Pokemon, the most commercially successful entertainment franchise of all time, is 25 years old today. It seems almost poetic that I’m writing this piece at 25 myself given that I genuinely feel as if I grew up with these strange, magical creatures. I don’t just mean I played it as a kid and still boot it up from time to time today, by the way – I mean that some of my most fond memories are inextricably tied to this wonderful world.
I started playing video games at around four years old. Prior to that I had no idea what a game was – I was literally four. I didn’t get a GameBoy Classic – yes, that massive cinder block that needed four batteries to run for about an hour – because I asked for it. It was given to me as a gift. To this day, it’s one of the best ones I’ve ever gotten.
My gran used to mind two brothers who were a few years older than me after school. I was still in playschool at this point – or kindergarten for any Americans in the audience – and used to wait for them to come home, eager to chat to the older kids about older kid stuff.
One day they arrived in my gran’s house with their GameBoys in hand. I still didn’t really know anything about these weird machines, mind, but I knew they were tied to the Pokemon anime somehow. At this point, my gran was taping every single episode of Pokemon that aired on VHS – I must have had about 20 videotapes covering the whole first season. And so, when I saw that the two kids had come with slightly smaller GameBoys that day, I knew something was different, but couldn’t quite put my finger on what.
Before I could say anything, one of them passed me their yellow GameBoy Classic with Pokemon Blue in it, saying it was mine to keep. In hindsight, I can see that they’d just gotten new GameBoy Colors and were excited about playing games in more colors than grey. But yeah, that’s how I got my first GameBoy, and why I booted up Pokemon Blue as my first game ever back in late ‘99, early 2000.
I started my adventure with Squirtle – come to think of it, maybe the reason I let my friend tattoo this lovable turtle on my leg in her kitchen one night was subconsciously tied to me having chosen him as my original starter all those years ago. I’m not sure how many times I beat Pokemon Blue over the next couple of years, but I reckon it’s safe to say at least dozens.
The two brothers my gran used to mind eventually gave me other hand-me-downs, including The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Season and the original Link’s Awakening, as well as a GameBoy Color once they got their GameBoy Advances. I was enraptured by these as well, but I usually just ended up going back to Pokemon Blue – in fact, I don’t think I stopped replaying it until I got my hands on a copy of Pokemon Silver a couple of years after launch. If I remember correctly, the kids my gran minded gave me both Gold and Silver, as they’d both recently gotten Crystal.
My brother was born in 2001. The first Pokemon game I ever got at launch was Pokemon Diamond, so I was still playing Pokemon Silver – or maybe Crystal – well into the Gen 3 era. When my brother turned three, I gave him Pokemon Gold and a GameBoy to play it on. Like me, he became enamored with the series. Also like me, he still loves it today. Back in 2019, I got Sword and he got Shield so we’d be able to trade version-exclusives. It’s admittedly pretty wild to think that 15 years after starting to play these games together, we were both still sufficiently invested in the series to get alternate versions day one. As for the now confirmed Gen 4 remakes, we’ve already decided that I’m getting Brilliant Diamond and he’s getting Shining Pearl – just like last time.
But my favourite Pokemon memory of all time goes back to when we were playing Gen 2 together. Again, my brother was three. As an eight-year-old, I thought I was the Beedrill’s kneedrills and would regularly show off my Feraligatr, who was probably nearing level 100. My brother, in a move that demonstrated monstrous confidence for someone who was literally three, challenged me to a battle. “Sure,” I thought. “Easy win.”
My brother sent out a level 83 Magneton and absolutely annihilated my Feraligatr. I think my other good Pokemon at the time were Tyranitar and a shiny Gyarados, both of which were significantly lower-level than his level 83 Magneon and weak to either Flash Cannon or Thunder. My brother, to put it bluntly, made a holy show of me. Eight-year-old Cian went as red as his battered shiny Gyarados with embarrassment.
The thing is, right, my brother has always been a legend. He’s incredibly kind-hearted, and so he asked me if I wanted his Magneton after the battle. I didn’t want to take his best Pokemon from him, but he genuinely didn’t want it anymore. He had a Typhlosion, I think, and wanted my Feraligatr. I also had a Mew from Pokemon Blue, which was his favourite Pokemon at the time. And so I swapped my Feraligatr and Mew for his Magneton and Kadabra, which obviously became Alakazam as soon as I received it. My brother was not happy about this, so I sent him a Kadabra, too.
My brother’s Magneton was called “SEAN.” I didn’t know you couldn’t change nicknames at this point – I was a bit of a boring trainer and used to specifically want all of my Pokemon to have their proper names. I don’t think I would have actually changed it, but in hindsight I’m exceptionally glad that even if I’d wanted to, I couldn’t. To this day, I always catch at least one Magnemite or Magneton in every Pokemon game and call it SEAN – if it’s the former, I make sure to evolve it, too. To be honest, I tend to use new regional Pokemon whenever a new generation launches – Grimmsnarl was my ace in the hole for Gen 8 – and so I don’t actually use Magneton that much. Still, it’s one of my favourite Pokemon ever, and just knowing I have SEAN in one of my boxes is more than enough to remind me of why I love this series so much – because it’s something that I got to share and still do share with my brother.
This is why I don’t really mind about Pokemon games being different as they go on. Loads of people complained about Let’s Go, but I loved it because it’s the first one my brother and I properly played together since Gen 5. This meant I wasn’t affected by the weird antagonistic trend that emerged shortly after launch, which caused plenty of Pokemon fans to denounce the game for pretty much no reason. As someone who has literally grown up with Pokemon, I can confidently say that Let’s Go captured the exact same magic as the games from over two decades ago – the ones I played over and over again with my brother and our friends.
So yeah, happy 25th birthday Pokemon. When you’re 50 I’ll still probably be getting thrashed by my younger brother, who will be 45. Honestly, you’ll probably still be the most important series of all time to both of us.
Next: My Advice For Pokemon Diamond & Pearl: Select New Game, Choose Chimchar, Win
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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