to fully utilize the games potential but it also offered up great mini games ideal for parties with all your Pokemon obsessed friends.
Super Smash Bros.
The well established Super Smash Bros. franchise was another of Nintendo's big movers fronted by their iconic mascot, Super Mario. With the addition of several Pokemon characters to the game, it was the first time they could be seen outside of their own franchise and showed the power of the brand that they were now being used to sell other gaming products as well as their own.
A Pokemon character has subsequently appeared in each Smash Bros game since.
Pokemon Gold & Silver
Following on from the original games, the Gold and Silver versions kept the same role-playing environment where you had to discover, catch and battle Pokemon but it brought new and exciting features that added a depth of reality to the series. For example, now certain creatures were nocturnal so you had to go out hunting for them at night, which made it all the more frustrating if you were a kid whose mom wouldn't let you play games at bedtime, but did make the world feel a whole lot more realistic.
These versions also introduced the world to the second generation of Pokemon and expanded the roster from the original 150 by another 100.
The global appeal of Pokemon was unstoppable by this stage but there was one glaringly obvious omission still yet to be rectified. No longer seen as just a bit of a boys toy, Crystal was effectively a special edition version of Gold and Silver and was the first Pokemon game to introduce a playable female character.
Why it had taken the game makers so long to include one was anyone's guess but it was better late than never.
Pokemon LIVE! was a was a musical stage show that toured the United States from September 2000 to January 2001 with plans to tour the UK initially scheduled as well but later canceled. A few European versions were produced as well but were also short lived. The show was actually quite successful but largely ignored by critics and never received a video release despite implications that it would.
This was the first time the brand seemed to be overstretching itself but despite this, it still made money and proved that there was nothing really that the franchise couldn't turn its hand to.
Pokemon Ruby & Sapphire
Bringing in yet more Pokemon, Ruby and Sapphire were the first instances of the 3rd generation of Pokemon and added another 135 Pokemon to the list of ones we had to catch now making it a total of 386. Breaking from the continuing storylines of the first and second generations, this offered up a new adventure to follow although still with the well-established universe that players and fans had become fond of.
It also introduced two on tow battling where multiple Pokemon could be battled at once adding another tactical level to how the game could be played. Pokemon Emerald was later released as a special edition to these two versions of the game.
Pokemon Diamond & Pearl
Released for the Nintendo DS, this iteration of the Pokemon games saw generation 4 of Pokemon arrive with another 107 to catch. Its dual screen features meant you could see your inventory whilst still battling and access your maps and items with greater ease and touchscreen features but didn't receive much updating outside of that.
Despite that, it had greater success than the previous generation releases.
Undeterred by the relative failings of the musical, the franchise still wanted to expand further and tried its hand at theme parks with the traveling Pokepark that existed in Japan in 2005, and in Taiwan in 2006. It had 12 Pokemon based rides and two Rocket shops that sold goods and accessories.
Most would have thought its brand recognition would have made it a success but unfortunately not as it never really took off.
Pokemon Black and White
The fifth generation of Pokemon arrived in Pokemon Black and White with gameplay innovations and advances but the character design of many of the 156 newer Pokemon was criticized for not being good enough.
With 649 Pokemon in total now it was perhaps no surprise that ideas were running low.
Pokemon X & Y
The 6th and, as it stands, most recent generation of Pokemon came along in X & Y versions of the game meaning that there are now 720 Pokemon to catch with another legendary Pokemon rumored to be announced soon
. A far cry from the original 151, X & Y were the first Pokemon games to be animated in fully polygonal 3D and, although we'd seen 3D used before in the games, it meant that the graphical depth and feel to the games was at its best.
Moving away from role-playing games, Pokken Tournament is a fighting game more in the style of an arcade beat-em-up than a traditional Pokemon setting and sees you physically control the movements of the Pokemon for the first time in a battle setting rather than just giving them commands from the trainer's point of view.
A more dynamic way of using the Pokemon battle features it was a break away from what gamers were used to seeing from Pokemon.
Now it has reached 20 years of age, the Pokemon franchise is having its first foray into smartphone gaming using augmented reality. Pokemon GO centers around using your phone's GPS and camera functions to discover locations in the real world where virtual Pokemon exist in the game, as such, the more you go outside, the more you are likely to interact with different Pokemon.
This move finally brought the Pokemon universe into the real world.