My relationship with with core Pokemon RPG games on Nintendo handheld systems began about eight years ago with Pokemon Diamond and the Nintendo DS Lite hardware. That is my foundation point when it comes to the series, my intro and indoctrination into Pokemon.
I obviously enjoyed the game as I have come back for every new version of the game… eventually… since that time.
But starting when I did, the game had already been in play and evolving for twelve years, through three generations and a remix of the original games. Or I assumed it was evolving. So when the series hit its 20th anniversary back in February and released virtual console versions of Pokemon Red, Blue, & Yellow, I saw this as a chance to explore the origins of the series, to get the feel of how things were back in 1996 when the whole Pokemon thing was just starting.
When they came out my daughter said she wanted to play Pokemon Red… though I don’t think she has even launched the game yet… so I went with Pokemon Blue. I thought about Pokemon Yellow for a bit, but decided against that because it was a revision that came later and might be different enough to matter.
So I downloaded it and off I went.
The first thing I want to say is that it runs very well and looks better than I expected. Yes, my 3DS XL has more than enough horsepower to run an old GameBoy game, but the GameBoy also had a wee 160 × 144 pixel LCD display. The upper screen on the 3DS series is 400 x 240 pixels, so I was a bit worried that Pokemon Blue might end up tiny to look at even on the bigger XL display.
However, they appear to have scaled it up well so it fills the screen vertically in emulation. The game also looks good. I was wondering how a 4 shade gray scale game might end up looking on a color screen. The graphics are better than I expected and quite readable. I don’t even have to put on my reading glasses to play, though first version Pikachu looks a bit more plump than the star of the series is rendered today.
It also plays very well. It is zippy and responsive and aside from the fact that I keep reflexively pulling out the stylus when ever I want to name a captured Pokemon… no touch screen in the GameBoy era, so you have to move the cursor with the D-pad… I settled into the game very well.
The surprise, for me, is how fully formed the game came out back in 2006. The story line is the same neglectful parent letting you wander the world at the whim of a Pokemon professor named after a tree. There is an group bent on evil that you must defeat. The progression through the world is the same, with all the usual way points in forests or underground passages. You get a bicycle, there is a bicycle only road, there is a tower haunted by ghost Pokemon, there is your rival, there are Poke Marts and at the Poke Center Nurse Joy hopes to see you again even though this must mean that you have injured Pokemon. There is the safari park, a ship, and the GameFreak offices. Pokemon gyms have themes and you sometimes have to go find the leader, and you have to go find the Poke flute in order to wake up a sleeping Snorlax that is blocking your path.
I seriously went into the game thinking I would list out all the things that were the same as Pokemon Diamond and quickly found that listing out the difference was a much better plan. I am 6 gym badges and about 20 hours into the game and items on my list include:
- NPCs don’t have individual names
- No running shoes
- Very limited inventory space
- Pokemon daycare center doesn’t do breeding
- No personal base
That isn’t a lot. (There was more, but I can’t find the damn list I was making.) I left out some specific things, like Nintendo WiFi, but the series seemed to have come out more fully formed than I thought it might have. I am kind of impressed at how much stuff they got into a GameBoy game.
On the flip side of that, one of my repeated gripes about the series is that it can sometimes feel like you are playing the same damn game over and over with only minor variations. I thought that might have just been for my eight years of the series, but it looks to be the way things have gone for 20 years now. Talk about sticking to a formula! There is an article on the standard aspects of Pokemon RGP game play that lays it all out.
Anyway, the lesson I have learned over my time with the series is that it usually pays to take a break between games, lest the sameness overwhelm the individual variations and nuances that each title brings to this very specific genre. Because, while they do all feel like they start with the same basic pattern, each game does have its own flavor. But sometimes your palate has to be clear to detect the subtle flavors.
And the initial game isn’t all that seemed to arrive on the scene fully formed. The game took the world by storm such that before many months had passed there was an animated TV show, a collectible card game, comic books, and the image of Pikachu on just about anything you could plaster it on. It all appeared over here in the states in such quick succession that back then I couldn’t have told you what the initial start point for Pokemon was off hand.
But it all goes back to the original GameBoy games, and it has built a pretty amazing legacy over the last 20 years.
Now I have to defeat Team Rocket, get the last two gym badges, and go face the Poke League.