In 1996 a legend was born in Japan. A game (or rather I should say two games) were released for the original Gameboy that would revolutionize gaming and take the world by storm. I’m talking of course about Pokemon Red and Blue. These games were so unbelievably popular across the entire planet that they quickly solidified themselves in gaming history. But why? What was so great about them? Were they as great as everyone says? Well, with Pokemon’s 20th anniversary this year, what better time to look at the games that started it all?
First, let’s look at the basic gist of the story. It’s the exact same story for both versions so it shouldn’t take long.
You start the game greeted by a man called Professor Oak who introduces you to the world of Pokemon. He’s clearly going a bit senile in his old age, bless him, because after he’s done asking your name he then asks you what his grandson’s (your rival’s) name is. Then poof, you’re not in Kansas any more Dorothy, you’re in the world of Pokemon!
After a little bit of exploring around your town (which suffers from a seriously bad ratio of houses to people, but don’t worry, that’s kind of a running theme in this game) you get stopped by Oak as you attempt to leave as he proclaims it is too dangerous to leave without a pokemon so he takes you to his lab to gift you and your rival a brand new pokemon!
Once you’ve chosen your pokemon (the fire type Charmander, the grass type Bulbasaur, or the water type Squirtle) you can now leave and start your journey! Well, that is until your rival stops you and demands a battle. Clearly obstructing people from their daily activities runs in the family…
After wiping the floor with him (or losing if you truly suck) you can NOW start your journey… kinda. Now you’ve got to go to the next town, collect a package for the professor, bring it back, he gives you the Pokedex (a high tech encyclopedia!) tells you to go fill it because apparently he spent his whole life with his finger up his ass and never actually tried to complete his quote “life long dream”, your rival makes another smart ass comment and NOW, I swear to god this time, NOW you can start your journey.
So you travel around the world trying to catch them all and fill the pokedex and along the way take on the eight gym leaders, break up a criminal organisation, and beat the elite four (the best pokemon trainers in the world) and become the pokemon master!
Pretty simple right? Well, not so much. With 150 pokemon to catch (152 if you include Mew and Missingno who were only available through certain means) and a challenging array of trainers and gym leaders, this game took a looooong time to complete if you wanted to get 100% (and who doesn’t?)
So let’s look at the positives and negatives about the game and where better to start than at the Pokemon and catching them all? Now there’s no question that they did a good job spreading the Pokemon around the game’s world, making it so that you have to explore everywhere in order to catch them all. But one thing that they did involving this was both genius and cruel.
Let me explain. You see, the creators deliberately created two games, rather than one, and if you know anything about the Pokemon games, you know why because it’s a practice that they still do to this day. You see, the reason they created two separate games with the exact same story was so that they could spread the Pokemon around a bit more. What do I mean? Well, put simply, some Pokemon were only able to be caught in Pokemon Red, and some others only in Pokemon Blue. Genius really, but also a bit of a dick move.
Why was it genius? Well simple really. With the creation of the Pokemon games, there also came a new invention; the link cable. The link cable was a cable (duh) that you could plug into two separate Gameboys and use it to trade Pokemon and battle with your friends.
Not only this but there were also Pokemon that you could only evolve through trading; Machamp, Alakazam, and Golem. This meant that you could trade with your friend, it evolves and then they send them back. One minute you have a Kadabra, the next you have an Alakazam, boom! magic. This idea of limiting what you can do and how much of the game you can complete without seeking help was genius because it meant that people were essentially forced into using the link cable to trade with people and the battling was a nice extra. This right here, this is how you do great business while still giving the people a sense of achievement and enjoyment. It made them a tonne of extra cash and we all ate it up without question.
So why was it cruel? I just said we didn’t have an issue with buying the cable, so what could the problem be? Well, because now you were relying on the goodness of others. This was fine for most teenagers and adults, but this game was primarily aimed at kids… have you ever seen kids try to share? It very often goes downhill. The amount of times as an eight year old kid I was screwed over by my classmates and other kids on the playground was unreal. But in fairness, Nintendo were hardly going to take into account little Matt curled up in a corner of the playground reassessing his whole view on the world when planning this, so I guess I can forgive them.
The simple mistakes, however, I cannot. This game is riddled with simple mistakes that shouldn’t have made it passed the checks. A great example is the psychic Pokemon being horrendously overpowered. If you managed to get your hands on an Alakazam and/or a Hypno, son you are set! The psychic type was so overpowered it isn’t even funny. This was because of a big mistake on the creators side. Ghost type Pokemon were meant to be the go-to for dealing with psychic types, but whoopsie! They forgot to put the lines of code in that made it like that! … Sloppy. Oh, and did I mention that one of the gym leaders ONLY uses psychic types?…
Next there’s the fact that some moves are given the wrong type. The earliest example of this in the game is Pidgey’s gust attack. Clearly this move is a flying type, but whoopsie again! It’s coded as a normal type move… even sloppier.
Now you might say “well maybe they wanted them this way…” and maybe you’d be right, except they aren’t like that in any other Pokemon game. Gust is now a flying type, and ghost type Pokemon are now “super effective!” against psychic Pokemon. So no, these were clearly mistakes, and they were mistakes that could have easily broken the game and made it either too hard or too easy.
But don’t worry, not all the mistakes and coding errors were bad. Some mistakes made the game even more enjoyable. I’m talking about those now famous glitches!
The glitches in this game were numerous and, very often, extremely beneficial. By exploiting a lot of these glitches you could obtain things that before had only existed in your dreams. Some of the most famous examples are; encountering the legendary Pokemon Mew without going through the normal method, catching the glitched Pokemon Missingno who only exists because of some bad code (though word of warning, he can seriously mess up your game!), encountering level 100 Pokemon, having infinite items, the list goes on and on.
I highly recommend looking at this video that’ll give you just a taste of what you can do with these glitches and the fun you can have with them:
Despite all the negatives and nit picking, I have to say that it would be foolish of me to say that these games are bad. In fact they are truly fantastic. They revolutionized the industry, created things you could never do before, and are truly entertaining and at times can be very challenging. Heck, they even resulted in the creation of a hugely successful TV show, movies, card game, many, many more games, and boast a huge following of loyal fans.
Game Freak and Nintendo have found a winning formula and they aren’t about to abandon it any time soon. With over 700 different Pokemon to catch now in a huge number of games, it’s hard to see them ever wanting to stop making all things Pokemon for a long, long, loooong time.
Heck they’ve even re-released Pokemon Red and Blue twice! The first time was as Fire Red and Leaf Green (Green because the original Japanese version was Green, not Blue), this time with updated graphics and the ability to be a girl (…yay?), and then they actually re-released the original Red and Blue versions in all their black and white glory for the 20th anniversary. So no, Pokemon is not going anywhere, and I can guarantee that Red and Blue will keep getting re-released as time and graphics progress to feed the nostalgia and Nintendo and Game Freak’s wallets… and I will buy every single one!