A generation on, Pokémon has created a second cultural phenomenon

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Anyone of my generation will fondly remember the first time Pokémon arrived on these shores. The late ‘90s saw schools around the world inundated with Pokémerchandise: trading cards, plush toys, video games and more. There was also an animated TV series and even a barrage of (largely unwatchable) movies, as kids everywhere were gripped in the jaws of Pokéfever.

It was a genuine cultural phenomenon, but of all the products to have surrounded the Pokémon sensation during those early years, it’s the video game that best stands the test of time. The original Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow titles for the Nintendo GameBoy are masterpieces of economical design, simplicity and playability. They may have been rendered in blocky black-and-white by a handheld console approximately the size and weight of a frozen lasagne, but as a gaming experience little could touch Pokémon at the time. Few titles can today.

pokemon gameboy
Iconic gameplay from the original Pokémon GameBoy game. Player encounters a wild Pikachu, the world renowned franchise mascot.

The wild success of Pokémon Go

And yet, two decades on, the Pokémon company finds itself at the heart of a second cultural phenomenon, and it’s another hand-held game that’s blazing the trail. We’re talking, of course, about Pokémon Go.

pokemon go player
Players explore the real world to discover Pokemon. You can level your Pokémon to increase their power and try to overthrow a local Pokémon Gym.

It’s difficult to contextualise the success of Pokémon Go. AppInstitute have had a crack with this clever real-time stats engine, but it still seems a little abstract. It’s safe to say, however, that Niantic’s mobile gaming sensation is putting the success of other franchises – including Candy Crush, Angry Birds and Clash of Clans – in the shade.

But why is Pokémon Go so successful? It’s buggy, it’s frustrating and it absolutely rinses your battery and data – and yet people absolutely love it. Not just kids, either, but professionals in their 20s and 30s with jobs, families and mortgages.

The twofold genius of Niantic

To start with, Niantic’s genius was to appreciate the nostalgia effect that Pokémon has on people of my age group. The game developers limited the app to include only the original 150 Pokémon and not any of the subsequent creatures developed for later generations of games, thus giving original Pokéfans their nostalgia fix. As such the game has mass appeal, beyond the key audience demographic of pre-teens.

pokemon tcg tournament
Players compete in seasonal Pokémon trading card tournaments.

That’s smart from a marketing perspective, but Niantic have also been smart from a tech perspective. The app developers realised that we carry a huge amount of technology around with us every single day (in the form of our smartphones), and that this technology represented the perfect framework for a real-world Pokémon game. The combined use of your GPS location, internet connection and camera help to create a truly immersive gaming experience like no other. It’s safe to say that this is the first game to fully take advantage of the power of our smartphones.

Pokémon Go is a genuine revolution in gaming – not just mobile gaming, but gaming full stop. Certain elements could have been thought through a little better (take a look at just one of a litany of controversies), but to create a game that’s this immersive and playable, has cross-generational appeal and also helps to get a sedentary generation on their feet – that’s hugely impressive. Few can resist the lure of becoming a real Pokémon trainer.

To be at the heart of two cultural phenomena a generation apart speaks volumes of the genius of Pokémon. We’re all fans here at Flubit, and proud to admit it. If you’re a true Pokéfan, remember to shop for games, toys and merchandise through Flubit – we’ll create a unique deal just for you and help to save you money on your favourite purchases.

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