Like most kids at the turn of the century, my two sisters and I were obsessed with Pokémon. We had the GameBoy games, the VHS tapes, binders bursting at the seams with trading cards— you name it. And when we finally got our first video game console in 2000 (after years of begging our mom), it was Pokémon-themed too: the Nintendo 64 Pikachu Edition.
Of course, that’s not what we called it. We called it our “Pikachu Nintendo.” It was among Nintendo’s first consoles themed around one of its IPs, and arguably the most elaborate at that. Given the Pokémania gripping the world at the time, the company could have slapped a Pokémon skin on any old Nintendo 64 and odds are the things still would have flown off the shelves. By 2000, just two years after Pokémon’s debut outside of Japan, the series had already made the cover of Time Magazine and earned a spot for its de facto mascot, Pikachu, in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, which it’s held to this day.
Instead, Nintendo redesigned the system to put the little electric mouse front and center. Pikachu’s cheeks, which store electricity in-game, flash bright red when the system turns on. Hitting his foot resets the system. The power button is in the shape of a Poké ball, and the entire console, controller included, is blue and yellow to match the colors of the Pokémon logo. Nintendo later released a slew of handhelds and consoles themed to its different properties such as Animal Crossing, The Legend of Zelda, and other series where it stuck to more superficial alterations, changing the look of the console’s body or the color scheme for its buttons. However, none have baked a character into the console’s design to the same extent as the Nintendo 64 Pikachu Edition.
Nintendo going all out with this system just goes to show how fucking huge Pokémon was at the time—and its influence has only exploded in the decades since. After debuting in 1996 with Pokémon Red and Green, its expansive catalogue of games, trading cards, TV shows, and other merchandise has made Pokémon the highest-grossing entertainment franchise in history with an estimated $100 billion in all-time sales. Its games, which are developed by Game Freak and published by Nintendo, have sold more than 380 million units worldwide, and its menagerie of pocket monsters has grown from 151 to nearly 900.
Though all that mattered to my sisters and I back then was that we finally had a (freaking adorable!) console to ourselves. No more begging our cousins to give us a turn on theirs or wrestling with kids at daycare to squeeze in another five minutes of playtime. We still had to share it with each other of course, so we begrudgingly hashed out a few core tenets to keep the squabbling to a minimum. All the while knowing full well that if we failed to hammer out terms that everyone could agree on, our mom, her patience already stretched to its breaking point on a daily basis from being a single parent with three children, would make good on her promise to “take the damn thing right back to the store.” We followed these self-imposed rules with the same piety as commandments: thou shalt not save over someone else’s game file; screenwatch under penalty of forfeit; and honor your negotiated turn lengths, though some leniency was allowed if the current player still needed to find a save point (we weren’t completely heartless, after all).
Naturally we weren’t perfect, but we managed to avoid causing too much of a headache and our precious console stayed. It was one of the few things under the Christmas tree that year, appropriately bundled with a copy of Hey You, Pikachu!, one of the most infuriatingly broken games I’ve ever encountered.
To play, you “talked” to Pikachu through a microphone attached to the controller, telling him where to go, how to interact with things, what to electrocute (which came up surprisingly often). At least, that was the sales pitch. In reality, Nintendo’s nascent voice recognition software didn’t work anywhere near consistently enough to build a game mechanic around, which made getting Pikachu to do literally anything a frustrating crapshoot. Supposedly Pikachu was programmed to understand more than 200 words, but if true, in my experience he ignored just about all of them in favor of using thundershock to burn every item he picked up to a crisp.
More than once, I remember rage quitting only to look at the Pikachu on our console, that cutesy smile on his face now looking more like a shit-eating grin taunting me, and being tempted to punch it right in the face. Hey You, Pikachu! was also the only Nintendo 64 game we owned for the better part of a year—at least until our birthdays rolled around in the fall—as our mom was absolutely incredulous that she had just spent hundreds of dollars on a console and we wanted her to fork over even more for games to play on it. Suffice it to say, I spent a lot of time yelling at Pikachu (and about the same amount of time banished to my room for the language that would come out in those heated moments).
Of course, in retrospect, I remember the console much more fondly. It’s become somewhat of a collector’s item in the decades since, going for hundreds of dollars on eBay and other online auctions. But I don’t plan on getting rid of our old Pikachu Nintendo anytime soon. It survived growing up with three girl gamers, and has the stickers to prove it.