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Pokémon still has a hold on all of us. Will Nintendo's new game live up to the billion-dollar expectation?

·5 min read

This week, "Pokémon Legends: Arceus" finally drops. Can you believe the first Pokémon was released 26 years ago?

Pocket Monsters Red Version and Green Version first hit shelves in Japan in 1996 on the Nintendo Gameboy. Ever since 8-bit versions of Pokémon like Pikachu and Charizard graced those small green screens, the franchise has captivated generations of collectors, gamers and anime consumers.

Spin-off video game titles from the world's biggest media franchise have seen similar success as well. Pokémon GO, the 2016 augmented reality mobile game that sparked a global craze and was developed by Niantic, in collaboration with The Pokémon Company and Nintendo, netted a whopping $1.9 billion in 2020, according to market data from SuperData.

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Throughout the pandemic, retailers have seen a spike in demand for Pokémon goods – from official trading cards and clothing collaborations to various plush versions of the franchise's most beloved creatures.

The reality is, Pokémon's hold on pop culture is not just tied to nostalgia but also to the prospect of serious returns on investment.

What was once viewed as a juvenile hobby has now garnered countless viewers on Twitch and subscribers on YouTube glued to their screens as content creators open card packs valued in the thousands.

The Pokémon trading card boom caused massive retail changes in 2021, with stores capping the number of sports memorabilia customers could purchase in a single trip. It got so bad that even Target halted the sale of Pokémon cads, citing safety concerns according to The New York Times.

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Pokémon UNITE online game is also available on Nintendo Switch.
Pokémon UNITE online game is also available on Nintendo Switch.

The consumer frenzy even forced card grading companies to scale back their operations, as was the case for Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA), one of the most respected authenticators in the business. Last April, the group announced that it was "pausing operations" to address their growing backlog of cards waiting to be graded.

The allure of fetching an incredibly rare holographic Pokémon card (like a rainbow rare Charizard from the Burning Shadows expansion) in the face of dismal pack odds is what drives collectors to collect, and content creators to create videos of the pursuit. This innate desire to seek out the most exciting and popular Pocket Monster resonates even deeper within the series of Pokémon games.

Rare Pokémon are rare ... and that's the appeal

Shiny Pokémon, or Pokémon with a coloration different from their normal character model, were introduced in the second generation of Pokémon games, and the insatiable drive of gamers across the globe to "shiny hunt" remains as fervent today as it did when it was introduced.

Charizard, whose shiny version is black instead of the staple orange, remains a fan favorite amongst players who shiny hunt.

"Shiny hunting" is as simple as it sounds: a player seeks out the shiny version of a specific Pokémon in-game. The rub is in what's called "shiny odds," or the chances you'll even find a shiny variant of the Pokémon you're currently hunting.

Whenever you encounter a Pokémon in the wild in any of the games from the second generation onward, a specific set of integers determines the makeup of that creature, stats and all. Combined with the ID number of the trainer in-game, and a bit of a nebulous random number generating process, the chances of encountering a shiny Pokémon in the wild are 1 in 8,192.

The odds since generation two have since been a little more forgiving, with the introduction of the "shiny charm" in generation three, which slightly increased your odds.

Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! (and Let’s Go, Eevee!) introduced an even more sustainable shiny hunting mechanic when the game was released in 2018 on the Nintendo Switch. Different features were included to work in conjunction with the already helpful shiny charm, like lures and catch combos.

Hisuian hype: Pokémon Legends continues the legacy

The Pokémon series of games features countless opportunities to collect and train some of the franchise's most powerful and rare mons – think NFTs but without the political baggage or damage to the environment. The forthcomingNintendo Switch title, Pokémon Legends: Arceus, promises to explore the fan-favorite Sinnoh region in ways new and familiar.

The new game aims to take a historic trip back in time to the Hisui region, as well as introduce some new versions of Pokémon specific to that region (I for one love Hisuian Growlithe). The hype for the latest title is at an all-time high and exists as a reminder of the timelessness of the franchise.

Pokemon Legends Arceus (Jan. 28)
Pokemon Legends Arceus (Jan. 28)

When Pokémon hopped onto the scene nearly three decades ago, it captured the endearing childhood hobby of series creator Satoshi Tajiri, who collected insects growing up in Machida (now part of Tokyo). It spawned dozens of chapters in manga form, took American television sets by storm with an animated series, and stayed true to its themes of building friendships, protecting nature, and believing in oneself. There is a sweetness in the series that acts as a throughline – one traced back to its inception.

Pokémon is a series that has built unforgettable bonds for many of us that truly spans multiple generations, and that is what makes this franchise most captivating of all.

Jamal Michel is Gaming Editor for The Nerds of Color. You can follow him on Twitter at @jamalnoc.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Will Pokémon Legends: Arceus continue a 26-year legacy?