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Pokémon Red – Game Boy

Pokémon Red – Game Boy

Platform: Nintendo Game Boy

Release: February 27, 1996 (Japan), September 30, 1998 (North America)

Developer: Game Freak

Publisher: Nintendo

Genre: RPG

Nerd Rating: 9/10

Reviewed by Flagostomos

pokemon boxart

There wasn’t a single person in this world ready for the takeover that the original Pokémon Red and Blue was able to achieve. I can not even begin to make a dent in the vast topic that is, “How did Pokémon change video games and pop culture as we know it?” so I will not even try. I simply want to discuss my love for the very first video game I bought with my own, hard-earned money.

Pokémon Red and Blue hit the world scene in 1996, originally only in Japan. They were actually originally released as Red and Green in Japan, with Blue being a special “Mail Only” copy that few were able to receive. However when they came state side, it was all about the Red and Blue. It wasn’t a technically deep or diverse game. It didn’t even showcase the best graphics the original Game Boy would see. Where Pokémon excelled was the simplistic yet deep gameplay.

That jerk always had to pick the type advantage over us! Fire burns leaves apparantly.

That jerk always had to pick the type advantage over us! Fire burns leaves apparently.

You begin with a brief sequence where you pick the name of your and your rival’s characters. Accompanied by a brief introduction as to what the world of Pokémon is, you are instantly thrown into the fray. However, the game provides no “pop-up tutorials” to try to walk you by the hand how to play Pokémon. Rather, it brilliantly directs the player to exploration by only showcasing a few areas you can visit, with your next objective clearly defined. When you try to leave the starting area, you are cut short, and whisked away to pick your first Pokémon. This was truly the hardest decision of our childhood.

Without spoon feeding the player the information, the game already begins teaching you that there is this “Rock, Paper, Scissors” element to the RPG combat. Whereas you can pick Charmander, a fire-type Pokémon, your rival picks Squirtle, a water-type Pokémon. He immediately gains the upper-hand, not because you picked an inferior Pokémon, but because he picked one that trumped yours. You quickly learn of the various Pokémon types, and this helps you get into the mindset of building a solid team, rather than simply picking the first Pokémon you run across. The journey only continues to unfold, feeding you little bits of necessary information only as you need it, rather than overwhelming the player.

The gameplay is very simple yet complex at the same time. It was the simply complex style that contributed to the success. Whereas most players could beat the game by leveling their Pokémon high enough, the truly savvy players would realize that even lower leveled Pokémon could beat a much higher level opponent by using type advantages. As the game progresses, the player begins to see that not everything comes down to brute force. Sometimes a little planning goes a long way.

The story behind Pokémon isn’t elaborate, however it was again the simple design that had kids hooked. The target audience was the preteen age group, so the developers made the main character a 10 year old boy, finally coming of age and earning his Pokémon trainer’s license. You battle an evil force, all whilst working your way to become the ultimate Pokémon trainer in the world. The slogan? “Gotta catch ’em all!” As kids we didn’t really care about the story, yet it was deep enough, and tied in well with the equally popular TV series. Role-playing games usually have the objective of immersing the player in the game’s world, and what kid that played this game didn’t feel like they themselves were the Pokémon trainers?

pokemon red oak's lab

The music for the game favors upbeat sounds, with tunes that were not only memorable but could easily be hummed or whistled. Even with the hardware limitations the music had depth. The Pallet town music has a “sing songy” kind of feel to it, getting you in the mindset of the vast journey you are about to embark on. The battle music is a nice mix of upbeat to get your blood pumping with just a touch of touch of hesitation to remind you of the duel you’re in. This was especially the case for gym leaders and the Elite Four. The music for different areas and transition kept the flow and pace of the game at a good speed.

The graphics for the game itself aren’t anything spectacular, but what always struck me as fascinating was the detail to the Pokédex entries. Every time you capture a Pokémon, the game shows you an entry with a nicely detailed drawing of the Pokémon as well as a brief description. It helped immerse the player in the world by making them feel like scientists, tracking, and recording data on new Pokémon. This again only added to the depth of the game.

The game’s final brilliance is it’s ability to capture the player’s interest in multiple playthroughs. Why? I can think of 150 reasons.

The first time you play through you might only pick up 20 or so Pokémon, and use about a third of that in your team. The next time you play, you remember that Lapras is a tank every time you fought it, Alakazam destroyed even the most well-built teams, and let’s not forget the legendaries. Then by adding the factor of having Pokémon differences between versions, it brought kids together to trade Pokémon to build the ultimate teams and “Catch ’em all!”

Pokémon was set to take over the world. We never stood a chance.

There are a few negative things to the game I could add, mostly glitches and even game breaking bugs. The infamous “Missing Number” glitch would actually prove more useful than hindering. The Lavender music and overall theme actually did some emotional damage to the younger audience, spawning some complaints from parents. Any actual gripe with the gameplay itself mostly comes down to the at times poor and downright unnecessarily hard fights with some of the trainers.

Gameplay: 9
Story: 7
Controls: 9
Graphics/Audio: 8
Replayability: 10
Overall: 9

The original Pokémon Red and Blue for the Game Boy paved the way for other games to not just be a one hit title, but actually become a franchise. Before Pokémon, Mario was the only thing we had to a stand-out character that defined video games. However Pokémon, what started as two simple RPGs for the original Game Boy, would spawn movies, an anime, merchandise beyond count, and enthrall the minds of many children across the globe. To this day it is still a dominating force in the gaming industry, even if it is looked down on as a “kiddie” game.

Pokémon Red will forever live in my mind as one of the best games I played as a child.

Written by Nerd Bacon

Nerd Bacon


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