‘Pokémon’: Bugs To Riches

James Kennedy

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Illustration by Lya Hernandez

In less than a month, half of Whitman College will be hunched over their 3DS’s with either “Pokémon X” or “Y,” swearing under their breath as they waste another Ultra Ball trying to nab an elusive catch, while the other half be wondering why the hell people are treating Charizard like it’s a new Pokémon in this version. The “Pokémon” series has been so successful that nearly two decades after its original release, the juggernaut of a franchise releases a new game every year and still earns the annual GDP of a small country in profit every time. Yet this now monolithic force had much humbler beginnings: a man who liked bugs.

The studio that develops the series, Game Freak, actually began as a self-published video game magazine illustrated by Ken Sugimori, who continues to draw the definitive artwork for every new Pokémon. Series creator Satoshi Tajiri, who wrote the text for the magazine, drew on his childhood passion of collecting insects when pitching the games to Nintendo. Tajiri was saddened by the loss of insect habitat within Japan, and came up with the concept as a way to share his hobby with a new generation, allowing children to collect and trade creatures of their own.

The original games began development in 1990, with development continually paused to raise more funds. Despite Nintendo’s initial hesitation to support the games, Tajiri was backed by “Mario” and “Zelda” creator Shigeru Miyamoto, who acted as a mentor for the project. “Pokémon Red” and “Green” versions were finally released six years later to critical acclaim and high sales.

When releasing the games in the United States, Nintendo was met with several setbacks. Due to the games’ shoddy coding, the translation actually required the games to be reprogrammed based on the code of the recently released “Blue” version, which fixed several of the games’ crippling glitches. The company was also concerned that the “cute monsters” wouldn’t resonate with American children, and considered redesigning the creatures to appear more menacing. This idea was shot down by Nintendo’s president, who decided to take marketing the games as a “challenge” –– a challenge that would be met with overwhelming success.

Today, “Pokémon” is a household name, with its claws in the worlds of video games, card games, TV shows, toy lines and culture as a whole. Only counting the main series handheld games without any of the many spin-offs and assorted merchandise, the series has sold over 140 million units. Whether you have been there at each new game debating which Legendary to use your Master Ball on, or you have no idea what I just said, no one can argue that “Pokémon” has surpassed its lowly beginnings to become something truly great.

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