Pokémon will be celebrating its 20th Anniversary in Japan this Saturday. The series began with the launch of Pokémon Green and Red for the Game Boy on February 27, 1996. That’s two years before it’d reach American shores in 1998. Rather than celebrate now this writer has decided to save his big retrospective for 2018, God willing. However, as every game journalist and their mother will be talking about Pokémon in some capacity over the next few days, this writer decided to tackle the fan community of Pokémon, or to be more precise, hacking.
These hacks come in a wide variety. For the Game Boy’s 25th Anniversary, this guy wrote a brief piece about changing the avatars on some of the various Pokémon games. For example, switching out the trainers for Gym leaders, or even Pokémon. While interesting, avatar hacks are a dime a dozen in retro games. It’s one of the easier things one can do. Even switching out Nintendo favorite characters like Link, or Mario for Pikachu is on the simpler side.
More adventurous hackers have tackled making their own Pokémon games by reusing the entirety of a game’s assets. Most of these hacked campaigns are based on the second and third generations of Pokémon games. There’s too many to go through, but they all boil down to the same thing. Start the game off with a new character, add a different script, switch out Pokémon locations, change the environment, and voila, a brand “newish” game. Now nothing beats playing a new official Pokémon game, but these hacks are impressive nonetheless. Like avatar switching, they are good lessons for budding developers.
The seedier side of hacking comes in the form of Chinese bootlegs. Some are pretty obvious. For example, Pokémon II is a hack of Adventure Island II on the NES, replacing Master Higgins with Pikachu. Other games, like Pocket Monsters for the SNES, are less obvious. It’s a platformer starring Pikachu and few other Pokémon, but then there are monsters that don’t belong at all. It’s just plain weird, but hey, bootlegs in general are pretty crazy.
Legally, hacking games is in a strange area. Hacking for practice and distributing for free is a good training exercise. Hacking to make bootlegs on the black market, on the other hand, is problematic and disgraceful. It’s a long debate this writer doesn’t want to dwell on any longer. For now, he merely wants to wish the Pokémon franchise a very happy 20th Anniversary in Japan.
Special Notes: Check out the video retrospective on the Pokémon bootlegs and hacks on the accompanying YouTube Channel, ReActionExaminer.