The No. 2 video game title in the world (more than 210 million games sold worldwide through September 2010) may not be best known for those games by mainstream U.S. consumers, but a Saturday morning cartoon and a lightning mouse named Pikachu helped propel Pokémon as a game and an international sensation more than a decade ago.
Though the cartoon’s popularity is not as frenzied as its Time magazine cover days — it just premiered its 14th season on Feb. 12, now on the Cartoon Network — the company’s core video games are just as popular as they’ve always been. Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver Versions for the Nintendo DS have sold nearly 11 million copies worldwide since launching, and the company is continuing its solid sales with more than 1 million copies sold in one day (launched Sunday) of its newest incarnation: Pokémon Black Version and Pokémon White Version.
Introduced as a video game in 1996 in Japan (coming to the U.S. in 1998), the company has maintained a multi-level platform of releases with games, cartoon series and cartoon movies, usually coming out around the same time to introduce new characters and unexplored worlds.
“There’s a new movie and animation series every year, but yes, when a new core game is developed, the animation and movies will feature new characters and story lines tied to the games. In this case, the animation is based on the Pokémon, locations and trainers found in the Unova region, the setting of the new Pokémon Black Version and Pokémon White Version video games,” says J.C. Smith, director of marketing for Pokemon USA Inc.
The Black and White versions explore the Unova region and have a more urban feel than most other Pokémon landscapes, with new trainers often traversing city streets instead of forests. Forcing interaction with the new characters, players cannot play with their favorites from the older generations of games until you finish the main story. [Updated 12:45 p.m.: In an earlier version, it was noted that Ash Ketchum and Pikachu were in Pokemon Black and White. Ketchum is not.]
The Black and White versions have already sold more than 5 million copies in Japan. Though solid performers, Pokémon games did not make the top 10 games of 2010 in the U.S., but as popular titles like Guitar Hero, and the companies that make them, are shelved, it keeps trudging along with its tried and true relaunches with continued success.
Since Nintendo forecasted lower sales earlier this year and the company in general makes a bigger profit on games than on consoles, is there a new Pikachu in line to boost sales and hook gamers?
“Everyone has one [Pokémon] that they identify with. Now with more than 643 of them, everyone’s going to have something that’s going to be their favorite… But you can never replace Pikachu! The new starter Pokémon — Snivy, a grass-type, Tepig, a fire-type, and Oshawott, a water-type — are sure to be well-liked,” says Smith.
New characters, the newest film — Pokémon: Zoroark – Master of Illusions — premiered in February, and a mall tour introducing new customers to the brand is also traversing the country. They’re still trying to catch ’em all.
— Jevon Phillips
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