Originally published on Trevor Trove on February 27, 2016
TL; DR(eview that’s not a review) – The original three Pokemon games are a master class in this genre of party-based strategy RPG. Despite a straight-forward story the “gotta catch ’em all” mantra feeds into the game’s addictive qualities without feeling insurmountable.
In honor of Pokemon Red, Pokemon Blue, and Pokemon Yellow being re-released on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Shop (and filling up the better part of my Twitter feed), I thought I’d write down another “(Not a) Review” to touch upon this triumvirate.
Back before Pokemon had Natures, Abilities, or even Genders (save the Nidoran family), they had up to four Moves and two Types. The wide variety of Moves and rock-paper-scissors like charts of Pokemon Types made for a seemingly endless combination of teams from the original 151 Pokemon.
A strategy RPG through and through, each game starts you out with one Pokemon to kick off your quest across the Kanto region, on a quest to help Professor Oak fill up his Pokedex and become the Champion of the region, defeating the standard 8 gym leaders and Elite Four. In your journeys, you also frequently encounter your childhood rival (and Professor Oak’s Grandson), as well as the mischievous Team Rocket and thwart their ongoing efforts to steal and exploit Pokemon.
You grow your team by finding and catching new Pokemon throughout the world and level them up through combat, both with other Pokemon in the wild or with other trainers. As Pokemon level up and become stronger, they can also learn new, often more powerful moves, but each Pokemon is limited to four moves, requiring careful thought towards which moves stay and which moves go. Building a diverse team of no more than six active Pokemon becomes crucial as other trainers in the world will also have powerful and varied teams so exploiting the weaknesses of Type can become an essential element of winning. But you could certainly also just fill your team with six Pokemon that you really like or that look cool. You might have to spend more time grinding in tall grass to level them up above your opponents’ levels, but that’s certainly a viable solution as well.
The games all do an excellent job of presenting new challenges and new Pokemon to discover with each new area you traverse and certain items or Moves that you won’t get until later in the game continue to open up areas once impassable. One of the biggest downsides often involves that some of these moves are often essential to progressing through the game, so you are forced to sacrifice a few of your sparse 24 moves in service of things like Cut, Surf, Fly, etc. but that winds up as simply another element of your strategy.
Of course, the other potential downside is that no one version of the game includes all 151 of the original Pokemon. In one of gaming’s most business-savvy moves of all time, each version is missing a handful of Pokemon, requiring trading between multiple copies of the game in order to fulfill the games’ “gotta catch ’em all” mantra. Trading among friends (or now with strangers on the internet) becomes a crucial experience for the completionist. Pokemon received from another trainer will level up faster, but will also disobey orders unless you possess the proper level of badges from Gym Leaders. The flip side of this inter-connectivity comes in the form of also being able to battle against other real-world trainers. At no cost to you, other than possibly your own pride, your can pit your team against others in an effort really be “the very best, like no one ever was.”
Twenty years have come and gone since the very first Pokemon games on the original Game Boy, but the fundamentals of the game are as strong now as they ever were.
Pokemon Red, Pokemon Blue, and Pokemon Yellow are available digitally now on the Nintendo 3DS via the Nintendo eShop. For more information, visit pokemon.com.