REVIEW: The world of Pokémon expands and transcends generations, 23 years later

The new starter Pokemon have been announced for the eighth generation's games, Sword and Shield Versions. - Courtesy of Nintendo

Pokémon was just as ubiquitous to my childhood as were dinosaurs or George Washington. The entity known as Pikachu seemed to have always existed in my subconscious, its yellow body transcending both religion and science in my eight-year-old brain. There was never a time before Pikachu and there has not been a time after Pikachu. Since the franchise is older than myself, it’s no wonder that its iconography has made its impact.

This February marks the 23 anniversary of the Japanese release of Pokémon Red and Green Versions, compatible with the original GameBoy. With the ability to play in 3d (and color!) and trade wirelessly over the internet with players from all over the world, Pokémon may have experienced the greatest glow-up of all time. Today, Nintendo just announced a new generation of ‘mons in Pokémon Sword and Shield Versions for the Nintendo Switch system. If one thing is certain, it’s that Pokémon as a franchise has changed a lot since there were only 151 monsters to collect, catch and trade.

Growing up, Pokémon was sensory crack for a kid with severe and undiagnosed ADHD, especially in the mid-2000s when children’s media was bland and often over-sanitized. My first game, Fire Red Version, was a remake of the original playable on either the GameBoy Advanced or Nintendo DS handheld consoles. It consumed me whole.

While I’ve never been intense enough get competitive about it (and there are people who take Pokémon extremely seriously), it is an interest in which I have sunk considerable cash. I remember lazy days with my mother spent scanning flea markets for unlicensed Pokémon figures or else digging through piles of VHS tapes at the local thrift shop. I regret none of the money I’ve spent – the return has been far worth it.

Nostalgia aside, the most impressive part of the franchise is its dedication to moving forward. Each subsequent Pokémon game has been developed with even greater care than each one before it. It is true that this has lead to a muddled storyline and overcomplicated gameplay, such as in the fifth generation’s Black and White Versions. But the overall trend, culminating in the brilliant designs and innovative mechanics of gen-seven Sun and Moon versions, has been nothing but upward.

While smug “nineties kids” and balding men in their mid-40s will tell you that the franchise’s new additions have been detrimental to Pokémon’s legacy, no joy has been removed from the games themselves. The insecurity of finding oneself increasingly alienated from the simple pleasures of one’s own childhood is understandable. What makes that insecurity pathetic, though, is when it is channeled to tear down new ideas under the guise of constructive criticism.

Many Pokémon which are among my favorites debuted 23 years ago. (My favorites, in case anyone has been wondering, are Ampharos, Flygon, Mimikyu, Jolteon and Jirachi – and yes, my favorite color is yellow.) But the ones which were just announced today could quickly join their ranks – and I might be twenty myself, but why would I deprive myself of having them there, when I could catch ’em all instead?

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