KENNEWICK -- Pokémon fans who subscribe to the game's motto of "Gotta Catch 'em All" have 156 more digital monsters to add to their lists when the black and white version of the popular video game series is released in the U.S. on March 6.
Pokémon Company International also is releasing a new animated TV series, feature-length film and a new toy line.
Not bad for a pop-culture phenomenon born in Japan in 1996.
That was just a couple of years after 17-year-old Southridge High junior Brandon Degarimore, president of Southridge High's Pokémon Club, was born.
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Pokémon's eager fans include 12 to 20 Southridge students who meet each Monday during lunch to play on their Nintento DS portable video game systems -- battling, trading and having a good time.
"Currently, a couple of friends and I are taking this time to prepare for the 2011 Pokémon Video Game Championships in Seattle this May," Degarimore said. "I love raising my Pokmon and then using them to crush my opponent's team."
Nintendo's Pokémon, which originated in Japan, is considered the second-most successful video game franchise in the world behind Nintendo's Mario series, with millions of fans worldwide.
Pokémon video games feature creatures known as Pokémon and their world, which is full of legends, tales and adventures. Players are Pokémon Trainers, who try to collect Pokémon species and train them to compete against Pokémon teams owned by other trainers. The goal to become the Pokémon Master.
Pokémon's fifth generation of games comes to America next month, with pre-order sales already started at game stores. This time, it's set in the Unova region, which is styled after Lower Manhattan and surrounding New York area, and will feature 156 new Pokémon, bringing the total number to 649.
Keith Leitner, 17, of Richland, a fan who has been playing the games for 10 years, is excited by what's coming: "156 new monsters with no relation to those of the past creates a great new experience that will allow plenty more fun for years to come," he said.
The trading card game has remained a large factor in the franchise. Libraries and locations such as Adventures Underground, 1391 George Washington Way in Richland, often hold trading card tournaments. One such tournament put on by Pokémon U.S. was held at Adventures Underground in early January.
Jefferson Elementary student Sebastian Smith, 11, won that tournament for his age division, beating competitors from all around the area -- some coming from as far as Spokane.
"My strategy varies with each match I enter. Like with any card game, skill can only go so far as luck of the draw will take me," Smith said.
He added, "I can't see myself ever growing out of Pokémon, I simply love it. The thrill of battling someone and winning is the best."
Even if someone isn't trying to win tournaments, Pokémon has something for everyone.
Mason Winward, 12, a student at Highlands Middle School, also can't get enough of Pokémon.
"I simply love painting watercolors of Pokémon. I'd say I have nearly 600 paintings or drawings of Pokémon in my room," Winward said. "However, I haven't had much time to draw or paint anything new, I started making Pokémon comics instead."
While Pokémon might be seen as a cult fad from the outside, to its fans it is a way of life.
The games emphasize making good choices, being kind and never giving up. The trading card game teaches strategy and the importance of planning and innovation on the spot.
* Cody Olsen: 509-582-1515; email@example.com