It's hard to be involved in geek culture and not know about Pokémon, whether you play the games, watch the anime or collect the trading cards.
These adorable creatures are more than just colorful, often weird-looking monsters solely meant for colossal and destructive combat. “Pokémon” goes deeper than that—at least as far as the video game series is concerned.
The “Pokémon” franchise is one of Nintendo's most successful, especially in the handheld market. Since 1996, gamers the world over have had the ability to capture, collect, train, evolve, trade and battle their own digital creatures through a deceptively simplistic role-playing game, and the video game world hasn't been the same since.
The “Pokémon” games come with a negative stigma, however, and it's one that blatantly false: Some people think “Pokémon” games are just for kids.
Now, there are enough people out there that think video games in general are for kids and kids alone. I'm not referring to them, as they're mostly a lost cause. I'm talking about self-proclaimed gamers who refuse to play “Pokémon” because it's a “kids' game.”
How wrong they are. I weep for them.
Not only are “Pokémon” games some of the most fun and enticing I've ever played—I'd go so far as to call the franchise my favorite video game series ever—but they teach a lot about that gushy yet essential stuff like friendship, love, cooperation, loss and other endearing subjects that anyone can learn from.
Let me break down why “Pokémon” games are great for people of all ages, from seven to 70.
As far as role-playing games are concerned, the “Pokémon” franchise is pretty straightforward. Most RPGs in this day and age take hours to learn, not to mention master.
Not “Pokémon.” On the surface, the game is as simple as a match of rock paper scissors. Generally speaking, each creature has a type (or two) that's weak and/or resistant to moves of other types. In a typical, fair match, the winning Pokémon will deal damage that its opponent is weak to. Factors like speed and defense and other stats come into play, but the basics are, well, pretty basic.
It's a combat system anyone with a bit of patience can grasp. That goes from the first-grader with a Nintendo 3DS to the middle-aged mom who found her son's old Gameboy buried under his bed. The simple design attracts children and those new to role-playing games or video games in general.
Another enticing component of the series is the variety of Pokémon you'll find within. There are a staggering 721 unique Pokémon, featuring everything from dragons to robots to sentient ice cream cones. You'd be hard-pressed not to find at least a few favorites in terms of design and moves. I have dozens.
At a glance, the games are colorful and fun. Dive in for a few minutes and you'll discover that easy-to-grasp battle system. The ability to make music videos or participate in beauty contests within the game are fun distractions. Even those who don't like battling can find joy in collecting or trading Pokémon.
And don't even get me started on hunting for shinies.
It's clear that Nintendo marketed the “Pokémon” games toward children, and video game-inept players can still find the series easy to pick up and play. But I'm a 24-year-old dude with a track record of completing deep, complex role-playing games, and I adore the “Pokémon” franchise, despite its bare-bones gameplay. Why is that?
As I've said, the “Pokémon” games are deceptively simple. If you're trying to make your way through the single-player campaign, it doesn't take much more than gathering six Pokémon you like, training them up to high levels and blasting through the opposition until you're the champion.
Things change when you take your game online and battle other players.
Buried deep beneath the series' rock-raper-scissors-like combat are invisible stats, mysterious moves and hidden abilities that completely change the game. This brings a complexity that core players such as me can enjoy for hundreds of hours—which I have, and still do.
Let me give you an example. Magikarp, a goldfish-looking Pokémon, is lauded as the single worst Pokémon in existence. Its stats are abysmal. On the other hand, legendary Pokémon, as their name suggests, are some of the beefiest and powerful Pokémon in the game.
I once witnessed an experienced player use a single Magikarp to obliterate an inexperienced opponent's team of six legendary Pokémon without breaking a sweat. The Magikarp trainer utilized unorthodox training and methods to achieve an astounding and ridiculous feat. It's that kind of depth that makes “Pokémon” so enticing for people such as myself.
I won't bore you with the details—there are a lot of numbers and calculations and planning involved—but true Pokémon masters, as they like to call themselves, sink dozens and dozens of hours into these games just to breed genetically flawless monstrosities that would put any wild Pokémon caught in the base game to shame.
That's not to say those who prefer to ignore such deep competitiveness are without merit. And that's what makes the franchise so incredible.
Game Freak, the development studio behind the series, truly crafted a genius concept with “Pokémon.” It's attractive enough to draw children in, simple enough for gamers of any type or age to grasp and intricate enough to keep hardcore players gaming for years to come. Perhaps that's why the series is still going strong 25 games later without diverging too far from its original formula.
And perhaps that consistent, winning formula is why I'm still drawn to it after almost 20 years, long after I've stopped being a kid.