All You Newb to Know: Pokémon

Reading Time: 6 minutes
AYNTK Pokemon
Image: Rory Bristol

Are you ready to dive into, or introduce your kids to, the Pokémon franchise, but don’t know where to start? Here’s everything you newb to know!

What are “Pokémon” and “Trainers”?

Ash and Pikachu from the 'Pokemon' television program. Used under fair use.
Ash and Pikachu from the ‘Pokemon’ television program. Used under fair use.

Pokémon are special little monsters with abilities that allow them to participate in epic competitions. Pokémon trainers are their human partners who work with Pokémon to bring out their potential for a variety of purposes. Some trainers use Pokémon to battle each other, fighting until their opponent’s Pokémon are knocked out, like a boxing match. Other trainers raise their Pokémon partners for Contests, which are a bit like pageants; Pokémon endeavor to show off their talents and physique in order to win the crowd’s favor. It’s the trainer’s responsibility to care for their Pokémon and bring out their best qualities.

This is Ken Sugimor's original concept art for the Poke Ball. Used under fair use.
This is Ken Sugimor’s original concept art for the Poke Ball. Used under fair use.

Trainers take their Pokémon with them wherever they go in capsules called Poké Balls. When a wild Pokémon is won over (through friendship or combat), the player catches them using a Poké Ball. This tool turns the Pokémon into a ball of energy, which is easily stored inside the Poké Ball. Each trainer can carry up to six Pokémon with them, and extras are stored in a computer, at a daycare, or with a parent/mentor.

How do I know what a Pokémon is good at?
Each Pokémon has one or two “types,” which determine their basic traits. Some of the types include Flying, Water, Rock, Dragon, Fairy, and more, with a total of 18 types, currently. Each type is weak against some types, and stronger against others. For example, Sunkern is a cute little plant, of the Grass type. If a Sunkern fights a Charmander (a Fire type), it’s likely to be beaten pretty easily, because Fire burns Grass. On the flip side, Sunkern is strong against Ground type Pokémon, because plants are great at damaging earth formations. Many Pokémon have multiple types, but that’s a bit more complicated, as those strengths and weaknesses stack up.

This chart shows the type of advantages and disadvantages, and is a great tool for newbs and veteran players alike:

By Aussie Evil - Own work, CC0
By Aussie Evil – Own work, CC0

Pokémon learn “Moves” also, each of which has a type. Ember, for example, is a Fire-type move, while Wing Attack is a Flying-type move. When a Pokémon takes damage, it’s the type of move that counts. If a Sunkern learns the move Sludge Bomb, then it can deal Poison-type damage, despite being a Grass-type Pokémon. Sunkern won’t be the most effective Poison-type attacker, but it helps to cover all 19 types of Pokémon on a team of 6. If a Fire-type Pokémon, such as Charmander, uses Dig, it deals Ground-type damage, which Sunkern would take less damage from, because Sunkern is resistant to Ground-type damage!

How does someone play with Pokémon?

Composite image: Rory Bristol
Composite image: Rory Bristol

There are a lot of ways, actually! There are 26 core video games for the Gameboy, Gameboy Advance, Nintendo DS, and Nintendo 3DS. The Pokémon Trading Card Game has nearly 9,000 different cards, having been released in 64 sets. There are also dozens of Pokémon video games for various platforms, that are not the core games. In these side-series games, players might play the Trading Card Game, host Pokémon battles, play pinball, and much, much more.

In the core set of video games, the player is allowed to choose their first Pokémon from three choices. These choices always include a Grass-type, a Fire-type, and a Water-type. As they play, they must defeat 8 specific trainers to unlock more content. These trainers have Gyms, and are called Gym Leaders. Each Gym has a theme, and awards a badge for defeating the leader. Each badge helps the trainer raise their Pokémon by allowing them to learn new moves, and access new areas of the game. After they’ve completed all 8 Gyms, they may journey through Victory Road, and face the Elite Four and the Champion. If they defeat all five trainers in a row, they become the next Pokémon Champion.

In many of the core games, trainers can also enter Contests, and train for specific categories that are not determined by type. By feeding a Pokémon special treats, they can train their Pokémon to be more Cool, Beautiful, Smart, Tough, or Cute, then enter contests based on those traits. Winners receive ribbons instead of badges. These competitions are great for those who don’t like battling, but like playing with their Pokémon. In some games, you can dress your Pokémon up, and in some the Pokémon must show off its appeal all on its own.

Finally, Pokémon trainers can breed their Pokémon. This feature is available in every core game except for the first three. The trainer can breed their Pokémon to learn moves they can’t normally learn, or to improve their stats. Breeding has a lot of complicated rules, but the basics are that you leave two Pokémon in the Daycare, and they will periodically show up with an Egg! The Daycare staff are always confused by this, but we know exactly what happened. Breeding is a great way to explore the concepts of inheritability, as each baby Pokémon inherits many of their parents abilities, moves, and temperaments.

As a bonus, in Sixth Generation games, trainers can also use Pokémon Amie, which lets them tickle their Pokémon, make faces at them, and more.

Should my kids watch the TV show?

Series Logo
Series Logo

Pokémon has a long history of kids shows, with many seasons and movies (over 20 of each). I’ve yet to see one that I thought my kids shouldn’t see. I haven’t enjoyed every episode, and they are a little formulaic for adults and teens, but younger kids will devour them. You can also find the first season of Pokémon on Netflix, as well as the first season of Pokémon X&Y.

What are Generations?

Periodically, a new generation of Pokémon is introduced. As of Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, there are six generations. Each generation introduces between 72 and 156 new Pokémon, with the current total of 721 Pokémon (with more coming in Generation Seven, this Holiday Season). Each new generation comes with new video games, always in pairs. The Sixth Generation started with Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, and the last two releases were Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, while the next pair will be Pokémon Sun, and Pokémon Moon. Each generation also comes with a new storyline for the cartoon, new cards for the TCG, and new toys. This means that new generations are very exciting for everyone, as they get to meet new Pokémon, and face new challenges.

New generations are also where the most expense comes in. They are only ever released for the most recent system, which is why Pokémon X, Pokémon Y, Omega Ruby, and Alpha Sapphire are all 3DS games, none of which are compatible with older consoles. Sometimes this means you must upgrade to the next generation of hand-held devices, just to join the newest generation of Pokémon. While introducing my son to Pokémon recently, it became abundantly clear that he would need to upgrade from an original DS to the New 3DS in order to play. The expense of getting him a New 3DS XL and a copy of Alpha Sapphire totaled around $250 after taxes. As a result, this became the (overwhelming) majority of his birthday presents this year. If we had waited for the release of Generation Seven, it would have been the same, except for Christmas, rather than birthday.

What are TMs and HMs?

TM is short for Technical Machine. These helpful items teach Pokémon moves they can’t normally learn. There are 100 TMs in the Sixth Generation. TMs used to be disposable, making them a limited resource. Now, thankfully, they can be used as often as one likes.

HM is short for Hidden Machine. These items teach Pokémon moves they can learn outside of combat. These moves are always needed to complete a given game, as they are the only way to unlock new areas. In each generation there are between five and eight HMs. These techniques even allow a trainer to ride their Pokémon to fly, surf, climb waterfalls, or dive underwater. There are two tricky bits to HMs, though. Pokémon cannot forget moves learned from an HM under normal circumstances, and to use them outside of combat, the trainer usually requires a badge from a particular Gym.

Why do some Poke Balls look different?

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

There are 26 different kinds of Poké Balls, each of which works a little differently. They are all used to catch Pokémon, but some are better than others. A Master Ball will catch any Pokémon, without fail, but are extremely rare, only one being available in each game. Another example is the Repeat Ball, which works three times better if the trainer has previously caught one of target Pokémon’s species.

As a parent of a kid (or a wife of a husband) who is into Pokémon, what do I need to know to ask intelligent questions and show the person I care and am interested in their interests?

Bulbapedia IconWell, by reading this post, you’ve taken the biggest step! I also suggest you scroll through Bulbapedia’s complete list of Pokémon, and find some you think are cute, pretty, or interesting in some way. Click on it, and absorb a little bit of the info you find. It’s amazing how much of this stuff is cumulative. Be on the lookout for tongue-in-cheek names and puns!

Where can I find out more?
You can email the author to have more questions added to the list. You can also check out Bulbapedia for the community-driven content that’s always being updated. If all else fails, Reddit goes crazy for Pokémon.

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