Today’s post is part of Pokémon Creator’s Catch – a collaboration created by NekoJonez featuring a collection of other bloggers wanting to share their love of everything Pokémon, a series which is currently celebrating the 25th anniversary of the release of Pokémon Red & Green in Japan. Go ahead and click the link to be directed back to the main lobby to check out the other
blogger trainer’s posts. Gotta read ’em all!
It started off simple…
Upon turning on your Game Boy the opening screen shows the Nintendo logo, followed by developer Game Freak. Next, the now-iconic battle music starts(du-du-duuh, du-du-duuh!) as the screen displays the pixelated sprites of Nidoran squaring off against a Gengar on the black and white screen. Just as the Nidoran lunges towards its opponent the screen flashes white before the Pokémon logo appears and the triumphant main title music begins to play. Within mere seconds of hearing the combination of sounds I’m already overwhelmed by waves of warm, fuzzy nostalgia.
First released in Japan on Febuary 27, 1996 as Pocket Monsters: Red and Pocket Monsters: Green, “Pokémon” as they would soon become known universally, became an instant craze and would go on to span the entire globe with the later releases of Pokémon Red & Blue in North America, Australia, and Europe.
At its core, Pokémon Red & Blue are RPGs – you start out the game as a young trainer who embarks on a journey across the Kanto region to become the greatest Pokémon champion. You travel through the towns which are connected by various routes(a couple caves and tunnels too) as you catch additional Pokémon to aid Professor Oak in his research. The central aspect of the game is battling and catching Pokémon; you will encounter random wild Pokémon throughout different areas – Rattata and Pidgeys hiding in long grass, Tentacool and Staryu in the open water, Geodude and….<sigh> Zubat in underground caverns. All the battles are turn-based with the losing Pokémon fainting rather than being killed as in other RPGs – Pokémon Red was actually the game that helped me to finally “get” the general strategy involved in turn-based combat.
Nearly every town you visit along your journey has a Pokémon Gym, which contains a number of trainer battles before reaching the final battle against the Gym Leader. Each gym has a common Pokémon type throughout and knowing which types to prepare for before entering can make a world of difference. After collecting all eight badges for defeating the gym leaders across the Kanto region, you are invited to travel to Victory Road and battle the Elite Four – a quartet of Pokémon trainers considered to be the best of the best. The game ends with you defeating the Elite Four, along with your hometown rival and then heading back home.
Rather than attacking with a set of equippable weapons like most other RPGs, each Pokémon has four different moves to use in battle. Each Pokémon is aligned with a specific elemental type, the first generation of games included 15 different types – Normal, Rock, Fire, Water, Electric, Ghost, etc. – with specific types having greater or lesser strengths against others. For example, a grass-type is very weak against fire and a water-type will be weak to electric attacks. The process of learning the strengths and weaknesses of each Pokémon type was a little overwhelming at the start, but quickly became something I had memorized. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of strolling through the Cinnabar Island Gym against all those fire-types with a Blastoise before taking out Blaine’s Arcanine – “It’s super effective!”
Pokémon Red & Blue are essentially the same game, but “one game, two versions” has been a central element to every core series entry since the very beginning. You only need to play one in order to get the overall trainer experience, but there are a few Pokémon that are only found roaming the Kanto region in a specific one. Some Pokémon will only evolve after being traded as well, along with The tagline of the Pokémon games has always been “Gotta catch ’em all!”, this, unfortunately is reliant on trading with others via the Game Link Cable for those wishing to fill out their respective Pokédexes. I still remember the process of briefly trading my prized Charizard to my younger brother’s Pokémon Yellow game so he could teach it HM 02 – Fly, which it is unable to learn in Red & Blue, before being…coerced into trading it back.
I don’t remember exactly when I was first introduced to Pokemon, it was most likely within the following few months of its release on this side of the Pacific Ocean in September of 1998, but I can say with certainty my exposure to the newest obsession for kids all over the country was from reading the monthly issues of Nintendo Power. The Big N’s in-house publication contained page after page of Pokemon coverage, the middle section of the magazine even contained comic adaptations of episodes from the animated series(which I watched at every opportunity on Kids’ WB). Not surprisingly, the abundance of advertising proved successful and I was eventually asking my mom for a copy of Pokemon, along with a Game Boy Color to play it on(the GBC was released a month after Pokemon Red/Blue). I can still recall the moment I first got to play Pokemon Red; it was after we got home from school and my mom pulled out a pair of Game Boy Colors – one yellow, one purple, along with copies of Pokemon Red & Yellow. I had wanted to get Pokemon Red, likely due to Charizard on the front and my younger brother had wanted Pokemon Yellow, due to Pikachu of course. I remember excitedly running inside the house to open up the box, pop in the AA batteries and get to playing Pokemon…which I played for the rest of the day, most likely putting off any homework I was expected to finish that night(by no means the first…or last instance of this occurring).
One of the most memorable aspects of the early days was the different Pokémon evolutions. I remember the feeling of intrigue in leveling up my roster of Pokémon and not knowing just yet at what level the evolution would take place and what new character would emerge from the other side. I can still remember the excitement of seeing “What? Wartortle is evolving!” on the screen as my trusty Wartortle would re-appear as a mighty Blastoise. There’s also the moment when you realized that the patience needed for the weak and mostly useless Magikarp, it would eventually evolve into a Gyarados. Awesome. And then there’s the infamous Rare Candy glitch; I spent a considerable amount of time surfing around Cinnabar Island on the lookout for the “MissingNO” encounter and farming the hell out of that for as many Rare Candies as I wanted. This made it far, far less time-consuming to raise an all-Lvl 99 superteam. I honestly don’t remember just how I learned of that trick, especially being before we had as much valuable information such as this readily available online…
Pokémon’s legacy lies in its sustained popularity over the past two and a half decades(yes, 25 years already!). It has remained one of Nintendo’s biggest and most prominent franchises since 1996 and has ascended to something beyond simply being a popular video game series, but a fixture in pop culture. Through the multitude of games, movies, cards, and general merchandise it’s hard to find someone unable to name or identify at least a few Pokémon like Pikachu or Squirtle.
Does Pokémon Red hold up? In most ways…I’d say yes, particularly for fans of traditional JRPGs. The games may look and feel rather antiquated by today’s standards, but there’s still enjoyment to be had journeying across the Kanto region catching and battling Pokémon. Some of the remakes of the original games are a bit more accessible for those looking to fill out their Pokédex with the first 151 Pokémon, which makes returning to the old Game Boy games a little difficult at times. I think of Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow similar to the way we would view Mickey Mouse’s first appearance in Steamboat Willie – very dated by today’s standards, but still deserving of a look from those interested in the history of the franchise(s) and seeing the foundations on which they began.
By the early 2000’s Pokemon was still one of the biggest video game series in the world and it was announced that Game Freak/Nintendo were developing a remake of the original two games for the Game Boy Advance. In 2004 Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen were released; this time the pair of games reflected the colors by which they were known in Japan – Red/Green(not Blue). The remakes were fully colorized in contrast to the limited palette of the Game Boy(the original games released just prior to the Game Boy Color). In addition to this, FireRed/LeafGreen came bundled with the GBA Wireless Adapter which would allow trainers to battle and trade Pokemon wirelessly, replacing the Game Link Cable. FireRed & LeafGreen would also be able to transfer Pokemon to Pokemon Colosseum on the GameCube as well as compatibility with the Ruby/Sapphire games.
I remember being intrigued at the prospect of experiencing Pokemon Red again and decided to pick up a copy and play. I had a lot of fun journeying across the Kanto region and seeing everything in a more vibrant color palette than the original, but I don’t recall ever finishing the game, so I was never able to take advantage of any trading between the game and Ruby/Sapphire. I must confess this was right around the time I had started to fall off the bandwagon ever so slightly, as I ended up picking up and playing every other release or so following Pokemon Gold. My feeling of FireRed and LeafGreen is positive overall; the game played as good as it ever did and would definitely recommend it to anyone who hadn’t already played Red or Blue. There’s a noticeable difference between a game port and a full remake, FireRed/LeafGreen felt more like the former – a colorized port of the original with the ability to battle and trade Pokemon with others via the included wireless adapter for the Game Boy Advance. I don’t necessarily have anything negative to say about the game(s), but I just didn’t feel it was enough of a step up to regard it higher than the original.
Let’s Go, Pikachu!
Since the emergence of Pokémon in 1996, players sought the ability to play a mainline Pokémon game on tv, through a home console, There’s been a few different spin-off games for consoles that have provided the ability to view and/or battle Pokémon, or allowed you to play from your Game Boy cartridge like the Super Game Boy or Game Boy Player on the SNES and GameCube, but it wasn’t until 2018 that Nintendo released a pair of titles for the Switch offering the full Pokémon trainer experience – Let’s Go, Pikachu! & Let’s Go, Eevee!
Let’s Go, Pikachu! & Let’s Go, Eevee! are at their core, remakes of Pokémon Yellow, with added elements from Pokémon GO and the animated series(Nurse Joy, James and Jesse). In Pokémon Yellow, your character is given a Pikachu which follows you throughout the game on-screen; this time around you have the option of either Pikachu or Eevee – depending on which game you chose, of course. You can also interact with your companion Pikachu/Eevee, by playing with them or equipping unlockable outfits throughout the game(I had a little sailor outfit for my Pikachu).
The Pokémon Let’s Go games are pretty familiar from the more recent series entries; one difference is the added motion controls. You can use a single JoyCon to play through the game and make a throwing motion with it when attempting to catch wild Pokémon. Along with the games, Nintendo released the Poké Ball Plus – a controller/peripheral which resembles…a Poké Ball and features built-in motion controls to use, offering a little greater sense of immersion while playing Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee. Each Poké Ball Plus also contains a Mew inside which can be used on your journey(you had to send your game cartridge away to get Mew added to your Pokédex in the originals). Admittedly, the motion controls don’t always work the greatest(like most motion controls, in my experience), but can be a bit of fun to play around with here and there…
There are a number of improvements made to Let’s Go, Pikachu! which replace some of the traditional(i.e. outdated) aspects of Pokémon games: You no longer have to boot up the PC and open up your Pokémon Box to switch characters from your inventory to one of the six available spaces on your team. Rather than constantly using Bill’s storage system from a Pokémon Center, you can simply access your storage at any time from the very beginning of the game. Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee! also does away with HMs – in the game you will mostly rely on your companion to use moves like Cut or Flash and not have to dedicate a move space to something you never really used outside of a few situations across the map. TMs have also been made indefinitely reusable and no longer one-time use like the originals on the Game Boy. One of my favorite improvements is the fact that wild Pokémon can now be spotted in grassy areas or swimming around watery locations. The change from random encounters to being able to see which wild Pokémon lie in hiding around the Kanto region is definitely a welcome one. Anyone who remembers the old days of stocking up on repellent for the endless Zubats in the Rock Tunnel(not using a roster spot on a Pokémon just to use Flash to light up the area is nice too, as mentioned above).
Catching Pokémon in Let’s Go, Pikachu! has been altered to more closely resemble Pokémon GO than previous entries. You are now required to time your Poké Ball throws just as you would in GO, adding an extra bit of strategy/precision than the old days of tossing a Poké Ball and hoping the wild Pokémon doesn’t break free….you know you held down the A Button while waiting for it too, despite knowing it wasn’t actually doing anything to raise the odds of catching anything.
My most prominent criticisms of the game(Let’s Go, Pikachu!) would be the fact the game can seem almost too easy at times. In Let’s Go!, your companion Pikachu learns the move Low Kick very early on, making some of the battles against rock-type Pokémon incredibly easy. The battle against Brock(and the entire Pewter City Gym) is much easier than on the Game Boy games as it is comprised almost entirely of rock-types like Geodude or Onix which are notoriously weak to fighting-type moves such as Low Kick. Later on in the game, you will have absolutely no trouble navigating areas with numerous water-type Pokémon, like the Seafoam Islands as Pikachu’s electrical attacks will make short work of anything you come across. After not too many hours it felt like my adorable electrical sidekick was a bit overpowered and it bordered on game-breaking.This isn’t necessarily a *big* complaint, but mostly something to keep in mind if you were expecting to have your trainer skills put to the test in Let’s Go, Pikachu!
The best way I can sum up Let’s Go, Pikachu! would be a modernized version of Pokémon Yellow, with a dash of Pokémon GO added to the mix. I really enjoyed playing through the game and definitely think this would likely be my recommendation as an entry point for anyone looking to get into playing Pokémon games as the modern improvements make it easily the most accessible and user-friendly game – a perfect match for the Nintendo Switch. I feel I had even more fun playing through Let’s Go than the previous remake of Pokémon Red – FireRed for GBA. The game felt like it struck a nice balance between keeping the core game intact and including improvements like receiving XP for catching Pokémon, as well as battles; welcome additions in a series of games that doesn’t necessarily set out to reinvent the wheel with each release. There’s also the Pokémon GO connectivity which I appreciated, having Boxes full of stored Pokémon to transfer from the app and catch on my Switch.
Should Nintendo choose to follow this path with another “Let’s Go” game set in the Johto Region I would be completely fine with it…
Despite the advancements to the map and additions of different moves and creature types, the Gen 1 Pokémon of the Kanto Region will always have a special place with trainers and will be the standard by which nearly everything since then will be judged. Here’s to another twenty-five years of catching them all…