For the past 15 years, I’ve been on a journey. It started on Christmas Day ’98, when Santa left a little red cartridge in my stocking, emblazoned with a fearsome, fire-breathing dragon. I popped it into my Game Boy, flipped the power switch on, and unknowingly embarked on a quest that continues to this day. The goal? To catch ’em all. Yeah, I may be of drinking age and working toward my bachelor’s, but that comes second to my biggest priority: to become a Pokémon master.
The premise of Pokémon has, from the very start, been simple. As a vaguely human-shaped, pixelated blob, your goal is to catch 151 critters scattered about a pastel-hued, 8-bit world and pit them against each other in a battle to the death (well, it isn’t that dramatic; this is a kid’s game we’re talking about, they just faint). In the real world, this scenario gets NFL quarterbacks fired, but to an entire generation, it was a magical adventure that had no precedent and no successor. When we finally snagged the elusive Mew at the end of the Blue, Red, and Yellow games, we thought we were done. But no! Four installments between 2000 and 2011 brought us a whole new rainbow of possibilities: Pokémon Gold, Silver, Crystal, Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, Black, and White, all with new monsters to wrangle. The current Pokédex holds a collection of 649 creatures and covers nearly every animal, vegetable, mineral, and inanimate object imaginable. Hell, Black and White brought us Vanillish and Trubbish, monsters modeled after—you guessed it—ice cream cones and trash bags.
I know what you’re thinking: Enough is enough! But the Pokédex is going to need yet another upgrade. On Jan. 8, Nintendo announced the sixth generation of the franchise, Pokémon X and Y, set to hit shelves this October.
Aside from the approaching creative plateau, there’s the question of whether longtime fans are willing to go through yet another version of the same old song and dance: choose a starter pokémon; face off against a cocky, spiky-haired rival; and fight Magikarp after Magikarp on the way to eternal glory. In some respects, it doesn’t matter: Nintendo could put out Pokémon Tapioca and Turmeric and they would still be the best-selling games of the year.
But for once, Pokémon seems to be significantly raising the bar. The new games will be released on the Nintendo 3DS, finally taking us from pixels and 2-D towns to polygons and luscious 3-D landscapes. One promotional video shows Fennekin, a cute, fire-type fox, leaping coyly onto the screen and unleashing a fiery fury upon its unsuspecting foes. In another, we see the characters dashing through shaded forest glens. In fewer than five minutes, Nintendo has made a statement that’s more attention-grabbing than one of Mewtwo’s psychic freakouts: this is Pokémon like we’ve never seen it before.
A new 3-D facelift may not be enough to make every member of our generation have one big nostalgia-gasm and catch Poké-fever all over again. These days, most of us would rather spend our time nabbing internships and Facebook likes than pocket monsters. And while those pursuits may turn out more fruitful for our professional and social lives, sometimes I can’t help but wish it was as simple as setting off on a journey with nothing but a dinosaur with a bulb on its back. It’s kind of absurd, but it has a childlike sense of wonder about it—a mystifying element that you can’t really find in any other ’90s relic. Maybe that’s why I keep going back to it every couple years, even as my Game Boys slowly but surely accumulate dust. But I’ve got to say, this new batch of games has rekindled my determination to finish what I started. Just you wait, Ash Ketchum. I’m coming for you.