A combined love of collecting bugs and playing video games led to one of the biggest toy crazes of the 90s, when Japanese gamer Satoshi Tajiri concocted a little game called Pokémon. As the editor of his own gaming magazine, Tajiri had become enamored with the Nintendo Game Boy system, especially the fact that two systems could be interconnected, and he wanted to create a special game for the system. After six long years of work, Nintendo bought the rights to his game and the Pokémon craze was officially launched.
The game stars with the player (referred to as The Trainer) embarking on an adventurous quest to join the coveted Pokémon League, which was no small undertaking. First there are the wild Pokémon creatures roaming about, each with their own unique abilities (fire Pokémon, bug Pokémon, flying Pokémon, etc.) that have to be captured and trained. Then, with a team assembled, each are led into battle against other Pokémon, acquiring additional skills and strength along the way.
Savvy creator, Tajiri also included a secret in his programming, one that he didn’t share with Nintendo, in that one particular creature, a Mew, could only be caught when two Game Boys were linked together. Buzz soon spread about this special monster, leading to the game being talked about among kids and persuading them to link their Game Boys up. And Mew wasn’t the only one, it turns out, there were actually four Pokémon creatures that weren’t even seen in the game unless this interconnectivity took place. Also, there were Pokémon that would refuse to evolve unless they were traded. These little touches got a lot of kids to play the game together, helping to realize a multiplayer dream that the creator had always envisioned for his game.
In the game, the roster of Trainers included Misty, Brock and Ash (along with her cute sidekick rodent, Pikachu), with some being helpful and others with a malicious streak. Then there is Professor Oak, the resident Pokémon expert, who serves to get newly indoctrinated fans of the game up to speed. And just like the Trainers, the Pokémon creatures were also sometimes good, and sometimes…not so good.
After the game started developing traction among Game Boy owners, Nintendo realized that it was time for some additional exposure, releasing comics, trading cards, and eventually, a Pokémon cartoon series in 1997. The following year, American audiences were introduced to both the game and cartoon, along with plenty of toy merchandise. Parents were initially skeptical, thanks to seemingly militaristic language used in the game, but their fears were diminished when both the National Parenting Center and the Vatican gave a thumbs-up to Pokémon.
All of this evolved into an inevitable Pokémon explosion, with hundreds of companies acquiring merchandising licenses and sales exceeding a billion dollars. In America, Hasbro owns the toys rights, and it has been a very lucrative ride for them. Much more than just a simple video game, or collection of little monsters, Pokémon is a full-fledged worldwide phenomenon, one that has entertained millions of followers with its interactive role-playing challenges. And all of it thanks to a guy who simply liked bugs and video games.
If Pokémon played a significant role in your 90s existence, we’d love to hear from all of the fans of this enormously popular craze in our comments section.