Virtual Insanities: Something about Pokémon

The Pokémon craze is about to hit once again with the release of Nintendo’s newest versions/sequels to their best-selling franchise: Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. Despite the series being initially being tagged as “just another fad”, in the same vein as Pogs or the Macarena, it managed to outgrow its “flavour of the week” label and eventually become a cultural phenomenon that still goes on today. Pokémon is still going strong with a TV series, toys, a trading card game and many spin-off video games. We’ve been able to fight them, photograph them, control them, talk to them and even watch their own TV channel. Pikachu and his friends have defied every predictions of sudden loss of popularity by enjoying a durable success with kids and adults alike. Even Not A True Ending’s very own legend Alex Lucard is a certified Pokémaniac.

The franchise’s enjoyable RPG gameplay and human beings’ unexplainable need to collect stuff has created a potent blend that, for a while, nearly threatened to take over the world. At the moment, Pokémon has sold over 155 million copies of its different games, which ranks the series second only being Mario and his 193 million games. The difference is that Mario did it in over 20 years, while Pokémon has just hit the ten years mark. Most gamers have tried playing one of the different versions at least once. A lot of them probably even own it. Even I own a copy of Pokémon Red for the original Game Boy. I played it to death, and must have gone through it at least five times. I even got my younger brother to buy the Blue version so I could get a complete Pokédex. Doing so enlightens a man on a variety of subject, such as the undisputed superiority of Blastoise. Just for the hell of it, I think I’m going to turn on the game one more time to see what was my time the last time I played. Here we go:

Blastoise (Seismic Toss, Surf, Bite, Water Gun)
Vileplume (Mega Drain, Petal Dance, Cut, Sleep Powder)
Nidoking (Horn Attack, Earthquake, Body Slam, Strength)
Pidgeot (Razor Wind, Fly, Wing Attack, Swift)
Jolteon (Thunderbolt, Thundershock, Quick Attack, Tackle)
Snorlax (Psychic, Mega Punch, Body Slam, Rock Slide)

Apparently, I was still in the process of building a team as they are all at level 41. I’m pretty sure I had a bad-ass Golem somewhere in my team at one time. Anyway, the point I was trying to make before getting distracted the total package of awesomeness on two legs that is Blastoise is that like it or not, Pokémon has left a huge trace on video games and pop culture as a whole. Even people who don’t play video games know about the cute little critters. The only other gaming icons that can claim that achievement are probably Mario and Tetris. If the facts that I stated since the start of this article are not enough, let me throw a couple more numbers at you, just to show what kind of juggernaut the franchise has become.

– There are 493 different species of Pokémon. They are divided in 17 types.
– Since 1998, there have been 32 Pokémon games released in North America, 34 in Japan.
– There are 9 Pokémon movies, with another one in the works at the moment.
– The Pokémon anime has produced over 500 episodes, 5 of which have been banned, and one of which has caused 685 children to suffer from seizures.
– The Pokémon Trading Card Game has 31 different sets, and too many cards for me to count. (No website I found had an actual number)
– Let’s not forget the amazing number of merchandise related to Pokémon. There are no official numbers other than “thousands of different products”, but Japan has everything from pencils to fake alcohol with “Pokémon” written on it.

Basically, Pokémon has become a worldwide phenomenon. Despite a lot of critics’ open hatred of the series, it still manages to keep a rabid fan base as well as win new people over each and every time a new game is released. It’s the kind of game that nobody you know plays but still ends up selling millions. What makes the series so damn popular?

While one could easily point at the adorable roster of creatures as the main-selling point, it would be wrong. The cuteness factor is what made people take note. It’s the thing that got Pokémon accepted by the masses, but it’s not what kept them so hot for so long. If it was the only appeal of the franchise, it would have quickly gone the same way as Furbies or Tamagotchi. Who still has a Tamagotchi nowadays? Nobody that I have met in the last 5 years, but who still plays Pokémon? At least three of my friends, even though they wouldn’t want me to name them. Come on guys, grow some balls. Playing Pokémon doesn’t make you any geekier than spending hours on end playing World of Warcraft does.

In my opinion, what makes the games so good and their appeal so enduring is the same thing that other quality series are made of: addictive gameplay, great replay value and a fun multiplayer experience. While this is true for the handheld RPGs, it also applies to the franchise’s many spin-offs. Over the years, many Pokémon titles became the measuring stick for the different genre they tackled. The RPGs established a system that is now so refined that it has become a standard for its simplicity of use and effectiveness, but let’s not forget the standards set by Pokémon Pinball, which Nintendo has used to make other great pinball games starring Mario and Samus Aran. The collection aspect of the games has also lead many developers to be inspired to the point where some would call them “Pokémon clones”. Some of them ended up being quite enjoyable (Spectrobes comes to mind), but there are also quite a few stinkers. Ever heard of Dino Master? No? There’s a good reason why you didn’t, and you shouldn’t try to investigate any further.

Once all of this is taken into consideration, one is left with a couple of questions to think about. Where will they appear next? What kind of game or cameo must we expect next from the adorable creatures? What kind of merchandise has yet to bear their likeness? I think that the real question is “what’s left to do for Pokémon”?

First, is there anything left to do for Pokémon? We’re talking about a franchise that has tried anything from voice recognition software to a picture taking game. At one point, it even had its own Pop-Tarts flavour. One of the things I found to be lacking was an entry into the “dating sims” category. It’s a genre that is more popular over in Japan, but I think that it would be worth the risk to try to bring it over here, considering the relative success of quirky games for the DS like Phoenix Wright or Cooking Mama. Furthermore, if someone can successfully make this kind of game popular in North America, it’s Nintendo and one of its most popular franchises.

Now don’t go thinking that I am a pervert, because the way I would see it is as something educational. A lot of focus has been put on the breeding aspect of Pokémon species in the last few games, so I think it’s only natural to show kids how it’s done. You know that little Jimmy is going to learn it one way or another, either by walking in on his brother and his skanky girlfriend or by watching Fido going at it with the neighbour’s dog. Don’t you think it might as well be thought by innocent-looking creatures?

The game would reveal a lot of stuff that I bet a lot of nerds have been wondering for a while. Questions like “What does it take to get Jigglypuff in the mood?” or “Does Voltorb has one like every other guys?” would finally give out some much needed answers, and who knows, might help diminish the number of websites publishing pictures and stories of Mr. Mime doing some very naughty things with his fingers. I don’t want to scar other people’s mind as bad as mine was, but yes, Pokémon hentais do exist. Don’t click on every links you see on message boards.

In Closing

What started as some kind of homage ended up drifting away into a discussion about hentai, and for that, I apologize. The goal of this column was simply to acknowledge the unbelievable level of success that the franchise has reached since its start about ten years ago. It is the first title that really made me like RPG games (Super Mario RPG was more of a Mario game than a RPG to me), and even though I haven’t bought one of the handheld RPGs since Pokémon Red, the Diamond and Pearl versions might just be what was needed to bring me on the bandwagon once again.

I raise my glass to Pokémon for the franchise’s ten years anniversary. I’ll try to remember that next time I hold a beer in my hand. When my friends ask what the hell I am doing, and who this toast is dedicated to, I will simply raise my head, my eyes glowing with pride as I say “Guys, this one is for Blastoise. Hydro Pump is a killer move.”