marck parra

Gotta Rehash ‘Em All: The Rise and Fall of Pokémon

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Pokémon showed me the world, only to shatter it later on.

If you have been living under a rock for the past two decades and don’t know, Pokémon is a massively popular multimedia franchise that has had a stranglehold on pop culture and the Internet, rivaled only by the popularity of cats.

No, seriously. Ask your grandma if she’s ever heard of a Pikachu before; chances are, she has a massive Pikachu painting hanging above her dining room table. Pokémon is that popular.

Still don’t believe me? I’ll just leave this here.

In general, though, Pokémon encompasses a wide range of media and merchandise, including a trading card game, an animated TV series, movies, toys, clothing and much, much more. 

Yet, above all else, Pokémon is perhaps best known for its mainline video game series. These games would later be adapted into a hugely popular anime series that took the world by storm. It was, and still is, a global phenomenon.

On a personal level, Pokémon used to mean the world to me. Keywords: used to. 

Once my favorite franchise of all time – video game or otherwise – Pokémon has turned into little more than a distant friend that I no longer hang out with and only remember fondly from time to time. We were once inseparable and now we can’t even be bothered to be in the same room together. How times change.

The seeds of our eventual demise were always there, but things began on such a beautiful note. This is a story of how keeping things safe and stagnant eventually comes back to bite you.

Let’s take it back to the prehistoric age of the late 1990s when, like many others, my Pokéjourney began. 

Victory Road (The Rise of Pokémania)

A wild Pokémon franchise appeared!

If you weren’t around to witness it, Pokémania hit the streets hard in the late ‘90s and took hold of anyone caught in its path. It’s similar to what the Beatles did in the ’60s, I’m assuming.

Like most kids during that time, I was first exposed to the Pokémon bug thanks to the anime series that was shown every weekday on my local television station after school. I was already in love with cartoons by this time, but this cartoon (or anime, as I would later find out) was different for some unexplainable reason. It could be because it was so different from what I was used to watching or because I thought the ‘monsters’ looked badass – yeah, probably the latter.

Regardless, I was hooked harder than Spongebob in the “Hooky” episode.

I was hooked even more when Pokémon trading cards started circulating around the schoolyard in my elementary school. Parents – and their wallets – know exactly how popular those cards were.

I still remember my first Pokémon card fondly to this day; it was a Blastoise card that was given to me by a good friend, Ricardo. Sure, it wasn’t the coveted Charizard card that every kid was after, but I still felt like the coolest kid on the campus or school bus whenever someone asked to see it.

This was short-lived, though, as my bubble would eventually burst when my best friend at the time, Davion, told me the card was faker than our fourth-grade teacher’s wig. After thoroughly examining it, I realized that the printing was clearly off and the card was see-through. I still can’t believe I didn’t notice this initially… or maybe I didn’t want to.

Nevertheless, I still remember that fugazi Blastoise card fondly. We all start off somewhere, after all. That just goes to show how meteoric Pokémon’s rise was — fake cards were already making their rounds in schools, at least they were in the schoolyard at Longfellow Elementary in Compton, CA, but I digress.

My love for the Pokémon anime and trading cards paled in comparison to the thing that would have a monopoly over my childhood mind like no other: the first-generation Pokémon games, Red, Blue and Yellow Versions released on Nintendo’s Gameboy.

My love for Pokémon – and video games as a whole – would solidify when I was finally able to get my hands on a Gameboy Color and a copy of Red Version. To my excitement, there was nothing fake about things this time around – trust me, I made sure.

Eventually, a few years later, a copy of Pokémon Gold Version (one of the sequels to Red Version) managed to grace my hands and, to this day, is my favorite video game of all time. More on that in a later blog post.

Pokémon, by this time, had turned into a household name and helped catapult other Japanese franchises into the mainstream, such as Digimon. 

This was a beautiful time in my life and thankfully, it would carry over into the rest of the 2000s decade.

Goldenrod City (Peak Pokémon)

Pokémon used “attract.”

Marck was immobilized by love! 

By the mid to late 2000s, the Pokémania craze had subsided quite a bit, at least in the mainstream sense. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a very popular gaming franchise among gamers, but the cultural success that it once saw in the late ‘90s and early 2000s had obviously diminished.

For me, though, the opposite was true; Pokémania was alive and well. My friends, brothers and I were just as invested in the franchise as ever and we followed it religiously.

As the decade rolled on, the fourth generation of Pokémon games, Pokémon Diamond, Pearl and Platinum Versions, had just come out and I remember being so awestruck by the cover Pokémon, Dialga, Palkia and Giratina, that it felt like a natural mature progression in the series. They were and still are badass-looking Pokémon. I mean, just look at them:

Pokémon was growing up just like I was. 

Following the fourth-gen games, Pokémon released arguably the best games in the series and possibly my second favorite games in the entire franchise: Pokémon Black and White Versions. Pokémon Black and White had the best story in any Pokémon game to date (in my opinion) and opened up moral discussions about using Pokémon for battles. This was peak gaming for me. 

During these times, all was right in the Pokémon world.

Game Freak, the game developer of the Pokémon games, was showing no signs of slowing down…yet. Unfortunately, this would not last.

Buckle up, things are about to get bumpy.

The Indigo Plateau (Stagnation)

Pokémon used Wrap

It wasn’t very effective

Sometimes, more is not always better in life and we tend to find out the hard way. In Pokémon’s case, adding more dimensions (literally) to its games is where things started to go south.

In 2013, Pokémon made its long-anticipated transition from 2D to full 3D games with Pokémon X and Y Versions, released on Nintendo’s 3DS handheld console. 

To me, while fun overall, the games felt rushed and very generic and this is where Pokémon’s Achilles heel would start to show itself. 

They were pretty much a carbon copy of all the other games with a few gameplay tweaks here and there, but nothing to shake the precious formula that was becoming redundant. I was not that impressed, to be honest. 

The games also lacked any real challenge and held gamers’ hands obnoxiously, a tradition that continues in later Pokémon games to this day.  

The Pokémon themselves also took a hit for the worst as their 3D models looked lifeless compared to their past 2D sprite models. Just look at how they massacred my boy Typhlosion:

This generation was saved by the highly enjoyable Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire Versions, arguably the best Pokémon remakes to date.

In spite of that, the subsequent titles would regress even more and Pokémon, at least to me, would be a shell of its former self.

The Ruins of Alph (The Decline)

Pokémon has no moves left!

Pokémon used Struggle!

Pokémon Sun and Moon followed in late 2016 and this is where things started to really feel saturated and bland – or what I call the “Assassin’s Creed” trait.

This led to the unthinkable; for the first time in my life, I failed to complete a Pokémon game. Cue the world’s smallest violin.

This was also a point in my life when I was heavily focused on finishing college and working two jobs, including an overnight radio DJ gig, to support myself. As a result, I had little to no time to consistently play video games. When I did have time for gaming, I much preferred playing games on my new PS4 and experiencing state-of-the-art games like The Witcher 3.

By this time, Pokémon was releasing a new title in what felt like every year. One year, it was a mainline title; the next, it was a remake of a past game.

 I… I was over it. I knew deep down inside the franchise I once loved unconditionally had plateaued and hit a wall.

Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, a direct sequel to the Sun and Moon games, followed shortly after and for once in my Pokéjourney, I could not care less if new Pokémon games came out. 

Young Marck would be sick reading this.

Pokémon felt like nothing more than a money-making machine and The Pokémon Company was determined to bleed it dry, pumping out sub-par games like there was no tomorrow. This was also around the time when Pokémon Go was making waves, so admittedly, it was a little too much Pokémon for me. I know, shocker.

Things continued to spiral downward and the subsequent games in the series turned out to be worse than anything before it, ultimately leading to my abandonment of the franchise that had once been near and dear to my heart. Real Pokémon fans know where I’m going with this.

Pokémon Sword and Shield would be released on the Nintendo Switch in 2019, the first time a mainline Pokémon game made its way to a home console. 

With great processing power comes great responsibility – too bad Game Freak didn’t get this memo.

Sword and Shield were a mess even before their release, and for the first time ever, you could not catch ’em all because not all of the Pokémon were available in the game. Many people, including myself, were devastated. We were devastated not only because we couldn’t obtain all of the Pokémon – although that was part of it – but also because Game Freak had initially claimed they didn’t include all of the Pokémon to focus on enhancing the animations and visuals of the game. As it turned out, they reused animations from the previous 3DS titles, and the visuals were some of the worst the series had ever seen. You can see for yourself:

Making crappy games is one thing, but straight-up lying to your fans, especially the ones that have been loyal for decades? Yeah, that’s where I draw the line.

Lake of Rage (Personal Boycott)

Pokémon Whited Out

All good things must end. What comes up, must inevitably come down. I witnessed this firsthand. Pokémon, much like Icarus before it, flew too close to the sun.

The state of mainline Pokémon games in 2023 is an abysmal one; The Pokémon Company releases buggy, half-finished games at full price and expects people to be okay with this sort of effort. Because of all of this, once Pokémon Sword and Shield were released, I decided I could no longer support The Pokémon Company’s releases and have been boycotting the games ever since.

We all have to stand for something in life and mediocre Pokémon games is where I draw the line. Maybe one day I’ll be back when The Pokémon Company decides to make a competent game and stops lying to fans. Until then, I’m going to hold them accountable with my one-man boycott. 

Pokémon doesn’t need me, though. They are more successful than ever and are selling games at a record pace. Pokémon is just as big as ever was and is gaining new fans all of the time thanks to the highly successful Pokémon Go app and the 

Truthfully, stepping back from Pokémon games was the probably best thing that could happen to me. Thanks to this boycott, I’ve given other franchises a try like Atlus’ Persona and Shin Megami Tensei Series. Series that play very similar to Pokémon and are arguably better in many ways.

I’ve said this many times in my personal life: We live in a golden age of gaming. I legitimately believe that. There are so many amazing video games out there made by passionate individuals that sone that you can find a hidden gem very easliy, especially in the indie scene. I probably wouldn’t have given titles like Undertale, Astral Chain and others a try if it wasn’t for this boycott.

Everything happens for a reason and Pokémon and I are better off separated.

I’m glad people are still enjoying the franchise, truly, I am. I just knew I could no longer support such efforts, especially since we live in said golden age of gaming.

I still have a lot of love for my former all-time favorite franchise, especially the Pokémon themselves. I won’t erase almost two decades of joy, but I cannot for the life of me support such soulless efforts from Nintendo and Game Freak that are obvious cash grabs catered to nostalgia – I just can’t. 

This has also served as a learning lesson for me to not dump all of my eggs in one basket and to branch out more as often as possible. And while Pokémon and I no longer keep it cool like we used to, I still appreciate my journey with the franchise I grew up with it and was there when I needed it most. 

I wish Pokémon and its fans continued success.

PS: I still have mad love for you, Pikachu. Especially the OG “thicc” one

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