It's been over twenty years since the first Pokemon games were released in Japan. The "pocket monster" hunting series has since become one of the best selling video game franchise in history, beaten only by Mario and Tetris. Created by Satoshi Tajiri, Pokemon's success is built on a simple premise: catch creatures, raise them, trade them and use them to become a Pokemon Master. The idea was inspired by Tajiri's own fond memories of catching bugs as a kid, and -- somewhat ironically for a medium accused of lowering people's desire to leave their homes -- wanted to use the games to pass on his curiosity for exploring the natural world to others. That's why the vast majority of Pokemon are based on real-world plants and animals.
In a sense, this means the Pokemon Go mobile game, which strips the console games down to more limited, basic mechanics, might be the truest expression of Tajiri's original vision. As well as the environment, the Pokemon games have long been pulling from pop culture to enrichen players' experiences all around the world. Some of these references are regional translators having a bit of fun, while others are coded into the visuals of the games. If you think a line said by an NPC sounds really familiar, or you recognize a scene playing on the TV screen in your characters' bedroom, it's more than likely to be a deliberate easter egg. As the series continues to progress, more and more of these easter eggs have become self-referential too, calling back not only to previous installments of the games, but also to other media in the franchise.
Pokemon is often criticized for not giving players enough things to do once they’ve completed the main story. The Let’s Go games have made an effort to change that with the introduction of "Master Trainers" -- battle technicians who are experts in specific Pokemon. They pop up once you become League Champion.
Two of these players, the Zubat and Golbat Masters, have names befitting of their bat-themed choice in monster: Scientist West and Keaton; West after Adam West who played the Dark Knight in the ‘60s TV series, and Keaton after Michael Keaton, who took on the role for the Tim Burton Batman films. Defeating them will make you the Master of the first generation's own bat family.
It seems only natural that one of the most popular Japanese video game series ever made would pay homage to one of the most popular manga/anime series ever made. On Route 10 in the X and Y games, Psychic Robert will challenge you to a battle. If you defeat him, he’ll enthusiastically tell you:
"Wow! You and your Pokemon's power levels are incredible! They're over 9,000 for sure!" Dragon Ball fans will immediately clock this as a popular quote from the English-language dub of Dragon Ball Z. Those not familiar with the Super Saiyan show will recognize it from the Internet, as the line -- and its funny delivery -- has also become a ubiquitous meme.
As a loose remake of Yellow, one of the earliest games in the series, Let’s Go is stuffed with nostalgic callbacks to Pokemon history. The presence of Blue -- Red's rival from the original games -- is an easter egg in of itself, but there’s an even more obscure reference involving him that we feel deserves a shout-out.
When Professor Oak can't remember Blue’s name, the Trainer grumbles, "Ugh, that joke sucks, Gramps!" This line points to an in-joke about Oak always asking you to name your rival -- just as you name your own avatar -- making it seem like he can’t remember his own grandson’s name. It’s a reference that’s sure to get a chuckle from older fans.
As well as Dragon Ball, X and Y nods to another classic slice of Japanese-made pop culture -- this time one of Nintendo's own. On Route Five, Pre-schooler Mia gets your attention by calling, "Hey! Hey! Listen!" just like Navi, the little glowing fairy that acts as Link's (slightly irritating) guide in some of the Legend of Zelda games.
It's subtle, but too specific to be a coincidence. Seeing as both the Mario and Wario series' have been featured before as actual games in the Pokemon world, it's possible that the Zelda games do too, and this young NPC is genuinely a fan of them.
The third generation of Pokemon games featured one of the series' most elusive locations: Mirage Island, or Phantom Island in the original Japanese versions. Located on the watery Route 130, this spot could only be visited under extremely specific and rarely afforded circumstances as, like the name suggests, it periodically disappears from view.
In the Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire remakes, Mirage Spots are bigger in number and easier to find, though still somewhat elusive, as an elderly resident of Pacifidlog Town will tell you: "One does not simply walk into a Mirage Spot." Sound familar? It's the much-memed line from the Fellowship's Boromir in Lord Of The Rings.
Pokemon has had many popular spin-off games from its main series, from Pokemon Stadium to Pokemon Mystery Dungeon. Perhaps the most surprising one is Pokemon Snap for the Nintendo 64 as, after all, being a wildlife photographer doesn't sound that thrilling, but Snap is still fondly remembered to this day.
This has a lot to do with the attention to detail in the game, like the way that the player could bag a shot of Gyarados. The mighty sea serpent evolves from the practically useless Magikarp. In Snap, you can trigger this transformation by knocking one into a waterfall, a reference to the ancient Chinese myth that carp jump up waterfalls to try and reach the "dragon's gate."
To keep in step with gamers of today, the Sun and Moon games incorporated a social media-influenced element to their gameplay. Along your travels, your Rotom PokeFinder directs you to ideal photo spots to try and capture the best shot of particular a Pokemon, which is also a very reminiscent of Pokemon Snap.
Taking and posting photos generates reactions and comments, one of which is a very deep-cut reference to the third generation remakes' critical reception. "7.8/10. Too much water ¯\_(ツ)_/¯" The rating and specific complaint is taken from IGN's review of Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, the most water-heavy region in the series. It's a great tongue-in-cheek clapback from GameFreak.
The Pokemon games don't just pull from pop culture in general, they often pull from gaming culture specifically, particularly other Nintendo franchises. Much rarer, however, is the inclusion of references to individual gamers, but the Let's Go games features not one, but three of them.
A trio of Master Trainers you can battle in the post-main story section of the games are named Danny, Ross and Arin, and bear a striking resemblance to what must be their namesakes: three of YouTube's Game Grumps. The gaming channel is one of the video hosting site's most popular and they've also had characters named after them in Legion and World of Warcraft.
After Mega Evolutions were introduced in the X and Y games, the next big shake-up in the series came with the release of Sun and Moon, which gave us regional variants of Pokemon like Ratatta, Meowth and Raichu. In Alola, the latter gains the dual typing of Electric/Psychic and its tail becomes a surfboard for it to hover with.
The change fits with the Hawaiian inspiration for the region and is also a sly nod to the Surfing Pikachu variant that has popped up all over Pokemon media, from the overworld of Yellow and the second generation games to a couple of episodes in the anime. In Ultra Sun and Moon, you can bag yourself one by beating the high score in Mantine Surfing.
The opening title sequence of the original games -- a showdown between a Gengar and a Nidorino -- has become so iconic, it's been replicated in multiple games and even featured in a televised battle watched by Ash in the anime. Because of the type mismatch of Normal vs. Ghost, it's even inspired fan theories on why the battle is happening.
The latest place this legendary fight can be seen in the games is in the player's bedroom in Let's Go, where a picture of the encounter hangs to the left of the computer. This isn't the only callback to the first games set in the Kanto region, either. On the bedroom's calendar is the generic sprite used when viewing your party in the '96 games.
Professor Kukui in the Sun and Moon games is not afraid to show a little skin, which some players really appreciated. Others were slightly perturbed at the implications of one line that called attention to his physical form, especially as it's unclear what's happening while he's saying it. "Give it everything you've got! My body is ready. Woo!"
Though you've almost certainly seen this phrase online, you might not know its origin. The clumsy word choice was used by Nintendo executive Reggie Fils-Amie during his Nintendo Wii Fit demonstration at 2007's E3 convention. In 2010, the clip was rediscovered, birthing the meme. Seeing it referenced in a Nintendo game kind of brings it full circle.
The Pokemon games are so beloved that even tiny, throwaway pieces of dialogue have become memorable quotes. GameFreak obviously knows this too, as certain bizarre lines keep showing up throughout the series; from the portly guy in your hometown who loves science and technology to Youngster Joey who is really, really proud of his Ratatta.
And then there's Youngster Ben, the Kanto kid on Route Three who greets you with this ode to his favorite active-wear: "Hi! I like shorts! They're comfy and easy to wear!" Ben is one of few NPCs whose dialogue is famous enough to be quoted by other NPCs, like X and Y's Youngster Keita on Route Five. A female NPC later uses the same affirmation about her dress, too.
Where easter eggs are concerned, the deepest cuts are the best ones. Sun and Moon were released in a big year for the series: 2016, exactly 20 years after the release of the first games in Japan -- Red and Green. Sun and Moon also dramatically mixed the games’ formula up.
For the first time, there were -- gasp! -- no Gyms! Instead, the player competed in a series of Island trials. Among all this change, however, were the familiar faces of Professor Oak and Red and Blue. And what’s that number on Red’s shirt? 96, of course. Red is not only the League Champion, he’s a champion of Pokemon history.
It's the most infamous inanimate object in the whole of Pokemon, perhaps in the whole of video gaming. At one point in the '90s, every kid with a copy of Red, Blue or Yellow tried to move a single truck in the S.S Anne dock, hoping that it would trigger an encounter with the mythic Mew.
Some tried HM Strength, others used cheat codes, but none of them legitimately worked. Despite the rumor being a baseless urban legend, GameFreak left the vehicle in the GameBoy Advance remakes, FireRed and LeafGreen, this time rewarding players with a hidden Lava Cookie if they searched hard enough to applaud their faith.
The most consistent easter egg you'll find across the Pokemon game series is right in your own house, and if you're not inquisitive enough, you may have missed it. Clicking on any TV screen in the games brings up a dialogue box explaining what you're watching, and doing this at the start of every Pokemon game tells you the same thing.
The scene on your home TV is described as "four boys walking on railway tracks," which can only be from '80s cinema classic, Stand By Me. Makes sense considering both the Stephen King story and the Pokemon games are coming-of-age adventures. (The only exception is in FireRed and LeafGreen where The Wizard of Oz plays instead for female players.)