Pokemon is one of those games everyone knows, or at least, everyone has heard of. They might not be able to name all 649 current Pokemon (or even the original 151), but they could probably tell you a few; Charmander, Bulbasaur, Squirtle, Mewtwo, and of course the icon and megastar of Pokemon, Pikachu. Believe it or not however, there was a time when no one knew what Pokemon was. The game concept was created by Satoshi Tajiri in the early 90s, and after a long development cycle, Pokemon Red and Green took Japan by storm when they released in 1996. Two years later Pokemania swept the US with the release of Pokemon Red and Blue in the United States. Kids everywhere were battling and trading their Pokemon, collecting their favorites, completing their Pokedexes and becoming true Pokemon Masters.
However, I was not one of those. My first Pokemon game, was 1999’s Pokemon Yellow. It was a slightly upgraded version of Red and Blue, that was based off the anime. None of that meant anything to me, though. I had never heard of Pokemon, I had no friends that were gamers (and well, to be honest, no friends at all) so I never knew there was a craze happening around me. In the summer of 1999, my family’s house burnt down. No one was home when it happened, and we lost everything. Throughout the rest of summer, and up until January of 2000, we were living in a family member’s extra bedroom, and to be honest, he was never financially stable. Sometime when we were living there, probably around the time Yellow released, my cousin showed me the Pokemon anime and I became hooked, immediately I wanted the cards, the games, and everything, but even as a kid I knew that wouldn’t happen, because all of our family’s money was going into finding a new house.
Our christmas for 1999 was a special one for me, for a few reasons. Our tree, was a fake one, an old used tire was the stand. All of our decorations were lost, so we took sewing needles, thread, popcorn, and kix cereal to make tinsel and ornaments. No lights or a star on top, but it really made me feel closer to my family. I got four presents that year, the smallest amount I ever received, but to this day I will never complain. All four of those presents mean the world to me, and I still have all four of them. I got the WCW Nitro soundtrack CD and the Pokemon TV series soundtrack CD. I went to the last two, I picked up the bigger of the two and as I slowly unwrapped the present…and I slowly made out what it was, my heart lept with the excitement only a 7 year old child could have. I see it- a Teal Game Boy Color, but what is a system with no games? I opened the second present to discover Pokemon Yellow version!
Yes, that is my original (working) Game Boy Color, and my original Pokemon Yellow Cartridge! I don’t remember crying, but I’m sure I did. So many of my Pokemon memories come from the Yellow version, and living in that damp, dark two bedroom flat, eating nothing but chicken noodle soup for what felt like an eternity. I remember the thrills of catching my Pokemon in Viridian Forest. I’ll never forget my confusion at why Pikachu couldn’t hurt Onix or Geodude- but I learned how to develop my team, and figure out what worked and didn’t. I distinctly remember being sad when I tried talking to Pikachu, and he didn’t like me- and really almost bringing my child self to tears when Pikachu let out his heart-wrenching cry when he would faint.
To this day I can still navigate Rock Tunnel without flash. When I first played the game, I had no idea HMs existed, or what they did, or where to find them. I spent hours wandering around in the dark, with my whole team eventually fainting until I finally got through and remembered what I was doing, and where I was going, a ton of trial and error. What I got next though, I did not expect. Lavender Town. That’s really all I have to say. The creepy music, the Pokemon graveyard. All that stuff scared me as a kid, because well, I was easily frightened, but since I knew it was just a game, I continued on. After making my up Lavender Tower the most frightening thing happened…I encountered a wild Pokemon…but it was a ghost! I couldn’t attack it. My Pokemon were too scared to move. I couldn’t catch it. All it would say was BEGONE. I got so scared I turned my Game Boy off and didn’t play Pokemon for nearly a week. I didn’t know what was happening, I had no internet, no guide. I legitimately thought my game was haunted. It wasn’t until later on that I got the strategy guide, well after my horrors had ended.
I got my first Pokemon to level 100 Yellow as well. By this point we had moved into our own house. I had a team of level 60s or so, and I had beaten the Elite Four, and wondering around Cerulean Cave, I wondered just how high you could level a Pokemon. So I took my Vaporeon, and mercilessly battled and spent hours grinding in that same area, only leaving to heal, when it happened. “Vaporeon grew to LV 100!” I tried grinding more just to make sure. It was either midnight, or just before when it happened it was exiting I immediately called my best friend to tell him. For my birthday that spring I got both Red and Blue versions, but they didn’t capture my quite like Yellow because I knew what to expect, but for whatever reason, I did legitimately catch all 151 Pokemon on my Red version, a save that I still have, and do not turn on, for fear of a dead battery having wiped my precious save, I’d really prefer not to know.
And so this lengthy post concludes Part 1 of my Pokemon retrospective. The next article will be all about the second generation of Pokemon games, Gold, Silver, and Crystal which might be my personal favorite generation of games. Until next time, be sure to wear comfy shorts!