Ghosts of Games Past: Pokémon Red and Blue
Welcome to ‘Ghosts of Games Past’, friends! Once a week, we’ll dive into the deep, dark void of our video game libraries and review a game from the past. We’ll then give it a spotlight and see if it still holds up today.
Since the 20th anniversary of the North American release is rapidly approaching (September 28th), our first entry into this new feature on the site will be a look at Pokémon Red and Blue.
At this point there’s nowhere you can hide from the Pokémon franchise. From video games, to TV shows, to movies, apps, and toys, it has been embedded into our culture on virtually every level for two decades now. But it’s always worth revisiting the classics, and in this case that would be the very first games in the series. It’s also worth prefacing that while we generally don’t have our old Gameboy Colors anymore, this version of Pokémon Red was played via the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console, which is more convenient, and less of a waste of AA batteries for the purposes of a review.
For all of the (somewhat accurate) complaints that Nintendo does a lot of hand holding in its modern games, the original Pokémon games are remarkably not like that. If you decide to skip the instruction manual, you’re given a pretty short introduction to the world, a remarkably slim quest (“Fill the Pokédex”, which eventually morphs into “Beat the Gyms” and “Stop Team Rocket” along the way), but aside from a few mechanics you’re largely left to figure things out on your own. That includes the basics from encountering Pokémon, how Pokémon types interact with one another, and more. All things considered, even as a kid that wasn’t too much of a hurdle toward enjoying the game. If anything, it expanded the feeling of discovery having to feel your way through without any of the context of previous playthroughs or games. When you pick up your starter Pokémon from Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle, you really can take all the time you need to explore the world.
It’s also amazing to consider how much was packed into such a tiny cartridge. Given how recent Pokémon games (or even immediate sequels like Gold and Silver) dwarfed the original, it’s relatively easy to lose sight of how much was actually packed into Pokémon Red & Blue. It’s a truly dense game with a lot of content. 150 Pokémon may be small potatoes now as far as numbers go, but this title forced you to work harder in order to catch them, and you didn’t have the tricks and tools that later games would introduce. All things considered, these first two Pokemon games walk a remarkable tightrope toward being accessible for kids, while still being reasonably difficult.
The one fault that can be lobbied at these original two games isn’t one that could have been foreseen at the time. Completing the game relies on direct trades of Pokémon with another player, but of course not everyone rocked a link cable (or even carried their Game Boy Color ) all the time. The passage of time (and the advent of online gaming) has definitely changed how we carry things, and what we as gamers carry with us. This really points to an interesting consideration of just how much the improvement of technology has altered the way in which we approach video games.
That being said, Pokemon Red and Blue are still overall a strong set of games. They’re very easy to dive back into after all these years. There’s something very comforting about that music, the graphics, and gameplay. While we’ve come quite far with modern systems, there’s something all that slickness and advancement doesn’t possess when it comes to returning to an 8-bit world as beautifully realized as this one. It’s also worth looking at from a historical standpoint in drawing a line as to how far we’ve come from these games. If you haven’t played the original Pokemon games, or if you just want to return to it, we certainly think they’re worth seeking out.
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