POSTED: Saturday, January 4, 2014 - 6:00pm
UPDATED: Saturday, January 4, 2014 - 6:04pm
(CNN) — Two new Pokémon games, "Pokémon X" and "Pokémon Y," have taken the gaming world by storm, selling more than 4 million units globally in their first two days of availability, and tracking to become the fastest-selling games of all time for the handheld Nintendo 3DS.
Not bad for a franchise that got its start in 1996 on the Nintendo Game Boy handheld console. But the president of the Pokémon Company said the new games stay true to their roots of bringing people together to play while offering a new blueprint for the universe of pocket monsters.
"From the beginning, communication between players has been the primary goal for the Pokémon brand," Tsunekazu Ishihara told CNN. "Today, the ability to connect millions of people around the world via Wi-Fi is why launching 'Pokémon X' and 'Pokémon Y' simultaneously worldwide was an ambitious yet important goal."
Since debuting in video and card games, Pokemon has become a cultural phenomenon across the globe. There have been cartoons, cereals and a feature-length film, not to mention the national and global tournaments that draw thousands of players.
"Gotta catch 'em all" is the franchise's catch phrase, referring to the player's goal of catching and training the tiny monsters to compete against other players. That's gotten significantly harder, though, with the expansion to more than 700 different known creatures in the universe.
Unlike previous titles that were named after colors, "Pokémon X" and "Pokémon Y" represent a more analytical way of developing the games for The Pokémon Company and Nintendo. Ishihara said it required designers to understand that not all Pokémon gamers play for the same reasons.
"X and Y represent the X-axis and the Y-axis, but not in a scientific sense," he said. "Each person's thought process, though different, tends to intersect somewhere. I'd like to think this commonality or intersection occurs when people of diverse backgrounds play 'Pokémon X' and 'Pokémon Y' together."
Developers also included a new transformation ability called Mega Evolution. As Pokémon battle and gain experience, they evolve into stronger forms of themselves with improved skills and stats. Mega Evolution allows the creature to temporarily become stronger in battle.
Here's the catch: not all Pokémon can Mega Evolve.
"(This) requires players to use new strategies while they play, taking the brand to a new dimension," Ishihara said. "This is yet another reason we chose titles that were theoretical instead of names based on colors or precious stones."
Keeping the franchise fresh for fans while making it accessible to a new audience is important to Ishihara. Pokémon is the second-best-selling gaming franchise in the world, trailing only the "Mario" series.
Recognizing that its place in video game history is assured, Ishihara said new technology allows designers to do things with Pokemon they couldn't do in previous titles.
"Maintaining a balance of familiarity and innovation is important," he said. "Ever-evolving technology helps maintain that balance, because we can progress aspects of the game that people enjoy already and add things like new communication features that could only be imagined five, ten years ago."
"We feel this balance is key to the franchise's success and longevity. In 'Pokémon X' and 'Pokémon Y,' I think we do an excellent job of introducing the basics of the game to the player in a natural way, building their understanding step after step, all while ensuring the pacing allows the longtime fan to jump in and progress quickly to the more challenging portions of the gameplay."
The two new titles represent the franchise's first foray onto the Nintendo 3DS handheld console. The visual enhancements give players the opportunity to see their favorites move and interact in ways they never could before.
The technical abilities of the 3DS let players see their favorite moves and interactions in new ways, as well as play with other gamers around the world.
Ishihara said in late December that a new cloud service called Pokémon Bank would let players move their creatures back and forth between games -- a service fans have been asking for for many years.
"We have to stick to the core of the franchise -- the collecting, battling and trading -- while at the same time we have to take advantage of the new technology and the evolution of the hardware to expand on the aspect of communication," he said. "We also need to make sure that it's fun and rewarding to do each of these things. It's not an easy task."
Despite the advancements in technology, improvements to the look and intense level of fan interest, Ishihara believes that the franchise's simple, original goal -- to bring people together -- works as well today as it did 17 years ago.
"The Pokémon universe is incredibly fun and diverse, and like the world we all live in, continues to surprise and excite us," he said. "I'm really excited to continue working to connect people in ways we only dreamed about when we first started. There is still so much to discover, so many Pokémon to find."
Gotta catch 'em all indeed.