As of the February 27, 2016, Pokemon will have been around for 20 years. While you’re internally screaming at just how fast all of those years have passed by, let’s take a breather to look at the greatest moments of one of the most iconic gaming series of all time.
From the historically important, to personal milestones, and the surreal, these are the most significant moments in Pokemon’s history.
1. Choosing your starter
It all started with a choice in 1996: Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle. Not only can your decision be a deal breaker for a relationship (only chumps pick Squirtle), it’s one of the most iconic selection processes in gaming history. It was also your first taste of the freedom the Pokemon series provides - picking your starting Pokemon is your first choice of many and that’s what’s made the series so enduring. It’s your adventure and it’ll be completely different from any of your friends. The Pokemon you catch, the ones that make it into your team, and the moves you teach them - it’s all of your own doing. That sense of ownership and customisation is a powerful thing and it’s stuck with fans for 20 years.
2. Finding your first shiny
First introduced in Gold/Silver back in 1999 to show off the powers of the Gameboy Colour, finding a shiny Pokemon quickly became a point of pride. With only a 1 in 8,129 chance of finding one in the wild (though your odds improve in later games) these colour variations are incredibly hard to come by. Everyone remembers their first wild shiny; mine was a Hoothoot early on in my second run of Pokemon Gold when I didn’t have any pokeballs yet. There may have been tears when I realised I couldn’t catch it. I haven’t seen another one since.
3. Battling online
Being able to fight over the internet might seem like old hat now, but back when Diamond/Pearl released in 2006 it was a major revolution for Pokemon fans. No longer were you stuck fighting the same local friends and family over and over again - now the whole world was your adversary. The only drawback was that if you thought you were hot stuff among your friends you quickly learned how insignificant you actually were when you faced some real competition.
4. Twitch plays Pokemon
Showing just how many people will come together in the name of Pokemon, over a million fans ‘helped’ direct the heroic Red through his adventures via a Twitch stream that let viewers choose what he did. It was, unsurprisingly, chaos. With thousands of people inputting commands at any time, Red usually ended up bumping into walls and falling off ledges. But through sheer determination, some prayer to Lord Helix, and a powerful Pidgeot called ‘aaabaaajss’, they finally succeeded after 16 days of continuous play. They are the true Pokemon masters of our generation.
5. Finding Kanto after ‘finishing’ Gold/silver
The region of Johto in Gold/Silver with its new Pokemon and challenges felt huge by itself, so to then discover that Kanto from Red/Blue was also on the same cart after defeating the Elite Four felt like an extra special treat, and one that was only possible thanks to to the programming genius of the late Satoru Iwata. He stepped in when GameFreak were struggling to compress just Johto down to size and ended up doing such a good job of it that they could add the return trip to Kanto to it too.
6. Pikachu learns to dance
What’s better than Pikachu? 1,000 Pikachus, and that’s exactly what Japan got in the summer of 2014. They marched through the streets in perfect unison, like an army under the control of a questionable regime, until they congregated in a seafront arena for their rally. 2015 took it one step further by adding dance moves. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a troupe of Pikachus perform a complex routine, complete with hip thrusts, to Flo Rida.
7. Making your trainer truly yours in X/Y
While being able to customise your Pokemon team has always been a thing, being able to do more than pick your gender was never part of that thing until the latest generation and the introduction of X/Y. Now you can style your hair at salons and pick your outfit so your avatar feels more like you. It’s a small change, but it makes a huge difference to how you play the game. Going back to only picking between a boy or girl in Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire afterwards feels like a step back.
8. Creating your first secret base
The Gameboy Advance saw the arrival the original Ruby/Sapphire in 2002 and with it the introduction of Secret Bases - little hidey holes dotted around the map that you could decorate with a random assortment of plushies and furniture. It was a great way to carve out your own little space of the map, and if you ‘mixed records’ with other players, their bases would also appear in your game for you to explore. The deliciously plump Snorlax doll is a must for any Secret Base enthusiast.
9. Discovering the Pokerus
This is so rare that many players won’t have even heard of it let alone seen it, but if any of your Pokemon catch it it’s a real game changer. This secret, stat-boosting mechanic has been around since Gold/Silver but is only ever mentioned in passing by Nurse Joy after she heals your Pokemon and notices ‘tiny life forms’ stuck to it. It doesn’t harm your ‘mon in any way and passes after 1-4 days much like a human virus would, but instead of feeling sick it’s something for competitive Pokemon players to celebrate. Pokerus doubles the Effort Values (EVs) you earn through battling, so if you step up your training while you have it you can boost a Pokemon’s stats significantly, and you can spread it to others in your team. Once it passes, Pokemon then becomes immune to it, so it’s time to put in some intensive training if you do spot it.
10. Going outside for a walk
Pokemon has always been about being social - whether it be meeting up to trade across various versions or battling with others, there’s always been a benefit to getting yourself out there. Heart Gold/Soul Silver on DS took things one step further by introducing a pedometer-like device that let you carry a single Pokemon with you. The Pokewalker tracked your steps and would level up your chosen Pokemon and reward items depending on how far you’d been. It also feels a lot like the precursor for Pokemon Go - an upcoming mobile game that lets you find creatures in your own backyard or town to battle with others.
11. ‘That’ episode
I’m not sure ‘greatest’ is the right word for it, but it’s definitely one of the most significant moments in Pokemon’s history. On December 16, 1997 an episode called ‘Dennō Senshi Porygon’ aired in Japan and sent almost 700 viewers to hospital after triggering epileptic seizures, with another 12,000 reporting mild symptoms, due to the flashing effect of Pikachu’s thundershock in one scene. Cyber Pokemon Porygon became the fall guy for the episode since it was featured so heavily and has never appeared on the TV show since.
12. Slowpoke releases a music video
Pikachu isn’t the only one who’s succeeded in the dance/music arena. The ever unflappable Slowpoke has also been given a shot at stardom with a hypnotic, and somehow terrifying, reggae music video. Yup, reggae. Slowpoke reggae that has been officially endorsed by the Pokemon Company. What a time to be alive.
13. When Pokemon cards were banned from your school
There’s always that one kid who just has to ruin it for everyone else. In my school Pokemon cards were banned because someone stole another kid’s shiny Chansey; in my friend’s school it was because someone started a fight because they lost, and goodness knows how many trading ‘deals’ went bad in playgrounds across the globe. The fact that Pokemon cards were banned from such a huge number of schools in a mass wave of bad behaviour just goes to show how monumentally high Pokemon fever became in the late nineties.
14. Detective Pikachu
Of all of the various series spin-offs such as Pokemon Snap and Stadium, this is the most surprising. A mystery game that sees you partnered with a bizarrely deep-voiced Pikachu to help solve crimes. Detective Pikachu is overweight, can’t use electric attacks and likes to hit on random women. It’s currently only available in Japan, but the fact that this even exists is amazing.
15. The first time day changed into night
The passing of time is a marvelous thing, the world seems different in the dark of night compared to the warm glow of dawn, and the same is true for the world of Pokemon… since 1999. Gold/Silver (yes, again) really stepped things up when it added a day/night cycle that meant only certain Pokemon appeared at certain times of day. Great for adding variety, but maybe not so much if you only ever got home late in the evenings so only ever got to play the game in the dark...
16. Beating the Elite 4 with a Magikarp
The great thing about Pokemon is that you can pick any team you like and work your way through. Even the relatively useless Magikarp can be turned into an Elite Four-beating powerhouse with the right strategy. It takes a lot of healing items and patience, but it can be done thanks to the power of flailing.
18. When a real Pokemon gym opened
Late 2015 saw the world take one step closer to Pokemon in real life by opening a gym in Osaka, Japan where you can train and fight with a selection of monsters. Ok, so they’re virtual ones rather than skin and bone, but now we’re that little bit closer. All we need now is 100 years’ worth of advancement into genetic engineering and hey presto we’ll all have Bulbasaurs in 2116.
18. Breeding became big business
Breeding Pokemon to get adorable new ‘baby’ ‘mon and improved stats was first introduced in Gold/Silver, but started to take off more seriously in Diamond and Pearl with the advent of widespread competitive battling. No longer was having a varied team and decent strategy enough to win, you also needed Pokemon that were better than everyone else's - something you could do through breeding Pokemon to inherit better stats, abilities and natures. It’s an incredibly deep system that quietly runs behind everything determining whether your Rattata really is in the top percentage of all Rattata.
19. Mega Evolution
How do you keep Pokemon feeling new when there are 722 of them from the last 20 years? You introduce Mega Evolution to freshen up old favourites and add a new strategic layer to battle with short bursts of increased power. The latest evolutionary step is significant because it’s a way of adding new Pokemon in a way that doesn’t overwhelm players. It’s a completely new stage of battle, but one that’s based on the monsters you’re already familiar with so there’s no need to memorise 100 new names, and Charizard is now even cooler.
20. Noticing your wrinkles
This one is a personal one, I was just the right age to be utterly taken in and enchanted by the world of Pokemon when Red/Blue first came out and I’ve been a fan ever since. Loads of new fans have joined with every generation, but it feels particularly poignant that I’m turning 30 this year and I’m still playing it. Like a Disney film that’s funny for the whole family in different ways, the simple act of making friends and going on an adventure appeals to every generation. Like so many others that started with the original Red and Blue, I’ve started to notice the beginnings of crow’s feet at the corner of my eyes, and the veins on the back of my hands are becoming more noticeable, but I still look forward to every new game and the new Pokemon it brings.
It’s been an amazing 20 years, here’s to 20 more.