Pokémon might be renowned for its cooperative gameplay, delightful spinoffs, and making an intimidating genre approachable, but the franchise also has a long history of creative and interesting gadgets.
The series is bursting with technology. The original in-game pokédex clearly takes inspiration from early Palm Pilot-like devices, for example. And if you think about them, pokéballs are technological marvels: they somehow transform living creatures into particles that can be transported across the world (and in the TV show, the pokéballs can even shrink). So it’s not all that surprising that there have been many Pokémon-themed toys and hardware.
We’ve collected just a few of the many memorable Pokémon gadgets in honor of the series’ 25th anniversary. The IRL devices range from gamified pedometers to custom video game consoles to actual pokéball replicas (though they can’t turn living things into particles just yet). There’s a lot of gear you can get if you want to catch ‘em all.
An actual pokédex
Tiger Electronics and Hasbro released a toy pokédex in the late ‘90s, and I still consider it one of my favorite toys of all time. It was modeled after Ash’s pokédex from the first season of the TV show, though with a few different features to allow it to actually function as a real-life toy. It had a keypad and a number pad for searching information, a small screen that showed the pokémon you were looking at, and could show information about each pokémon like its height, weight, type, and some attacks it could learn. It made me feel like I was a bona fide pokémon trainer, and I remember spending hours reading up on different pokémon with my pokédex.
My Pokémon Pikachu was a staple of my childhood. Released in 1998, it was a pocket-sized gadget that was kind of like a Tamagotchi, except you took care of a digital Pikachu. But it also had a built-in pedometer that you could activate just by shaking the device up and down. (Or, like in the commercials embedded above, jumping.)
That shakeability meant that I was constantly bouncing the little device to earn a currency called watts. You could gift watts to Pikachu or, oddly, gamble them away at a slot machine. You can learn more about it on this delightful Nintendo Japan website that’s still around.
Nintendo released an upgraded model, the Pokémon Pikachu 2 GS, in 1999 in Japan and 2000 in North America and Europe, according to Bulbapedia. It had a color screen and could connect to Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal via the Game Boy Color’s infrared port, allowing you to trade watts for items.
A pokémon-themed camera
Just look at this point-and-shoot camera. It has a giant Pikachu on one side, two poké balls hold the flash and the lens, and an adorable Diglett is the shutter button. The camera shot 35mm film, and each photo would also have a pokémon-themed border, according to the manual. (You can see that border, which featured Pikachu, Meowth, Squirtle, and Blastoise, in this album.) A couple eBay listings peg its release date as 1999.
The box art for Hey You Pikachu Image: The Pokémon Company
Hey You, Pikachu’s “Voice Recognition Unit”
Hey You, Pikachu was a Nintendo 64 game that let you talk to Pikachu with the help of the Voice Recognition Unit, or VRU, that was bundled with the game. It was released in 1998 in Japan and 2000 in North America.
You can see the VRU in the picture above — users clipped a large microphone to their controller, plugged that into a special module (which stored Pikachu’s 256-word vocabulary, according to Popular Science), and then plugged that module into the Nintendo 64 itself.
And speaking of Pikachu-themed hardware…
The Pikachu-themed Nintendo 64s. Image: Nintendo.co.jp
The Pikachu-themed Nintendo 64
The Pikachu-themed Nintendo 64, released in 2000, put a fun twist on the console’s design by making the on-off switch a poké ball and Pikachu’s right foot the reset button. I love how giant Pikachu is — it dominates almost half the console. And while I can’t remember ever actually using one of these myself, I imagine it must have been very satisfying to press Pikachu’s little foot to reset a game.
The Pokémon mini was a tiny handheld console designed specifically to play Pokémon-themed games from cartridges. It was released in 2001 in North America and Japan and 2002 in Europe. It was 74mm x 58mm x 23mm — described on the still-active Pokémon mini Nintendo UK website as “well under half the size” of Nintendo’s iconic Game Boy Advance — and came in three colors. It even had motion sensing and rumble built in.
The Pokémon Pikachu devices were succeeded by the poké ball-themed Pokéwalker in 2009, which was bundled with every copy of Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver. Like the Pokémon Pikachu, the Pokéwalker was a pedometer, let you accumulate watts, and allowed you to take care of pokémon. But unlike the Pokémon Pikachu, you could transfer pokémon back and forth from the Pokéwalker, meaning you weren’t forced to only care for Pikachu. You could also find new wild pokémon and items directly on your Pokéwalker by spending watts to play mini-games.
Nintendo has uploaded the Pokéwalker’s manual online, if you’d like to learn more about it.
Poké Ball Plus
Nintendo released another poké ball-themed device in 2018 alongside Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee!: the Poké Ball Plus, an actual, functional game controller that’s compatible with the Nintendo Switch. You can play both games with the controller and catch pokémon by making a throwing motion with your arm. Similar to the Pokéwalker, you can also store pokémon inside the Poké Ball Plus, and they’ll even cry from inside it if you shake it around. The controller is also compatible with the huge mobile hit Pokémon Go.
This Poké Ball replica that “must never be thrown”
This only barely counts as a gadget, but I had to include it. Last November, The Pokémon Company International and The Wand Company announced this $99.99 die-cast replica of the Poké Ball. As realistic as it looks, don’t go throwing it at your cat as a joke; it weighs 10.5oz, which is double the weight of a baseball. And in fact, The Wand Company says that it “must never be thrown” and that “throwing the Poké Ball will damage it and may injure someone.”
But if you’ve ever wanted to actually hold a poké ball, buying one of these might be the closest you can get. It even glows.