Note from Matt: Here we are at the final entry in our celebration of Pokémon’s 20th Anniversary. We hope you all enjoyed reading our memories of this iconic franchise!
My infatuation with the world of Pokémon at young age is a bit tricky to decipher. It’s essentially trying to unravel one’s first crush and remember each and every finite detail of your first meeting. Think of this crush as one part accidental and one part fate. I became awestruck at everything and wanted to learn more. However, much like any first crush, it soon fades away as you grow older. Luckily, when I almost seemed to forget about it, Pokémon eventually found a way to rekindle itself with my heart.
When it comes to my earliest Pokémon memories, I wasn’t exaggerating when I said it was accidental. So, let me bring you all back for a short recap of how I became a so-called “Poké-fanatic.” I was 12 at the time, and it was my usual Friday after-school ritual to the video store to rent a game. Much to my dismay, an N64 game I wanted to rent wasn’t available (a man can only check out Banjo-Kazooie so many times before someone else swoops in and gets to experience it). I eyed the remaining selection of games and, just like that, Pokémon Snap caught my attention.
After one weekend with the game, what followed was me diving into a rabbit hole of Poké-mania. For lack of a better phrase, I can only describe this Poke phenomenon as the video game equivalent of a sugar high but mixed with the frenzy of collecting Beanie Babies and/or Pogs. Point being, Pokémon had a hold of me and it wasn’t letting go anytime soon.
Not long after my moment of clarity with Pokémon Snap, I was soon saving allowance money to buy a copy of either Pokémon Red or Blue. But, when the Pokémon Trading Card game came into my view of consciousness, I refocused my efforts on that instead (I later borrowed a copy of Red and Blue from one of my friends). If there was one way to see one’s hard-earned money disappear faster than at a blackjack table, look no further than with the Pokémon Trading Card game.
Week after week, I would buy single or booster packs of Pokémon cards without hesitation. When money was tight, I’d kindly ask my mom for $5 just in the hopes of attaining that elusive holographic Charizard to add to my collection. Sure, I would play actual matches with the cards here and there, but let’s be honest: all we cared about was collecting and having the bragging rights alongside it. Trust me, you too would go on about the schoolyard during recess if miraculously pulled out a holographic Dragonite AND a Blastoise in two consecutive packs like I once did. I felt like a god that day…or a legendary Pokémon in this case.
When the cards weren’t strangling what was left of my bank account, the “Pokémon” animated series would be just another avenue of media for me to consume after school. If I can recall, the “Pokémon” animated series would be the last show I’d ever record via VHS before the emergence of DVDs. Not only that, but it was one of final kids shows I’d get to watch side-by-side with my older brother. We treated each episode like it was must-see TV, even if it was a filler episode or one dedicated to a Pokémon we cared little for (I’m looking at you, Mr. Mime). It was brotherly bonding at its finest. Now, whereas with a new installment of the Pokémon games, it was an entirely different animal.
While Pokémon Snap was my first experience with both the series and the brand, Pokémon Yellow was where it took off for me. I just couldn’t fathom to go less than a minute away from exploring the world of Kanto. Sure, you could describe the main series of Pokémon games as “baby’s first RPG,” but it was both deep and memorable for its sense wonderment of what new creatures you could find and catch. That simple, yet effective concept was what hooked me in the first place. This would only continue with the release of Pokémon Gold and Silver.
Considered the crown jewel among some fans, Gold and Silver threw a few curve balls at me during my initial playthrough. I had more Pokémon to catch, another world to explore, and more gym leaders to defeat. Much like its predecessors, it was similar yet still slightly new. Now if there’s one memory from Gold and Silver that clearly knocked me off my socks, then it would be the precise moment I found out you could play the Kanto region all over again. 200-plus Pokémon and two regions to go along with it. I couldn’t believe it, and we all had Satoru Iwata to thank for it with his compression tools.
All in all, I was in perpetual bliss with Pokémon. Although, as quickly as I gained interest in the series, I would just as quickly lose it as I got older. It was midway through high school when I lost interest in Pokémon. Everything from the cards, the TV show/movies, and games were doomed to be remembered as a silly fad I pumped months of allowance money into as a pre-teen. The magic of me basking in all of its “Gotta Catch ‘em All” glory was gone, yet Pokémon as a series still moved forward after its phenomenal peak. Ten years would go by until I would even acknowledge a main-series Pokémon game.
From the installments on the GBA to the Black and White sequels on the DS, I simply did not care. With the release of Pokémon X and Y, I approached them with cautious optimism. I was no stranger to the fact that the series had become stale with its formulaic gameplay and visuals, but these new installments found a way rekindle a long lost love. I can’t truly explain it well, but maybe it’s that Pokémon knew what heartstrings to pull when I first played Y. I was overjoyed with glee, nostalgia, and determination to catch Pokémon again. This was something special indeed.
With Pokémon celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, I not only feel old that it has reached this milestone, but happy to say I was able to grow up alongside it despite regretfully neglecting it at one point in my life.