Today on Deadsites: A whole lotta Pikachu. If you don’t care about Pokemon, you uh… may want to pick a different article to read. I wrote two yesterday, if that helps?
Technically, this isn’t as much a “Deadsite” as a changed site. Pokemon.com is still active, obviously, but it’s changed quite a bit since 1999!
Yep, you’re looking at the official Pokemon site from around fourteen years ago. It was called “Pokemon World,” and it was old school in all the best ways.
I didn’t catch Pokemon fever until early 2000, but since its universe moved more slowly back then, everything on this site is familiar territory. There isn’t much on here that I didn’t live and breathe. If you were a Pokemon fan during this era, you’re about to get a fiery missile of Pika nostalgia up the nose. Hopefully, that’s your idea of fun.
Pokemon World sparks memories of what lured me into the fold to begin with. Here, the description of the first games – like the games themselves – hinted at something that was somehow huge and quaint at the same time.
That so many features from the original games are still in play in 2013 says plenty about their appeal, but assuming you’ve never experienced them, let me put it this way: It was like throwing The Legend of Zelda and thirty-seven Tamagotchis into a blender.
I’d completely forgotten about Pokemon Pinball, and now I won’t rest until I play it again. The game was fun (I can’t think of many pinball games that weren’t), but it’s also another example of why being a Pokemon fan was so thrilling: Even wholly familiar things were given new meaning with a Pokemon rebrand. (I’ve always loved Yahtzee, but I’ll never forget the glory of Pokemon’s version, where instead of rolling four sixes and a three, I rolled four Charmanders and a Jigglypuff.)
Oh yes, this. A Toys “R” Us promotion where players could bring their games in and have staffers load “Mew” onto their Pokemon teams. (Mew was the rarest of the 1st generation Pokemon, and if you were playing the games in a “legal” way, there was no way to catch him outside of things like this.)
I remember my nieces and nephews going crazy for these promotions, back when I knew next to nothing about Pokemon. Even then, I understood the appeal. The idea of someone at Toys “R” Us waving a wand and making your video game cartridge a rare and valuable thing still seems so incredible to me. Promotions like this were frequent enough to make Mew an attainable goal for desperate players, but I imagine that “catching” one still came with severe bragging rights.
I’ll again use an imaginary scenario to make non-fans understand the thrill. If you read Dino Drac, you were probably obsessed with Street Fighter 2 at some point. Imagine what it would’ve been like to take your SNES cartridge to a store and have them load an exclusive character with a completely unique moveset onto it. Come on, that’s cool.
(And I’ve given that scenario more thought than I should admit. In my dream, the bonus fighter is a 400-pounder named “Charlie Cosmic,” who wears a wrestling singlet covered in meteor graphics. Seriously.)
And here’s where I lose my shit. Pokemon World’s “Goods” page linked to articles about various retail offerings, and everything about this is FANTASTIC. (Hell, even the design of the page reminds me of Year 1 X-E!)
If you were a collector of bric-a-brac, Pokemon gave you SO MUCH BRIC-A-BRAC TO COLLECT. For someone like me, Pokemon was the perfect storm. There were figures, dolls, games, books… sheet music… lollipops… official magazines with tear-out posters… sweet Jesus, it just never ended.
This article would grow way too long if I covered everything mentioned here, so I’ll stick to the stuff that might be lost forever without Pokemon World’s ancient reminders:
Reminder to self: I still have a sealed box of Pokemon Macaroni & Cheese. The one with Poliwrath on the front. I should add it to my Pokemon Food Extravaganza someday. Surely there’s someone who would appreciate me boiling and cheesifying old Pokemon macaroni.
Each box came with a cutout cardboard coin, which only sounds lame until I challenge you to name a better thing given away with Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.
Pokemon Lollipops were essentially Blow Pops, with the same wads of sickly sweet gum hiding in the middles.
I’m surprised by Pokemon World’s assessment of them. You’d imagine this to be a straight-up plug, but no, they actually gave a fair and balanced review. (Paraphrasing: “The lollipops tasted good, but they made your tongue ugly. The gum was flavorful, but only for two minutes.”) That’s unusually critical, all things considered. Pokemon World respected the weight of their voice!
Remember those little Pokemon figurines? You should, because in one form or another, they’re still being made today. I didn’t realize it until finding this article, but certain figures were deliberately retired as the series grew larger. If you wanted a two-inch Sandshrew in 1999, you had to act fast!
(Personally, I thought these figures were too expensive. They were only slightly larger than the bagfuls of bootleg figures all over eBay. Of course, positioning certain ones as “pending antiques” probably went a long way in making kids even more crazy about them.)
Pokemon Rolls were like Fruit by the Foot, and they were f’n delicious. Fruit punch really is the best flavor for super-processed fruit snacks.
You’ll notice that each box came with a free Pokemon card. If you were lucky, you might’ve found the special “gold-bordered Meowth card.” Over the years, much of Pokemon’s money has been made on the “mystery box” gag, and this was no different. The bright side is that few kids would’ve minded eating box after box of fruit punch snacks on their quest for a golden cat.
I loved my Pokemon videos. I bought tons of them, and watched them constantly. (Well, maybe “constantly” is a strong word. I only seemed to watch them very late at night, while the normal half of the world was sleeping. I have many memories of spending the wee hours of the early 2000s on a silent internet, with a really loud Pikachu saying his name in the background. Back then, Mr. T spent a lot of time eating my balls.)
Burger King somehow beat McDonald’s to the Pokemon punch, and they went all-in with it. Even if you know nothing about Pokemon, you’ve probably encountered these premiums at yard sales. They were everywhere.
There were all sorts of toys stuffed in pop-apart Pokeballs. If you had extra money to spend, you could even buy “gold-plated trading cards” for two bucks a piece.
To give you an idea of the scope, Burger King offered 57 different Pokemon toys over the course of 56 days. That’s RIDICULOUS. I can’t think of another fast food promotion that was even close to this nuts.
…but even more memorable were Burger King’s “trading nights.” I never took part, but I remember the signs being in every Burger King window. This was a huge deal! The idea was that kids could bring their Pokemon cards (and toys, and whatever else) into Burger King, and trade with other kids while they scarfed down cheeseburgers. The real life equivalent of the episode where Ash traded Butterfree. (Careful, Ash.)
I love the thought of shy seven-year-olds making friends with other shy seven-year-olds, AT BURGER KING, OVER POKEMON CARDS. I know it’s iffy to apply this to something that was intended to encourage fast food consumption and an even more fanatical devotion to Pokemon cards, but the experience just sounds so wholesome.
Even in 1999, I was too old for Pokemon in a “conventional” sense, and I get that. Still, I hope you’ve come away from this with a better understanding of why kids were so into it. I mean, they still are, but it was different back then. There was just SO MUCH, and it appealed to every sensibility kids had. There are millions of people who’ve grown up remembering Pokemon as the thing they loved more than anything else, and when you take it in all at once – the games, the toys, the cards, the delicious Pokemon Rolls – it’s easy to see why.