Good Old Reviews
Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow - Super Effective

Marshall Lemon | 5 Mar 2016 12:00
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Original Release: 1998 (Red, Blue), 1999 (Yellow). Platforms: Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Nintendo 3DS. Developer: Game Freak. Publisher: Nintendo. Available on the Nintendo 3DS Store.

If you're the kind of gamer who wonders why Pokemon is among the most successful gaming franchises in the world, odds are you didn't grow up during the 1990s. Just about every public school student who owned an original Game Boy during this period has fond memories of playing and trading with friends as much as possible. Even those without Game Boys couldn't deny their influence - I ended up borrowing a friend's copy and playing as much as I could before he needed it back. Everyone knew about this game, so naturally it's a huge source of nostalgia today.

Nintendo is certainly aware of this fact, which is why Pokemon Red, Blue, and the Game Boy Color Yellow edition are now available on the 3DS store. What's great is that instead of simply porting the game and calling it a day, Nintendo seems to have put effort into recreating the original Pokemon experience - right down to famous glitches and wireless trading. Outside of simply capitalizing on nostalgia, it's also a perfect opportunity to help new players understand why Pokemon was so exciting in its day, and what motivated us to try and catch them all.

Red, Blue, and Yellow all take place in Kanto region, where your character is starting a career as a Pokemon trainer. Your primary goal is to capture wild Pokemon, increase their abilities, and pit them against other trainers until you prove yourself the ultimate champion. Along the way, you'll also help your neighbor - Professor Oak - assemble an electronic database of every Pokemon in the world.

And... that's pretty much it. Pokemon is the rare type of JRPG that isn't actually interested in an overarching plot. While it has a setting, characters, and the bones of a coming-of-age story arc, there are no real twists or developments to speak of. Even the Team Rocket characters stealing rare Pokemon in the background are more of a distraction than genuine antagonists you have to overcome. You do have a nemesis in the form of a childhood rival, but he's literally handed to you when the game begins. You even get to pick his name. Nintendo might as well put up a sign saying "Here is your final boss. Be invested in this."

That might seem strange to anyone who plays RPGs for the story, but in the end, it doesn't matter. Pokemon's phenomenal success stems not from characters or plot, but combat, leveling, and monster collection. You'll hunt for rare Pokemon in their native environments, train them to become more powerful, and use them to capture new Pokemon in other environments, repeating the cycle. Twenty years later, these interlocking systems still fit together remarkably well, and create a sense of progression using gameplay alone. It's so immersive that modern players who know Kanto's monster-based economy makes zero sense will lose hours collecting and developing their Pokemon - myself included.

Being able to discover and collect a wide array of monster powers and designs certainly doesn't hurt either. Red, Blue, and Yellow may have a miniscule selection compared to modern Pokemon games, but there are still 150 to track down, which is still a huge investment. It allows Game Freak to show off a huge variety of designs inspired from animals, dinosaurs, and whatever the heck Voltorb evolved from. The classic Game Boy presentation may be simple, but it still encourages a strong sense of wonder and discovery as you find new Pokemon in grasslands, forests, mountains, caves, and more. Even moreso if a Pokemon evolves into a new creature when levelling up, introducing exciting designs and expanding your Pokedex entries.

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