I woke up Saturday morning, ready to catch ’em all. Two days and 20 hours later, I’m still at it! The Virtual Console releases of Pokemon Red, Blue, & Yellow have completely derailed my gaming plans. I’ve put twice the amount of time into a 20 (18 for US fan) year old game than I have with Nintendo newest, and quite fantastic offering, Fire Emblem Fates. What is it about those little pocket monsters that has me so hooked?
In 1998, a 12 year old version of me had a very difficult decision to make. Red or Blue? Seems so small and insignificant now, but not at the time. I settled on Red because Fire breathing dragon is way cooler than a giant turtle, popped the cartridge into my Game Boy Pocket and soon my little Charmander and I were getting kicked, roughly, around Brock’s Gym.
I realize that to some, what I described may not make much sense. Maybe you’ve never played a Pokémon game but have heard all the #Pokemon20 hype online. Maybe your first introduction to the series was Emerald and Sapphire on the Game Boy Advanced, or Black and White from a few years ago. Or perhaps you’re a serious newcomer and, after after playing X & Y, looking at those old black and white graphics just seems so…. old!! But if you’re of a certain age, between 6-15, living in the US in 1998, going back to Pokémon Red and Blue (and Yellow!) is just like going home. If you don’t fall in that age group, these games can still be a wonderful experience.
I think the real question now is, should you buy these classic games. The TLDR answer is a resounding yes. But don’t go away yet. Allow me to tell you a little more.
Pokémon is a franchise famous for never changing. “Baby’s First RPG,” is sometimes bandied about in a terribly derogatory way. While the graphics may improve, and the roster may grow generation after generation, the core remains the same. Young person leaves home to explore their little corner of the world, collecting and battling critters in an effort to become the very best, like no one ever was! (I know, I’m sorry. I’ll try and keep those to a minimum) So already, if you’re on board with Pokémon, then you’ll to find Red, Blue, and Yellow very comfortable.
One thing for gamers young and old to remember is that these games are going on 20 years now. Technology and game design mentality have changed. Some of the little things we now take for granted in Pokémon games, like key items mapped to a button, didn’t exist in the late 90’s with the Game Boy’s two button layout.
Learning or refamilarizing yourself with the different creature types and their rock paper scissors style of battle advantage is handled so well in these classic games. The way Generation 1 teaches players the mechanics is on par with the best of the “retro” games like Mega Man and Mario. And with a paltry 150 Pokémon to capture, learning their names and bring out the right member of your 6 monster party to tackle your opponents Pokémon becomes second nature.
Speaking of those 150, there are some purists out there that only consider Generation 1 to be the only true Pokémon games. They’ll scoff at newer editions introducing monsters based on keys, ice cream cones, and chandeliers. And while they are missing out on great characters too, they’re not 100% wrong. There’s just something about each of the Pokémon in the original roster. Not all are winners (Jynx) but they feel special and unique in a way that you just naturally lose when that number is expanded to 700 plus.
As for the games themselves, these are virtual console games, meaning that Nintendo goes the straight port route. Red and Blue are virtually the same game with the exception of a handful of Pokémon to be caught in one version that cannot be found in the other. And Pokémon Yellow offers a slightly tweaked version that adds touches of the anime in, like a Pikachu off the top that follows you around and the ability to get all three of the main starters, something only possible through trading in Red and Blue. Nintendo did, however, add a few smaller changes. Trading and battling is now possible over the Internet, no link cable required. Also Red, Blue. And Yellow will work with PokéBank, allowing you to transfer these Gen 1 creatures to 2016’s upcoming Pokémon Sun & Moon. (Although not to the current gen games X, Y, Omega Ruby, or Alpha Sapphire)
Keep in mind that Red, Blue, and Yellow are all slower paced games. They ask that the player explore each area, talk to the NPC’s grind out experience in the tall grass and just enjoy your time in the Kanto region. There isn’t the pressure to push forward. You’re not swept along by some grand, world ending story. Sure, you’re the hero, but the stakes are manageable and never get in the way of the ultimate goal of becoming the League Champion. This is something that newer Pokémon games have been accused of in recent years.
They say you can’t go home again, and yes, nostalgia can lead to disappointment. However, that doesn’t hold true for Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow. Sometimes, stripping away all the bells and whistles and going back to the core of what makes something special, is exactly what a franchise, and a person needs. Sure, you may miss some of the little additions that have been introduced to make the games more comfortable, but falling down the Diglett hole of a classic game rarely feels quite so good.
Looking forward, I hope that Nintendo evolves this franchise the same way those pocket monsters do, but looking looking back also makes me hope that they don’t lose the heart of the series. Because it’s that heart that has allowed us to get to Pokémon’s 20th Anniversary. And it’s that same heart that will hopefully see us through 20 more years.