Monday, March 5, 2007

Gaming | Pokemon

On December 18, 1997, I saw a CNN news report about a cartoon called Pokemon ("Pocket Monsters") that caused hundreds of seizures in Japanese children. I learned that the anime was based from a popular game of the same name on Nintendo's Game Boy handheld console.

I already had a Game Boy at the time, yet I never heard of this game. The more I found out about this game, the more I wanted to try it, as the entire concept seemed very unique and interesting, especially the part about linking data with other Game Boys.

The next year, on September 1998, Nintendo of America launched Pokemon in the U.S.A. with 2 versions for the Game Boy, Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue. One thing I painfully learned about buying games for the Game Boy here at the time was that it was next to impossible in finding real, original games, as most of the ones being sold here were bogus, pirated versions that don't retain saved data well. Fortunately, my friend Ningning who lived in the USA bought the 2 games and had them shipped to me, which started my entire involvement with Pokemon.

The game's premise is simple enough: your main character lives in a world where a subspecies type of lifeform called Pokemon exist. They can be all sorts of animal types, from mammals to reptiles, from aquatic to avian, to rarely-seen mystical creatures possessing tremendous power.
The most popular Pokemon of them all, Pikachu (jumping), along with the starter Pokemon from all the games.

All these creatures can be captured by a device called a Pokeball, and can be further trained to battle other Pokemon. Your main objective is to travel from town to town, capturing and training Pokemon and challenging 8 Gym Leaders to earn Gym Badges, which makes you eligible to enter the Pokemon League and battle its powerful Trainers: The Elite Four, and finally, the region's Champion.

Battling in Pokemon appears to be the rock-paper-scissors type of battle; each Pokemon is categorized by type (Fire, Water, Electric, Psychic, etc), and certain types are weak towards other types (Water wins over Fire, Electric wins over Water, etc). Some Pokemon have dual types, with some extremely powerful Pokemon requiring careful planning and strategy during combat.

Once the game ends, a secondary objective becomes known: to catch every single Pokemon active in that region--this is where the concept of the game becomes truly unique, which has since been copied by many other games. Your main character has a device called a Pokedex, which can store data on every known Pokemon. As you capture each new Pokemon, the Pokedex records their data, right down to each one's unique ability and statistics.

Successfully completing the entire Pokedex isn't an easy task, because you can't actually catch every single Pokemon in one game--some can only be found in one version, while others can only be found in the other version. If you wanted Pokemon you don't have, you have to trade with someone else who has another copy of the game.

To this end Nintendo encouraged trading by utilizing one of the Game Boy's unheralded features, which was the ability to transfer data through a Link Cable. By using the cable, 2 Game Boys can be connected together and transfer data from one game to the other, provided each one has a copy of the game.

Of course, Nintendo made sure that getting every single Pokemon in your Pokedex would be a difficult process--so difficult, that the rarest Pokemon aren't found anywhere in the game at all. Instead, these rare Pokemon could only be uploaded to your game through Nintendo Special Events that are occasionally held in Japan, the USA and some other countries.

These events are like some kind of expo or promo tours where Nintendo would showcase their latest products, with giveaways and game demos. So if you can't afford to travel and attend these events, you're basically screwed...

...unless you're resourceful. Thanks to friends who were in the USA at the right time, I was able to convince them to attend Nintendo events there, and that's how I was able to get Celebi and Mew, two of the rarest Pokemon at the time.

Pokemon grew into a multimillion franchise that included the anime, manga, trading cards, merchandising and other forms of media. The craze peaked worldwide in 1999 and has since subsided, but it still remains one of Nintendo's most successful franchises, second only to Mario.

Thankfully, my only involvement with Pokemon are with the games--I never really got into all that other stuff like Trading Cards, which I thought was kinda lame. I've played every single Pokemon game released in the USA, making sure that I only got the original versions, including the newest pair of games that was released just this April 22, 2007.

Btw, my favorite Pokemon? It's Pikachu, the very first Pokemon that I saw on that CNN newsclip in 1997.

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