Japanese video-game designer Satoshi Tajiri came up with the idea for the “Pokémon” video game in 1990 when he encountered Nintendo’s handheld Game Boy and realized that individual devices could interact via linked cables. His company, Game Freak, nearly went bankrupt developing a prototype for Nintendo with 151 creatures known as Pokémon, short for “pocket monsters,” drawn by Game Freak’s Ken Sugimori.
Inspired by anime and insect-collecting, “Pokémon” came out in 1996. By that time, the Game Boy was considered passé technology, so the game didn’t receive many reviews. But it slowly and steadily gained fans until it became a top seller for Nintendo, second only to the Mario Brothers franchise.
In the game, players are Pokémon Trainers who set out to “catch ’em all,” or gather all the known Pokémon species in the Pokédex (“Pokémon Index”) and then train them to compete against Pokémon belonging to other Trainers until they win the Pokémon League. To capture a wild Pokémon, a player throws a Poké Ball, which can contain the monster. Then the Trainer’s creatures can fight (non-deadly) battles with other Trainers’ Pokémon.
The first generation of Pokémon was introduced with the 1996 Japanese Game Boy release, “Pocket Monsters Aka and Midori” (“Pocket Monsters in Red and Green”), which was never released outside of Japan. The Pokémon arrived in the United States on September 30, 1998, when “Pokémon Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition” debuted for Game Boy, reviving interest in the device. Since then, the Pokémon franchise produced multiple sequel games and expanded to anime, film, manga, as well as a Pokémon trading card game, which debuted in 1999. To date, there have been 722 documented types of Pokémon species including Pikachu, Charmander, Bulbasaur, Mew, Weedle, Rattata, Squirtle, Vulpix, Charizard, Totodile, Meowth, Oddish, Dragonair, and Blastoise.
In time for the franchise’s 20th anniversary, the Pokémon Company licensed with Niantic software developers to release an augmented-reality mobile game called “Pokémon Go” on July 6, 2016. Within a week, “Pokémon Go” surpassed the Tinder dating app in popularity on Android phones, and gained a place at the top of the Apple App Store.