It’s been 20 years since the Japanese got their hands on Pokémon Red and Green (nee Blue), it was the game that saved the Game Boy and spawned a craze that is still going til this very day. One of the chief complaints about Pokémon from casual observers of the series is that they’re just the same games but with just new monsters every iteration. However there’s nothing that makes you appreciate just how far Pokémon has come as a game by going back and playing Pokémon Red, Blue or Yellow.
While I fully expect anyone reading this to know how the game works just for a minute and for those who don’t, let’s go over the basics. Nintendo released Pokémon Red and Blue as a pair, you play as the same young boy in both and you travel around the same region and play through the same story. The game’s story follows you, the Pokémon trainer in-training to defeat the eight gym leaders of Kanto and eventually defeat the Elite Four and Champion to be the very best like no one ever was. The other big goal is to fill your Pokédex, to see and catch all the Pokémon there are (and maybe one more) and store them in a PC as data. That’s really cruel when you think about it.
You can catch Pokémon through battles, you’ll only be able to snap up wild Pokémon – battling other trainers and gym leaders is solely for the experience (plus you don’t want to be a Pokémon thief). As your Pokémon level up they’ll learn new moves (and can be taught more through other means) and eventually evolve into more advanced forms.
There’s different Pokémon to collect in each version and trade Pokémon from one version to the other can evolve as well. Pokémon Yellow is a little different in that it follows the same young boy but instead of Charmander, Bulbasaur or Squirtle he gets a Pikachu which follows him around. The story in Yellow also more closely matches the anime and the Pokémon available are slightly different. You can buy all three versions, but there’s no real reason to – the idea is to trade with friends and ‘catch em’ all’.
So 20 years later has Nintendo added anything to these versions? Well, no. The games are exactly as they were, including glitches and hacks. The sole new addition is the emulation of the link cable which I’ll talk about later. Pokémon Red and Blue play in black and white (or you can turn it green if you hold L and R and press Y), Pokémon Yellow is a Game Boy Color game and has an updated colour palette.
Pokémon being exactly as it was back then means just that, all the modern conveniences of the new Pokémon games are not here. You have to enter the menu to get on your bike, view the map, there’s no running shoes and of course you can only move in a grid. Battles can be long and slow as the game works through all of the messages on the ‘small’ resolution. Recommend putting the text speed up to high as soon as you can.
Pokémon is really a low-tech game, but it’s that simplicity that allows its charm to show through. Your Pokémon all look the same, sound like they’re having a stroke and the game while there’s loads to explore is visually simple to look at – even in 1996. The nuances of competitive play in original Pokémon games aren’t there either, it’s a role playing game with battles – there’s one way to win and that’s going Physic as there’s no Dark type to counter it.
The biggest selling point, apart from the fact that you can now play Pokémon with a backlight is that the game does away with the link cable and takes its trading and battling completely wireless. No more pulling out the cable on your brother in the car, you have to see the battle through. This wireless connectivity also continues through to the internet with Pokémon Bank support just freshly announced. You’ll be able to take your Pokémon from RBY and put them in the newly announced Pokemon Sun and Moon when they’re released later this year.
So the point of this review isn’t to let you know if Pokémon is still a good game or not, it’s a great game but whether or not you should actually play it. If you’re like me and were raised on your Pokémon cartridges you’re going to get something different from this than someone who started playing on the Game Boy Advance or the Nintendo DS.
If you’re going back to these games for the first time you’ll find the rickety game engine and lack of refinements annoying. Button shortcuts, real time clocks, different weather, dual battles weren’t a thing here – this is ‘pure’ Pokémon game in the raw.
No one was more excited about the release of these games on the Virtual Console than me, it’s been the ‘holy grail’ of Virtual Console releases for some time. Some said it would never happen, let alone would we get wireless trading and battling. However after spending the entire week playing through the game I’m not sure if I want to continue.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, have played every Pokémon game to death or played Pokémon Red more than nearly any other game but I feel like I don’t want to do this again. I don’t want to battle through Mt Moon and have a hundred Zubats come at me, work through puzzles I already know the solution to or grind Pokémon that have already been trained to death before.
All of the annoying slowness that makes Pokémon Red suck has been removed or refined in later games. You have a bike on a button (or touch screen), you can run, move in any direction and there’s more tools to train your team faster – none of this exists in these Pokémon games and I just don’t have the patience for it anymore.
Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow are historical games, games that were technical marvels at the time of release, pushed through social barriers and brought friends together (or tore them apart). But like that VHS of Space Jam you watched 200 times, you might not need to watch (play) it anymore – you know how it is and the memories of that are enough.
Ah stuff it, back to Kanto I go.