POKÉMON for the Casual Gamer - How New and Returning Players Can Reconnect with the Franchise
Pokémon (Pocket Monsters) was released in 1996 on the Nintendo Game Boy as Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green, or Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue outside of Japan. Pokémon Green would eventually be released outside of the United States as well, followed by another variation of the game, Pokémon Yellow.
The game put the player in the role of an intrepid child who has been tasked with catching, evolving, and cataloguing 150 fantastical creatures, Pokémon. At the same time, the player is able to use their team of Pokémon to battle other Pokémon Trainers in order to become a Pokémon Master. In an added twist, some of the 150 Pokémon were exclusive to either the Red or Green (Blue) version of the game, and as a result, players needed to use the Game Boy Link Cable to trade Pokémon with other players in order to get all 150 Pokémon.
Due to the success of the original games, Pokémon has grown into an epic franchise spanning additional video games, a collectible battle card game, a long running anime series, and heaps of action figures, plushies, and other merchandise. Though there have been many animated films, in 2019 Pokémon will finally see the release of the first live-action film, Detective Pikachu.
To give you a better idea of how the franchise has grown, the first games featured 151 collectible Pokémon; a number that has now grown to a spectacular 802, which does not include Ultra and Shiny variations of each one of the collectible monsters.
For many people, Pokémon is firmly rooted in the foundation of their childhoods in one form or another. However, if you did not grow up with Pokémon, and thus lack any true nostalgic hook into the franchise, how would you go about jumping into the world of Pokémon? At the same time, older gamers, like myself, might find reconnecting with the Pokémon franchise a challenge. Below I discuss some ways for new and returning players to reconnect with the franchise.
Several years ago I attempted to rekindle my interest in Pokémon by purchasing the latest installment of the franchise on the Nintendo 3DS, Pokémon Y. Pokémon Y, and its counterpart Pokémon X, promised the ability to catch Generation 1 Pokémon, or Pokémon found in the original games, e.g. Red, Green, Blue, and Yellow, along with the newest batch of pocket monsters.
I got about halfway through the story before giving up. Though the game play was more or less the same from what I remembered from Pokémon Red/Blue, I was overwhelmed by the introduction of a larger cast of new Pokémon, as well as, new play features that seemed to take me away from the game’s core experience, such as Pokémon breeding. What eventually brought me back into the franchise was the release of Pokémon Go!, which I will discuss later, and Nintendo’s re-release of Pokémon Red/Blue in the Nintendo eShop. Being able to play the games from my childhood revived my love for the franchise.
If you have a 2DS or 3DS and $9.99 to spend then you can pick up a digital copy of Pokémon Gold, Pokémon Silver, and Pokémon Crystal. With either of the these handheld systems you can also pick up many of the other Pokémon games in the series as well, such as Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire, Pokémon X/Y, Pokémon Sun/Moon, and also the Ultra versions of these games. Either of these games can get you started as a Pokémon Trainer and start at $39.99 new.
At the same time, Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu! or Pokémon Let’s Go Evee! on the Nintendo Switch is an updated version of the original Pokémon games with newer graphics and game mechanics. I greatly enjoyed playing Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu!, and thanks to a helpful stranger at GameStop, was able to fill out my Pokédex with all 150 Pokémon. If you lack a helpful stranger though, there are easy to find forums on Reddit and Facebook full of players who will answer questions and trade/exchange Pokémon with you.
If you lack a Nintendo gaming system, or the funds to purchase one, then you can still experience the world of Pokémon thanks to Niantic’s Pokémon Go! By downloading the free Pokémon Go! app and synching the app to a Google Email account you are able to find and catch Pokémon in the real world. The app is very self explanatory and has a decent tutorial system for getting new players started. You can also transfer Generation 1 Pokémon from your Pokémon Go! account into Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu! and Pokémon Let’s Go Evee! as well.
In full transparency I do have a love/hate relationship with Pokémon Go!. This is fitting since each Pokémon game usually comes with a counterpart. The release of Pokemon Go! helped to rekindle my interest in the world of pocket monsters by offering a “free” game, sans microtransactions, and a way to be active in the real world. When Pokémon Go! released I lived in a rural area with only one Pokémon Gym that was across a busy highway.
I did not want to end up as a headline in local paper: “Grown Man Killed While Chasing Imaginary Creatures,” so my ability to use this Pokémon Gym was limited. Despite this challenge, I still found enjoyment in Niantic’s Pokémon offering. At least, I did find enjoyment in the game until I realized that real money would need to be spent in order to fully enjoy the game, which connects to why I hate the game. With a limited number of Pokéstops in my area, a structure for getting the needed Pokéballs to collect Pokémon, purchasing Pokéballs from the digital store was the only way to fully enjoy the game. This quickly becomes problematic as catching a stubborn Pokémon does not mean just a loss of resources, but a loss of real money as well.
There are times when I felt that the game was programmed to make me spend my digital resources in hopes that I would then spend more real currency. Also, if you wish to “Catch’em All” then good luck as a great amount of travel is required, international travel. I hate microtransactions as it is, but I really hate not being able to feasibly complete a game. As stated before though, Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu! and Pokémon Let’s Go Evee! allows you use many of the play features offered in Pokémon Go! with the added ability of being able to transfer any of your Generation 1 Pokémon from your Pokémon Go! account, minus Mew, and into the game. If you live or work on a college/university or an urban environment then Pokémon Go! will probably be more your speed.
Other Options/Final Thoughts:
The foundational story elements of picking a “Starter Pokémon” from a collection of three Pokémon, or two in the case of Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu! and Pokémon Let’s Go Evee!, has remained consistent through all of the main Pokémon games. Regardless of the intrinsic differences between of each the game’s story elements, players will be tasked with cataloguing, evolving, and battling Pokémon. There are many online forums and websites listing each of the Pokémon that pertain to each game, and for new players, I recommend having one of these pulled up as you explore the game. Otherwise, you will spend hours, like I did, trying to evolve a Pokémon that either lacks an evolved form or can only be evolved through trading, or another special way.
Please do not let this reveal dissuade you from exploring the franchise. Thanks to YouTube and other streaming services you can get a feel for Pokémon before spending any money. I strongly recommend checking out a show called Pokémon Origins, which can be found on YouTube or Amazon. Pokémon Origins recaps the story of the original Pokémon games in true anime fashion, and with a great animation style. At the same time, Pokémon Origins explores how Pokémon function in this larger world. For example, during one episode a SWAT team raids a criminal hideout accompanied by several Pokémon. The Pokémon rip through the walls of the facility in an effort to catch the criminals, which leads to realization of how wondrous and scary living in the world of Pokémon must be.
Regardless of your taste or age, Pokémon is accessible to everyone. I have met many welcoming people of various ages, genders, and backgrounds who unabashedly worked to help each other. This holiday season if you are looking for something new, something old, or to be a part of something special, then I highly recommend exploring the world of Pokémon. Even if you do not “Catch’em All,” I think you will catch the spirit of adventure and community.
Sound off below with your thoughts about Pokémon, and with any advice for new and returning players!
By Joseph Fridley