If you were still in school during the late 90s, then you remember these moments as well as any: huddling over your – or someone else’s – Gameboy Color at recess, watching the likes of Dragonite and Rhydon duke it out on a tiny, eye-straining screen.
Becoming immediate best friends with anyone who had the version opposite yours.
Running home to catch the episode of Ash’s ongoing quest, and getting up extra early to make sure not to miss the new ones every Saturday.
Surfing repeatedly up and down the coast of Cinnabar Island.
And yes, participating in the endless, eternal debate that continues to exist to this day – Charizard or Blastoise?
Whether you chose to catch it or not, Pokemon fever rushed through and shaped each and every one of our childhoods profoundly, capturing the imaginations of boys and girls alike with fantastic creature design – towering dragons and singing cotton balls and everything in between. [Sorry, Jigglypuff, but it’s true.]
It was all magic then, an age before the internet gave away how to exit each cave, when Mew was nothing more than a rumor trapped under a truck.
Two weeks and 40 game hours ago, when I fired up my copy of Pokemon Y for the first time, magic lived again.
Now long out of my elementary school years, I felt eight once more, right down to facing the agonizing choice of which Poke-partner I wanted – Froakie and Bulbasaur, if you must know.
And then it was off again, on a quest I had started so often before. Beat the Elite Four. Be the very best. Catch them all.
Those goals have never changed, and it is likely that they never will. Pokemon is oddly life like in that way, periodically reminding us that there are new frontiers to conquer, new challenges that await.
But just as much as it was familiar, so too was it strange and exciting.
Much of that comes from the sheer newness of it all – the names and monsters you will not recognize, the changes and evolutions to those once you once did.
[An aside: During my adventures, I saw an ice cream cone and a set of keys that were supposed to be Pokemon. At the risk of sounding like one of those geezers who is always complaining about how things went ‘back in my day’, back in my day, Game Freak never would have stood for any of this crap! Back to your regularly scheduled over-emotional post.]
Still, none of this compares to the first walk into Lumiose City, a moment that will make it crystal clear that this is not the Pokemon we grew up with. Gazing up at the Eiffel-inspired Lumiose Gym gives an impressive, unprecedented sense of scale in this series. Combine that with full directional movement – another first – and the message is clear: the world is bigger than it ever has been.
And it’s all yours.
Having finished it faster than most people I know, I can tell you with certainty – Pokemon used to be simpler before it entered the third dimension. I still pine for the innocence it once was, before people worried obsessively about natures and Individual Values, playing Darwin on their DSes.
But I’m okay with what’s here now, I think.
After all, all of these changes are signs of a game getting older. Better.
Just like I did.