Growing up, Pokémon wasn’t just a game. It was also a way of life.
I didn’t have a Game Boy in time for Red, Blue, or even Yellow, but that didn’t stop me from succumbing to Pokémania like every other kid in the ’90s. Our poor parents! When my friends and I weren’t carefully consulting a classmate’s laminated poster with a list of “all 150 Pokémon” at recess, we were at home watching the television show, swapping cards, trading tall tales, or, yes, taking turns playing the few copies of the games we had between us.
Those fond memories are mostly a blur now, but I’ll always treasure them
I was worried about how the first-generation Pokémon titles would hold up two decades later, and while some of those fears are admittedly well-founded, I agree with Laura and Chris (who reviewed Yellow and Red, respectively): these games are still good. They’re worth revisiting.
My first five hours flew by and, frankly, that came as a surprise. Straight up, the early battles are mindless. It’s an all-out war of attrition between Pokémon who only know basic attacks like tackle and their stubborn foes hellbent on hardening until they become near-indestructible. Progress is slow, inside and outside of skirmishes. But in the moment, I didn’t mind. Grinding somehow felt worth it once I earned that new evolution or even a powerful move.
Eventually, those drawn-out fights give way to strategic encounters. The map opens up, often in interesting ways. You can start to recruit a dream team, revising the lineup as needed for the situation at hand, and suddenly, you feel it: you’re on a grand adventure. You won’t stop until you’re the best. No amount of Zubats or Team Rocket grunts can keep you down.
While these games should be commended for achieving what they did on the original Game Boy, some regrettable design decisions and technical limitations do get in the way now more than ever. Certain opponents behave inexplicably, forcing their Pokémon to use moves that will literally never land again and again. It’s funny, at first, but the predictability becomes boring before long. Or maddening, in the case of Kanto trainers’ favorite move, Confuse Ray. My critter hurt itself in a bout of confusion again? Five times in a row? No kidding!
After decades of gradual refinement, it’s also hard to go back to juggling storage boxes and a way-too-small item inventory. Little inconveniences like that. They’re never enough to derail the journey for good, but they are an undeniable hindrance that even nostalgia can’t obscure.
There’s a trade-off, though. What we lose in tech advances, we gain in sweet simplicity and a trusting game design that isn’t adamant about holding our hands every step of the way. It’s refreshing to drop from 700-some Pokémon down to “just” 151. And I adore the antiquity of some of these monster designs. Machop? What a goof. Ekans? Horrifying!
I’m not sure I have it in me to catch ’em all (Gold and Silver would be a different story), but I’m tempted to try if only to see what everyone used to look like. Either way, I had a hell of a time reliving this trek, unexpectedly getting stomped by the Elite Four, and coming out on top at last.