A Brief History of Pokémon Toys
If you’ve ever played Pokémon Go, watched the legendary series Indigo League, or was one of the kids who got home and plopped onto the couch with a snack and their Game Boy after school, chances are you already know a considerable amount about Ash Ketchum, Pikachu, and his can-do group of friends.
The Pokémon franchise goes far beyond the games we all love and enjoy playing. Much of Nintendo’s success has stemmed from the toy industry, whether originally produced or made by a third-party manufacturer. If you know a Pokémon enthusiast and an important holiday or birthday is coming up, you may have decided on a Pokémon-themed gift. Maybe you’re just interested in the history of Pokémon toys.
Whatever brought you here, don’t stop reading because we have a lot of information to tell you in a short amount of time!
Pokémon and Nintendo
Pokémon is an electronic game series released by the Japanese company Nintendo in February of 1996. Since then, Pokémon has been a pillar in the gaming industry, both digital and tabletop.
In 1998, Pokémon surged in popularity in the United States with Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue. Both games were produced to be played on Nintendo’s Game Boy, a popular handheld console with a cartridge for exchangeable games.
In Pokémon, players assume the role of a trainer who collects pokémon and then trains them to battle other players’ and NPCs’ (non-player computers) pokémon.
The Evolution of Pokémon Toys
In 2019 alone, Pokémon made $2.98 billion off of third-party licensed goods alone. Pokémon is one of the largest multimedia franchises in the entire world.
So how did it get there?
One of the ways the franchise climbed the ladder, other than digital video games, was through toys.
Tabletop games in the Pokémon franchise include trading cards, figures, and board games.
Trading Card Game
The Pokémon Trading Card Game, also known by acronyms PTCG or Pokémon TCG, was released in 1996. It drew inspiration from the recently released Pokémon Green, Red, and Blue.
More than 30.4 billion Pokémon trading cards have been purchased worldwide in 13 different languages and are sold in 77 areas and regions.
Other collections of Pokémon cards had existed before 1996, but this was the first set of cards centered around the video games. In Japan, the card game was initially published by a company called Media Factory.
In the United States, the PTCG was originally produced by Wizards of the Coast, the company known for publishing other popular tabletop games such as Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons. The Pokémon Company International by Nintendo took over American publishing in 2003.
Pokémon TCG involves collecting, trading, and playing with certified cards. The card game itself has its own set of unique rules but uses battle tactics and ideas taken from the digital Pokémon games. With each new game release, new generations of Pokémon cards are added to the collection.
The Pokémon Company International did not take control of the card game in Japan until 2006 with the Pokémon Diamond & Pearl series’s release.
Multiple video games have been produced based on the trading card series. For the Game Boy Color, the Pokémon Trading Card Game was released worldwide in 2000, and Pokémon Card GB2: Here Comes Team GR! came three years later.
There wasn’t much activity until 2011 when Nintendo released Pokémon Card Game: How to Play for the DS that taught players how to play the card game itself. The same year, Nintendo released the Pokémon Trading Card Game Online.
At first, it was only available in-browser, but today, it can be downloaded on PC, Mac, or iPad.
Trading Figure Game
The Pokémon Trading Figure Game was a short-lived concept produced by Japanese company Kaiyodo, a manufacturer of figurines and garage kits. It was released in 2006 as a two-player tabletop game that included collectible Pokémon figurines. The game rules were remarkably similar to the trading card game.
The game was launched in Europe, Australia, Southeast Asia, and the United States. It was discontinued in 2009 due to a lack of popularity and low sales.
Various board games have been produced with Pokémon aesthetics, using pre-existing games such as Monopoly, Guess Who?, and Pokémon chess. They’re popular among collectors and are not frequently played as actual games.
Pokemon toys come in many different shapes and forms, such as plushies, figures, and electronics.
A plush toy is made of pieces of soft material that are shaped, designed, and stuffed to replicate a specific animal or character (in this case, to replicate certain pokémon). Pokémon plush toys are extremely popular across different age ranges, whether they’re bought for snuggling or collecting.
Plushies have been produced both by Nintendo and various third-party companies, including Build-a-Bear and Hasbro. They’re also popular as homemade and crochet gifts from individual sellers on sites such as Etsy and Amazon.
Poké Doll, previously known as Pokémon PlushPlush, is a series of plush toys produced by The Pokémon Company in Japan and The Pokémon Company International in the United States. A small number of plushies are sold in the United Kingdom under the name of Pokémon Mini Plush.
The first generation of Poké Dolls was released in 2010; as of 2016, only select Poké Dolls were available in the United States.
Poké Dolls are designed as a chibi (a Japanese slang word describing something short) version of in-game pokémon. Many are available at an average height of six inches while other dolls are available as tall as 12 inches; they also produce miniature keychains.
The history of Pokémon figurines could be a book in itself if we covered every special-edition or third-party collection. Some of the most popular Pokémon figures today are produced by brands such as Funko! Pop, Amiibo, and official Gallery Figures by the Pokémon Center.
Funko started in 1998 when founder Mike Becker created a line of nostalgic bobbleheads named Wacky Wobblers. In 2010, they released their first Funko! Pop vinyl figures which featured popular characters from old cartoons and video games.
Since then, they have only expanded their inventory and continue to add new items. Funko! Pops come in three different sizes, keychain, 3.75 inches tall, or 10 inches tall. Some Pops come in a flocked style, which makes the figurine appear furry instead of slicked plastic.
The first Pokémon Funko! Pop was a 10-inch neutral-posed Pikachu, released on July 19th, 2018, as a Target Exclusive. A flocked edition Pikachu was released as a GameStop Exclusive. Since then, they have added other Pokémon, such as Bulbasaur, Eevee, and Squirtle. M
any of these were exclusive to stores like Walmart, Hot Topic, and GameStop, so they’re sold second-hand at a higher price than they were purchased.
Nintendo also produces figurines known as Amiibos that were introduced to North America in 2014. Amiibo figures and cards have an NFC chip in the base, which enables it to interact with games on the Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, and the Nintendo Switch. Pokémon Amiibos feature basic pokémon and other editions like Detective Pikachu.
Pokémon Gallery Figures were introduced recently in 2017 with the introduction of four figures: Eevee, Pikachu, Mew, and Magikarp. They’re high-quality collectible figures mounted on a base that depicts Pokémon performing an attack move. One year later, Pokémon Gallery Figures DX (Deluxe) was introduced with larger figurines.
Many Pokémon electronic toys have been released over the years but have decreased in popularity as mobile apps and online gaming have dominated the gaming market. They are also known as “self-contained games” because they’re purchased as one device that holds one game, unlike handheld consoles like the Nintendo DS or Switch.
In 1998, Tiger Electronics and Hasbro released the Pokémon Poké Ball. It was a handheld game that operated by tilting the toy and attempting to capture a Pokémon on-screen by pressing two capture buttons. It had loud arcade-themed sound effects that could be turned off at any time and could have up to two players through physical connectivity.
The Pokémon Electronic Hand-Held Yahtzee game was released in the United States in 1999 by Hasbro as a one-player game based on the Pokémon-themed Yahtzee board game.
Many Pokémon self-contained games can be found online on collector sites such as eBay because they are no longer in production.
Pokémon: The Very Best, Like No One Ever Was
Nintendo’s multimedia Pokémon franchise has been going strong for over twenty years now, and we don’t expect it to stop anytime soon. The recent Pokémon Go mobile app, released in 2016, is still frequently gaining new players and receiving new releases and updates.
The official Pokémon website stays up-to-date with new developments and releases, which typically means a new influx of toys.
In the past, enterprises like the Pokémon Trading Card Game produced massive fame and fun for young enthusiasts. Nowadays, Pokémon collectors are still scouring the internet to find rare finds for their collections. Besides cards, trendy purchases include board games, plush toys, figurines, and self-contained electronics.