Pokemon is thought to be the most valuable media franchise in the world, with an empire that straddles video games, TV, cinema, trading cards, Pokemon Go and much more. And last month, Pokemon turned 25.

The phenomenon is inspired by the childhood tradition of collecting bugs — popular during Japan’s hot and humid summer holidays — and part of its enduring appeal is its simple goal: to catch ’em all. Hundreds of round-eyed “pocket monsters” inspired by everything from mice to dragons can be caught and trained to full strength in battles.

This week on the Deep Dive podcast, journalist Tom Bateman takes listeners through the 25-year history of Pokemon, and seeks to unravel how it has become one of Japan’s most successful and recognizable exports.

Deep Dive podcast, Episode 86: Twenty-five years of Pokemon | THE JAPAN TIMES
Deep Dive podcast, Episode 86: Twenty-five years of Pokemon | THE JAPAN TIMES

Pocket monsters have proven to be a cash cow for Nintendo, one of three joint owners of the franchise. The firm is also gearing up for record software and Switch console sales in 2021, Bloomberg predicts — a much stronger performance than investors had been projecting following a stay-home-fueled surge in 2020.

Another of Nintendo’s stars is, of course, Super Mario. On Thursday, Universal Studios Japan in Osaka finally opened its ¥60 billion Mario-themed attraction, in a major leap beyond the virtual world by the games maker. Entering through a giant warp pipe, visitors to Super Nintendo World are met with chomping piranha plants, punchable coin blocks and a flag-topped Mount Beanpole.

For those who would rather stick to console gaming for now, this month’s featured titles from On Games columnist Brian Ashcraft are a bundle of side-scrolling Darius shoot ’em-ups, role-playing game Bravely Default II and Monster Hunter Rise — all available on the Switch, of course.