Pokémon and the Nostalgia of the Outdoors
May 9th 1990; the date when the first trademark for a Pokémon character was made by Nintendo
Pokémon has become one of the greatest ironies during the COVID-19 pandemic. You may be reading this while you’re in lockdown, or long after the world has healed, but going outside and meeting people is one of life’s luxuries that many are yearning for at the time of writing.
Cast your mind back to when creator Satoshi Tajiri was thinking up the Pokémon series in the late eighties. The main idea came from his hobby of collecting insects as a child, and as the years passed, how urban structures would take over the fields and parks, reducing the insects. Coupled with the idea of children playing video games in their own houses, ‘Pocket Monsters’ was born.
Nowadays, playing any game from the Pokémon franchise is something that we would all relate to; exploring different cities and villages, and encountering different people and animals. Whether it was pets or a species at a zoo, it was something different.
It’s something we took for granted, but now, we all yearn for that interaction that our Pokémon trainer easily has now. It’s the greatest irony in gaming. While there’s worlds of Gods, Zombies, Green Hills, all anyone wants, as Pokémon GO has proven, is a get-together with friends.
Which is why this article is for you; because everyone of us is battling our own kind of duel, mainly with ourselves in how we’re dealing with COVID-19. From monetary to mental health reasons, visible or invisible to others, we’re all working towards a time where we can meet one another again.
As we mark its 25th anniversary, this is a story about how the series came to be for me, and how it can be there for all of us for most of this year while we all fight against the pandemic.
Pokémon, or Pocket Monsters, first arrived in Japan on the original Game Boy back in 1996 on the 26th February. Taking on a new Pokémon trainer, you would explore the lands and try to catch all 151 Pokémon across two games.
Released as Red and Green, it launched to huge success, quickly spawning an anime series the following year in April of 1997, starring Ash Ketchum and his trusty-friend Pikachu.
While Pocket Monsters Red and Green were finding great success, Nintendo and Game Freak weren’t sure about how it would be received overseas, but regardless, a translation was completed and released in 1998 in the USA market.
While some aren’t sure as to why Green turned to Blue, it does seem (thanks to TheGamer) that a significant amount of bugs and layout issues were addressed during the translation process, which then prompted a different colour for outside Japan.
But alas, September of 1998 was when the games arrived, and it took hold of children’s attention everywhere.
However, people in the UK remember a different date of 1999, myself included. Alongside this, a different method of how they discovered the series is thanks to Saturday morning television.
Live and Kicking Saturdays
Back in the days of Saturday morning television, kids would switch on to either Live and Kicking on BBC1, or SM:TV Live on ITV during the late nineties in the UK.
There, they would be greeted by shows such as Spiderman, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman on Live and Kicking, and on SM:TV, Pokémon.
It was a show that the programme makers weren’t even sure of, but had heard of its huge success in America, and with Red and Blue slowly approaching release in the UK, they thought it may be a good idea to have it on the saturday morning show, mainly hosted by Antony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, more commonly known as Ant and Dec, a double-act who are well known on British Television.
During this time, their rival show, Live and Kicking over on BBC1 was the king; leading the way in the ratings, and it wasn’t until Pokémon was being broadcast on SM:TV, that the tide started to turn.
This was even helped by a bizarre sketch of Ant and Dec acting as Gary and Misty from the show.
It was this, mixed in with guests such as the band Westlife taking part in these sketches each week, which would help turn Pokémon into the phenomenon it became, and making SM:TV the most popular Saturday morning show for the early ‘00s.
I remember watching SM:TV just for Pokémon, and would then go back to watching Live and Kicking.
From then on, kids in the playground, me included, were hooked. We would buy the ‘booster packs’ of Pokémon cards to see if we would finally attain the shiny Charizard card. I have my cards still in a cellophane book, hoping that they may be worth something, perhaps as much as Ristar on the Mega Drive for £300. But for now, they’re in a drawer, waiting to be showcased somewhere.
But the main draw were the games; we would constantly have our Game Boys to trade our Pokémon across the games released at the time, and also helping one another in how to beat certain Gym Leaders and the Elite Four.
Red, Blue or Yellow?
My first game was Pokémon Red, and while I had my PlayStation at the time with classics such as Tomb Raider and Metal Gear Solid, Pokémon was my ‘down time’ period. Especially as it was a time where I couldn’t carry on playing my PlayStation games anywhere I’d go, the Game Boy was the substitute here, but it equaled in measure to the console thanks to Pokémon.
Collecting the gym badges, collecting the legendary birds, and of course reading up about the constant rumoured methods in how to attain the secret ‘Mew’, I spent most of 1999 and 2000 playing this, and eventually, Yellow.
While my subscription to GamesMaster magazine would rave about the games, it would also show the japanese version of Gold and Silver, essentially Pocket Monsters 2.
Essentially the screenshots were from the demo shown at Spaceworld 1997, and subsequently leaked back in 2018.
These sequels were to me, the pinnacle of what Pokémon was all about. Even the different day cycles, and the ability to go back to the cities of the previous games blew my mind at 10 years old.
I recall going to friends’ houses and trading our Pokémon again, just to see if we can try and collect them all.
Another aspect I loved about the earlier games was the sheer anxiety of the final battle; especially in Gold and Silver when you would face someone named simply, Red.
You would be greeted by silence, only by the fantastic music that would appear, with a Pokeball to start off the fight.
It was thrilling, but you knew you were in for the long haul here, fighting against, at the time, Ash Ketchum’s current Pokémon roster.
Fast forward to 2002 and this was when I lost touch with the series. It never felt the same to me when it arrived on the Game Boy Advance, and while Sword and Shield are currently the newest incarnations with around 930 Pokémon to catch in total, I yearn for the top-down perspective and fantastic music from the first two generations again.
However, always trust the internet in their ways to surprise you in great ways, with 2013 bringing in Twitch Plays Pokémon, and only this year, people could play Pokémon Red through a Twitter profile picture. On the 20th February, the ‘experiment’ ended, but it just shows how the earlier games made such an impact on many childhood’s at the time.
It’s a franchise that’s as important as Mario, Zelda, Crash Bandicoot, Sonic, and many more.
It’s also one that’s thought of even more fondly because of this pandemic. The whole foundation of the games require you to go outside. You start the game in your room, and venture out to start your adventure.
For the last year, our adventure has had to take place within those four walls, which is why the games have been the perfect escape for many. Me included, thanks to being able to play it on my PS Vita for undisclosed reasons.
But it’s also only shown what’s possible for when the vaccines make their expected onslaught and reduce the effect of the pandemic into something as common as the cold.
With lockdowns changing and stopping in their own ways across various parts of the world, our wish of exploring vast lands and meeting people once again, won’t just be reduced to a handheld device from 1989.
We are almost there, and while we won’t have Pokémon to trade when we all do meet up, there’s most likely going to be a lot of relieved hugs shared instead, while honouring those who are no longer with us due to the pandemic taking hold.
Nostalgia can change you, re-evaluate past choices, and make you long for something that’s been left alone for years. But Pokémon has achieved a rare feat in showing just how simple and fun the outside world can be, and should be, and how we can simply meet up and help one another when it counts.