When I was eight years old, I introduced Pokémon to the playground. I’d just watched the first episodes of the anime on SM:TV Live and forced my friends to engage in imaginary Pokémon battles. I’d forgotten many of the Pokémon’s names, so fights were mismatches like Onix versus Rockadock (whom I later found is called Geodude).
By December, the playground was abuzz with trading cards, toys, and playfights. On Christmas morning, I unwrapped a copy of Pokémon Blue and commandeered my brother’s Game Boy to stare into a green abyss for days, only stopping to change batteries.
Looking back, it was an incredible moment as Pokémon appeared from almost nowhere and swept the country. Then, as quickly as it arrived, the craze died down. I remember still being all over it in 2001, when Silver and Gold released. But by generation 3 I could care less.
But when COVID hit in 2020 I, with an immune system of a sad potato, suddenly had time on my hands. Isolating, I caught up on a franchise I’d only dipped a toe in since the early-2000s. A year later, I’d finally completed the Pokédex in Pokémon Blue. It only took 21 years to catch 151 Pokémon, never mind that, by then, there were just shy of 900 of the little blighters roaming around.
Well, Covid hit me for real a few weeks ago and turned me into a coughing, hacking mess. I tried to find something my addled mind could play, and only the monotony of Pokémon Shield broke through my viral obliteration. The quest to find a way to throw Hop down a well was consuming enough to drive away the Covid-induced haze.
As my Pokédex organically filled and news of Scarlet and Violet started dropping in earnest, I was struck with an idea. “What if”, I asked in feverish delirium, “I really did catch ’em all?”
After all, the modern games in the series have access to so many Pokémon, and between Shield, an abandoned save on Legends: Arceus, and 151 Pokémon in Blue, I probably already had most of them.
Before you suggest I was making poor life decisions, remember I was curled up in bed, feverish, and coughing like I’d been on 40 cigs a day for life. What better position is there for gaining rigid clarity and planning major projects? Let it be known, though, I have a history of making… questionable decisions.
Regardless, driven by COVID-induced arrogance, I launched into the project. I may only have had a meaningful familiarity with the games from back when Pokémon were animals rather than *checks notes* sentient cups of tea, but I had the willpower and the tenacity to succeed. Plus, I was really really ill. So you can’t judge me.
If I was going to catch ’em all, I needed a way to track my progress. So, I signed up to Pokémon Home and set aside some boxes for my living Pokédex. That means I had to catch every Pokémon. All of them. No excuses.
Have I mentioned I have terrible judgement?
With a big foray into Shield, having caught 200 Buizel in Legends: Arceus (none of whom were deemed chonky enough), and those 151 from Blue, my Home immediately filled with over 700 indentured pets.
Call me sad – and please do, I deserve it at this point – but as I watched those boxes fill I started to look forward to carefully moving my Pokémon into a semblance of order.
But that was a task for later, when I could pore over boxes like a crazed, caffiene-addled Professor Oak with bags under his eyes and stimulants tucked away in his lab coat pocket. For now, I went back to Shield and with my trusty Level 90 Urshifu (I still only use animals, it’s a bit too Beauty and the Beast to fight with a living candle or a bag of rubbish) and carved a bloody swathe through Galar’s Pokémon.
Some might have been harder than others. For instance, collecting starters usually requires multiple restarts. But now people give them away in Surprise Trades or manipulated Dynamax encounters. Sword and Shield are very broken. Veterans can guess the website responsible for surprise trading me 20+ shiny Snorlax.
A major obstacle to baby Geoffrey’s attempts at collecting Pokémon were trade evolutions; previously, a hassle of cables and trading back and forth just so your roided-up blue man-thing could grow extra arms. Now, with the internet allowing us to trade with minimal faff (well, minimal faff for Nintendo, anyway), Game Freak has new ways to torment us.
“Please, sir,” the studio says in its best Oliver Twist voice. “Walk under an arch while a Pokémon has taken more than 49 hit points of damage.”
Doubts were starting to creep in.
As COVID finally grew bored of asking my pathetic immune system why it was hitting itself, I finally moved to Pokémon Home. I built my list, starting in Gen 1, leaving gaps for all the Pokémon I was missing.
It was dull, but I’ve done my own taxes before so it’s a monotony I’m used to. It’s an apt comparison, too, given the basic mistakes I made (according to my accountant). That’s foreshadowing, folks.
There’s no way Nintendo would make organising Home unintuitive and nightmarish. Not like having to pick up each Pokémon and move them through your boxes. If you’re lucky, you can string a few together and mass migrate them, but it’s mostly a case of hitting X, Y, down-down, “sort by National Dex number”, and wrangling each Pokémon manually. Like a farm hand, or a battery farmer.
It was boring, but as I got the hang of it, it became almost therapeutic. A relaxing grind of moving animals around a computer against their will.
Until I didn’t leave space for Hisuian Arcanine.
You might say I was foolish to include regional forms – and you’d be right. Perhaps if Nintendo/Game Freak allowed us to insert spaces in our boxes, it wouldn’t matter. But the developers didn’t do that, did they?
It only took until Pokémon #59 for a catastrophic error to manifest.
I was committed. Honest. Devoted, even. I wanted to have a proper Pokédex. But there’s only so many times you can do weird spins while forcing a piece of fruit into a dollop of sentient cream before you start questioning what to do with your life. Only so many times you can turn a squid upside down for minutes on end before you catch a glimpse of yourself in the Switch screen and frown. Only so many ways to Google “How does this Pokémon even evolve” before answers like “Rub mud on it under a fool moon” make you cry.
That space – so early in the Pokédex – haunted me.
One tiny blunder destroyed my ambition of being a Pokémon master in a second. Perhaps, had I not made it, this Pokédex might have taught me some valuable lessons – maybe it would have changed my life.
But I made this error, and the only thing it taught me was that I hate myself.
No, that’s not true; I learned my sense of commitment is flimsy, at best. I learned I can’t count reliably above… three. I learned there are too many Pokémon.
Pokémon everywhere. In Shield, my phone was a Pokémon, the computer was a Pokémon, that apple was a dragon Pokémon was a problem. It was like that weird collective moment we had when we didn’t know what was cake and what wasn’t.
One mistake turned Pokémon from a fun game for kids to an existential crisis in which Pokémon is one song away from being Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared.
So, my tally remains at 712 out of 904 – that’s where it will stay.
But it’s not all bad. This ill-conceived project made me replay and re-evaluate Pokémon Shield, made me return to Legends: Arceus, and made me admit that Let’s Go’s controls are the devil.
It may have been a disappointing end, but I had fun playing the games. Am I allowed to say I had fun as a gamer? Or does that make me a Nintendo shill cuck, or something?
Despite the marketing line and the little refrain we’ve all had in our heads since the 90s, in the end, I wonder if we’re even supposed to catch ’em all? Maybe back in 1999 when we were all fresh-faced and bored, it was achievable – even fun! But now that goal simply feels out of reach.
Perhaps the real Pokémon journey is – and always will be – the hordes of intelligent animals we enslave along the way?