Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow
Pokemon Red and Blue is a role-playing game developed by Game Freak and released by Nintendo for the Game Boy. The game originally came out in Japan under the name Pocket Monsters Red and Green on February 27, 1996. On October 15, 1996, Pocket Monsters Blue came out in Japan in the form of a special magazine subscriber bonus. It wasn’t until September 28, 1998, that North America finally got those games in the form of Pokemon Red and Blue, nearly two years later. Europe was last to receive a localized release of Pokemon, with the Blue version coming out on June 10, 1999, and the Red version being released on October 5, 1999. A special edition of Red and Blue known as Pokemon Yellow came out in Japan on September 12, 1998, North America on October 19, 1999, and Europe on June 16, 2000. There are only minor differences between the various colored versions of Pokemon, so all of them are basically the same game. Nintendo went out of its way to market the game, with toys, an animated television show, and even trading cards. Pokemon took the world by storm and quickly became one of the best selling, most popular game franchises of all time. It was particularly popular in North America, where it practically dominated every schoolyard. While the originals haven’t aged too well, they are the blueprints by which all modern Pokemon games are based on.
In this strange world, there are folk known as Pokemon Trainers who catch and train Pokemon for the purposes of battle. Surprisingly, this didn’t cause a stir with Animal Rights Activists. Pokemon Trainers prove their worth by training strong Pokemon and having said Pokemon attain many victories in battle. A Pokemon Trainer’s ultimate goal is to become the very best, like no one ever was. In order to prove who the best Pokemon Trainer in the land is, a special challenge was devised. This is the Pokemon League challenge, a challenge in which Pokemon Trainers travel to various Pokemon Gyms within the region to fight against some of the toughest opponents around. Beating a Gym Leader earns the victor a Gym Badge, and once all eight badges are collected, the winner can challenge a group of expert Pokemon Trainers referred to as the Elite Four. Winning against the Elite Four designates you as the champion of the Pokemon League, an honor reserved only for the best of the best. There’s not much of a story to Pokemon, but it should be commended for being one of the only video games that isn’t about saving the world or thwarting evil. It’s also an RPG that’s neither sci-fi nor medieval fantasy, instead opting for a more contemporary setting like EarthBound. That’s a rare delight for these kinds of games.
Battles are encountered in one of two ways: fighting wild Pokemon or challenging Pokemon Trainers. Wild Pokemon are randomly encountered in tall grass or in dungeon-like areas such as caves, whereas Pokemon Trainers stand around various places awaiting a fight. Standing within a Pokemon Trainer’s sights will automatically trigger a battle that you can’t flee from, and the Pokemon fought during these battles are much tougher. You can have a total of up to six Pokemon on your team, but only one can engage in combat at a time. Battles are turn-based and fought in a one-on-one fashion akin to the original Dragon Warrior. What makes the battles of Pokemon interesting is the type system. Every Pokemon in the game has a type and each type is strong or weak against another. This is similar to elemental weaknesses in conventional RPGs. Types include stuff like fire, water, electric, grass, bug, flying, etc. Many weaknesses are self-explanatory, like that water beats fire, but some are less obvious, like how flying beats fighting. A single attack can totally change the tide of battle if it exploits a weakness, so this is the most important aspect of combat in Pokemon. The high level of importance placed on weaknesses transforms an otherwise mundane battle system into something far more entertaining, since it requires players to be strategic about their choices in battle.
All Pokemon can learn four moves total and each move has its own type. There’s a huge selection of moves with a wide variety of effects. Such effects include things like inflicting damage, raising or lowering stats, recovering health, dishing out status ailments like poison and sleep, and lots more. The moves in Pokemon are somewhat similar to spells in other RPGs. Speaking of magic, each move in Pokemon can only be used a limited amount of times before they “run out,” and depleted moves must be replenished at Pokemon Centers. It’s like an MP system, except they call it PP here. Going to the bathroom is a good way to run out of PP. Anyway, more powerful moves tend to have less PP, while less powerful moves have higher PP. It’s a neat system that allows for more freedom than a standard magic system normally would, but it does have its drawbacks. The biggest annoyance is that four moves isn’t a whole lot to work with, especially when going for complex strategies. What’s good about that, though, is that it forces players to create teams of Pokemon that complement each other well. One Pokemon can stun enemies and then be switched out for another one to do serious damage. This adds even more strategy to the battle system beyond type advantages. There are enough Pokemon and moves in the game to create almost any kind of setup, which is most certainly a good thing.
The majority of moves in the game are learned as Pokemon level up, but there are other ways for Pokemon to learn moves. TMs and HMs are items that can be used on Pokemon to teach them new moves, usually moves they normally can’t learn on their own. The difference between TMs and HMs is that TMs are one-time-use items that typically contain a rare or powerful move, whereas HMs can be used an unlimited amount of times. Moves learned from HMs can be used outside of battle as well as inside battle, producing different effects in each case. HM moves are often required to progress in the game, like how the Cut move is used to cut down trees that could be blocking your way. Different Pokemon can learn different moves, so you can’t simply use any TM or HM on any Pokemon. In most cases, common sense will tell you what each Pokemon is able to learn. Obviously you can’t use the Fly HM on a fish Pokemon, since fish can’t fly. The fact that there are moves that can be used in and out of battle is cool, with the coolest of those moves being Fly and Surf. Fly, as its name implies, lets you fly to any town you’ve already been to, like a teleportation spell, and Surf lets you ride across bodies of water. The mere existence of moves like these makes exploring the game way more fun.
Besides the starter Pokemon you begin the game with, you can catch additional Pokemon in the wild. As such, the other major goal in Pokemon is to catch them all. It’s not a required objective to beat the game, but it’s still a huge focus. Pokemon are shrunk in size and stored in these tiny balls called Poke Balls via futuristic technology. Catching more of the buggers requires throwing a Poke Ball at a wild Pokemon and hoping for the best. There are different types of Poke Balls, all with their own catch rates. The main thing that effects catch rates, however, is the wild Pokemon’s health; the less health the Pokemon has, the easier it is to catch. Rarer Pokemon also tend to be more difficult to capture, even with all the other stuff applied. And no, you can’t catch another Trainer’s Pokemon. Once captured, Pokemon will have no choice but to bend to your will. If you have less than six Pokemon on you, the captured Pokemon will be immediately added to your team. Otherwise, the caught Pokemon will be sent to a storage unit elsewhere. There are 151 Pokemon total in this particular game, and collecting them all is quite a feat. Each new area you explore brings with it new Pokemon to see, which culminates in a world with a seemingly unlimited amount of possibilities. The possibilities are limited, of course, but they didn’t feel limited, especially not back in 1998.
Some Pokemon can “evolve” when certain conditions are met. The most common condition is simply getting to a certain level, but there are sometimes other conditions, like giving your Pokemon a special stone. There’s also a Pokemon called Eevee that can evolve into different forms depending on what elemental stone you give it. Evolved Pokemon change in appearance and are more powerful, plus they learn different moves. It’s almost always beneficial to evolve Pokemon and doing so is another exciting part of the game. However, there are times when one might want to prevent a Pokemon from evolving. There aren’t too many benefits to doing so, but some Pokemon learn better moves when they don’t evolve. Additionally, Pokemon tend to look a lot meaner when evolved, so if you want yours to remain cute, you have to put a stop to that pesky evolution. That’s like having a puppy that never ages. If only real life were like that. The evolution system is a pretty simple mechanic, but it makes raising Pokemon a lot more interesting.
With a world as vast as Pokemon, there were a lot of myths surrounding it. The game came out during a time when the Internet still wasn’t too big yet, so unconfirmed rumors ran rampant. Further compounding the myths surrounding the game was Mew. For a long time, the game was advertised as only having 150 Pokemon, with the last Pokemon being a well guarded secret. Eventually, it was revealed that the game actually had 151 Pokemon, Mew being the last one. The only way to legitimately obtain Mew in the game was to attend a special event in which Nintendo distributed the rare Pokemon to many fans that had brought their games. Sadly, this meant that most people were out of luck when it came to getting their hands on the digital creature. Years later, fans discovered a glitch to get Mew in the game, but there were many false rumors leading up to that discovery. This game really inspired children’s imaginations to run wild, much like the Pokemon in tall grass. The urban legends surrounding Pokemon are almost as interesting as the game itself, and that’s all thanks to Mew.
The most famous, or rather, infamous glitch in the original Pokemon is the Missingno glitch. Just about everyone knows about the glitch now, but back then it was an astronomical discovery. It’s a fairly easy glitch to pull off, so you don’t have to be an expert speed runner to experience this one firsthand. Missingno stands for missing number and it’s like a garbled, messed up placeholder Pokemon. Merely seeing Missingno causes the game to go berserk, producing all kinds of unpredictable effects, like duplicating unlimited items, crashing or freezing the game, and other crazy occurrences. Playing around with the Missingno glitch is almost more fun than playing the game itself. Glitches like these actually add to the game’s appeal, because it made the world of Pokemon that much more mysterious. Even now, new glitches are still being discovered. That childlike sense of discovery is what makes Pokemon so great, and Missingno is a big part of it. Missingno is one glitch that doesn’t need fixing. If anything, Missingno should have been listed on the box as a feature.
Two players can battle and trade Pokemon together by linking their Game Boys with a Game Link Cable. Battling works exactly like it does in the regular game, with the exception being that it’s one player versus another. The idea is to test the fruits of your labor by battling against a friend. Comparing Pokemon and seeing who has the better team is a fun time, unless one person has way higher level Pokemon than the other. In that case, things won’t be very fun for the player with the underpowered team. As fun as battling a friend can be, trading is arguably even more fun. One of the big selling points to Pokemon is the ability to trade with any other player, provided there was a Link Cable involved. This concept was groundbreaking for the time. To facilitate the mass trading hysteria, Nintendo made it so that each version of the game had a few exclusive Pokemon. The only way to acquire all 151 Pokemon is to trade exclusives with a friend that has the version opposite to yours. If you have no friends, then you’ll have to buy two cartridges, two Game Boys, and a Link Cable. Believe it or not, people did that. The ability to link games definitely enhances the Pokemon experience, but having multiple versions of the game with exclusive content is a bit exploitative.
Nintendo truly stumbled onto something magnificent with Pokemon. It sure made them a lot of money, too. The concept of catching monsters to then battle them against each other wasn’t entirely original in Japan, but it was for North America. Pokemon’s graphics and sound were pretty primitive by 1998, but that didn’t stop it from wowing North American audiences with its ambitious monster collecting. It’s an ingenious concept, one that Pokemon executes extremely well. While the formula has certainly been improved by leaps and bounds in future iterations, Pokemon Red and Blue still hold a special place in many people’s hearts. Without a doubt, it’s one of the best RPGs on the Game Boy.