Back from a rather extensive hiatus, the Retro Review column is now looking back at one of the most influential games in history: the original Pokemon. Given the enormous success of Pokemon Go as well as the upcoming 3DS releases of Pokemon Sun/Moon, it seemed proper to go back and see where everything started. Obviously it’s going to hold up just fine, right?
It occurred to me almost instantly in my recent play-through of Pokemon Blue (the only release from Generation I that I never actually owned) that nothing could ever match the magic I experienced as a child walking around Pallet Town for the first time. By no means does that imply that the game is worse than we remember; it just couldn’t possibly be as wonderful.
I remember where I was when I first played Pokemon. I was seven years old on a flight to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to visit my grandparents. My mother decided she had no time or patience for a fidgety little brat for a whole three hour flight, so she gave me my birthday present a month early: an atomic purple Game Boy Color with a brand new copy of the game everyone had been raving about, namely Pokemon Red. At that point, I had only heard about Pokemon, but I hadn’t really seen what exactly it was.
From the moment I turned on the game, I could not put it down for the entire flight plus the drive to my grandparents’ house. I was amazed at the open-world mechanics, the leveling system, and just how many of these damn monsters existed. I couldn’t get enough of what now I view as the smallest things, like seeing a Bellsprout or a Zubat for the first time.
When I play through the game now, I know exactly what I’m doing. I know where to find Pikachu, how to level up Metapod, and at what point Pidgey evolves into Pidgeotto. I know exactly what combatants I’ll face in the first two gyms and I’ve already figured out a plan to beat both of them before I even leave the first town. 20 years later, I’ve turned Pokemon into a strategic RPG, when it was something so much greater before.
The first time you experience Pokemon, the following words swirl around your mind: wonder, amazement, discovery. You walk into a cave and want to explore every nook and cranny, just to find the one part that has a secret item or a rare monster. You walk around in tall grass every time just to see what new Pokemon are waiting for you. Everytime you battle someone, you’re focused on learning what types are super effective against others instead of how to grind your Jigglypuff to a higher level. You were super excited to see what kind of extra-strong monsters each gym leader had in their arsenal. Everything was shiny and new in Pokemon when it first came out, but that novelty has since worn off.
Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow is still one of the greatest RPGs ever. The mechanics are simple yet challenging, the extensive number of monsters adds plenty of replay value, and the presentation (music, graphics) was second to none for a handheld when the game was originally released. Despite knowing exactly how what to do, I still find myself enjoying every minute of the original Pokemon games.
What’s changed is not the perception of Pokemon series in and of itself. New entries in the franchise explore new areas, new types of monsters, and new features, so it’s not like anyone can knock Nintendo for not trying to innovate the series at all (well, maybe you can if you want). What has changed, however, is the player. Perhaps I’ve become so familiar with the Pokemon formula that nothing surprises me anymore. Maybe it’s that open world games have become so enormous and complex that the Viridian Forest just seems tiny by comparison when it seemed endless when I was a kid. Either way, some of the magic has been lost, but not the love.
The simple elegance of the original Pokemon games is masterful enough that any player, no matter how old, can enjoy the experience. The character models are definitely worse than you remember, and the list of moves is definitely more simplistic than in later entries, but the core of the gameplay remains intact. At the end of the day, Pokemon Blue is pretty much everything I remember it to be. It just can’t possibly amaze me the same way it when I was a child.
What are your thoughts on the old Pokemon games? Let us know in the comments below!