Pokémon are everywhere.
Thanks to a new smartphone game that places the fictional creatures in real-world settings, Pokémon are in parks, offices, even on your desk.
And the extraordinary popularity of the game means they’re also all over the web too: everyone from the New York Times to Foodbeast (and yes, us here at CNN) are flooding the web with their takes on Pokémon GO.
The game is proof of how powerful and relevant Nintendo’s characters can still be.
New game, old roots
The most remarkable thing about Pokémon GO’s success is that it combines a smartphone game that’s been around for almost three years with characters that are over 20 years old.
Pokémon GO is based on developer Niantic Labs’ first game Ingress, which tasks players with hacking portals to gain control for their team. Those portals can only be accessed when players physically walk to certain locations in the real world.
Despite the sci-fi setting, the two are fairly similar, portal locations in Ingress are identical to Pokémon GO’s gyms and Pokéstops.
Released in 2013, Ingress built a strong base of players, some so devoted that they’ll travel to other countries to hack new portals. But it’s nowhere near as popular as Pokémon GO, which topped the charts for iOS and Android in the U.S. within a matter of hours.
The difference between them? Pokémon, the cuddly and distinctive characters that became a worldwide phenomenon after their introduction in 1996.
Power of Pokémon
Pokémon is the 90s fad that never died. Far from fading away, the series continues to thrive.
Pokémon movies are still being made. New Pokémon stores are popping up in Japan. And the games continue to sell: 2013’s Pokémon X and Y are the best-selling games of all time for the Nintendo 3DS console, with almost 15 million copies sold.
Pokémon: Little creatures you can capture
Pokéball: The things you throw to catch the Pokémon. They are available at Pokéstops and more will be provided to you as your character gets more powerful.
Pokéstop: Geotagged locations, i.e. a landmark or destination, where you can get Pokéballs and other treats.
Pokémon gyms: Where you can battle your Pokémon with other Pokémon to earn control over different gyms, as well as other prizes. These are geotagged like Pokéstops.
Eggs: Unhatched Pokémon, which you can incubate by walking.
Evolve: Through some hard work, your Pokémon can become even more powerful Pokémon.
Candies, stardust, potions: Extras you can earn in the game that can evolve Pokémon or be used during battles
Pokémon trainer: That's you!
Nintendo is hoping to top that with the latest installments: Pokémon Sun and Moon will be the first in the series to be available in Chinese at launch when they’re released for the Nintendo 3DS in November.
(And the Pokémon themselves continue to multiply: The series began with 151 different creatures in 1996, but today there are more than 700.)
Nintendo’s mobile future
Pokémon GO gives Nintendo a huge hit on smartphones right as their own platforms are declining. The Wii U has been a disaster, and the 3DS is coming to the end of its lifespan.
So will the successors to Pokémon Sun and Moon be released on smartphones instead of a Nintendo console? If anything, the success of Pokémon GO could actually make that less likely.
Nintendo has long resisted calls to bring their existing games to smartphones, saying instead that they’d rather build something truly suited to the platform.
Pokémon GO’s incredible popularity is proof that this strategy can be effective. It’s not a traditional Pokémon game. It’s a game that could only have existed on smartphones, and could never have existed on a Nintendo system, which lack the GPS capability necessary to pinpoint your location in the world. Without that, the game simply wouldn’t work.
But it also shows that Nintendo’s characters have the potential to thrive outside their own consoles, a huge factor for the company with the greatest catalog in gaming, with Donkey Kong, Zelda, and of course, Mario.
More than anything, Pokémon GO shows that Nintendo, a company that seems to continually swing between boom and bust, still has the ability to re-invent itself.