It might be a license to print money today, but the Pokemon franchise wasn’t always this way. In fact, at the time of its February 1996 release, its success was somewhat uncertain. Taking years to develop by Game Freak and creator Satoshi Tajiri (who’s also on the autism spectrum), Pokemon Red + Green (Red + Blue for the 1998 North American release) were instant successes, selling millions of copies. Red + Green, with the ingenious idea of utilizing the often-neglected Game Boy Link Cable to trade and battle Pokemon, became a craze both in Japan and throughout the world – helping to launch what’s also one of the most competitive battling scenes in any video game. Just ask Smogon.
In fact, Red + Green were so popular that they’re currently the highest-selling RPG games of all time, with over 30 million sold across all platforms. While the Pokemon battles in the two games aren’t even close to how competitive they are today (seriously, there were no held items, Dark // Fairy // Steel types didn’t exist, and Psychic-types destroyed everything), the cultural phenomenon almost immediately infiltrated all aspects of popular culture, with movies, a trading card game, and even the ubiquitous Pokemon Go, released just a few years back.
Still a multibillion-dollar empire today, Pokemon has inspired a plethora of hilarious memes as well, from Slowpoke running at the speed of Internet Explorer to Pikachu’s shocked face. And with the announcement of a Pokemon open-world game out next year as well as the remakes of Diamond and Pearl dropping later this year, Pokemon isn’t going away anytime soon. Red + Green helped revitalize the Game Boy hardware at the time, which had been out since 1989, and was at risk of being overtaken by color handhelds at the time. Eventually, Gold + Silver would be developed for the Game Boy Color, introducing tons of new monsters, and cementing the success that Red + Green started in Japan. All it took was a chance.