By Jake Rushing
Developer: Game Freak
Platforms: Game Boy
Release Date: September 28, 1998[
Mode: Single Player, with 2-Player features
If there is one thing about Pokemon that no one can deny, it is that it has a place to stay in the hearts of gamers everywhere. Not just in the U.S. or in Japan. Many people who are not part of the gaming crowd can recognize this text and that cute yellow creature below:
Let’s go back in time to the Gameboy Era. Nintendo’s first handheld console became a huge success due to its long battery life. It ousted other handheld systems despite the lack of colors that Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx had. Children wanted to get this sweet handheld for Christmas every year. However, over six years after Game Boy hit the shelves, the spark that the consumers once had for the system has started to die out bit by bit. Tetris, Super Mario Land, and other games that were once very popular had started to wear thin. Something had to be done to keep the Game Boy relevant, preferably something fresh and new needs to be brought to this system. That is when Nintendo decided to introduce a certain game which would not only save the system, but start the spark for a particular franchise that persists to this day. Not one, but two games that would introduce it. The franchise was Pokemon, in versions of Red and Blue.
You start off your Pokemon adventure as a trainer named Red, who decides to run into grass without any means to defend himself against wild Pokemon. Professor Oak decides to step in before he could go any further and gives him a Pokemon to start off the adventure with the choice of Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle. At that point, you go across the Kanto region with the quest to catch all 151 Pokemon and become the Pokemon League Champion. During your adventure, you travel across different towns and encounter many monsters, some of which become your allies as you battle many trainers, gym leaders, and eventually, the Elite Four. Last but not least, how could you forget battling your rival?
One thing that makes this game memorable is the abundance of monsters out there to “Catch ‘Em All!” There is a diverse variety of Pokemon to catch in this game. Thankfully, catching all of them was more feasible back in the day because there were just 151 of them to catch. Being tasked with catching all of the Pokemon and coming across new creatures in every area, you just couldn’t help yourself catch at least some of them! Each Pokemon has its unique set of stats as well as advantages and disadvantages. Most of the Pokemon could evolve into stronger forms, giving them boosted stats. They evolve through different methods, such as leveling them up, using element stones, or even trading them to your friends.
One of the most memorable aspects of Red/Blue was the introduction of the Rock/Paper/Scissors aspect into different types of Pokemon that gave this game a great amount of depth. This mechanic starts off with 15 different types (so no Steel, Dark, and Fairy typing). This innovative mechanic, unknown to the previous RPGS, ended up leaving its mark in the JRPG realm to the point where it would show up in other RPGs like Fire Emblem and Lost Odyssey.
Pokemon Red/Blue made player to player interaction on a handheld platform much fun again for the Game Boy. This mechanic became a staple that is still present in the modern Pokemon games. In Red and Blue, you can interact with the other player via Link Cable. After connecting two Game Boys with Pokemon games, you can either trade Pokemon with the other player, or you could battle the other player’s team. However, if you want to complete the Pokedex, you’d have to trade some Pokemon to get the Pokemon that you can’t obtain in your version of your choosing (darn you Nintendo for this brilliantly evil idea). The player to player interaction isn’t new in the handheld gaming scene (as it was present in Tetris), but Red/Blue made it very fun for all kinds of gamers alike because kids wanted nothing more than to be the best by beating up their friends’ Pokemon.
If there is anything in the game worthy of criticism, it’s that the graphics and music were a tad bid on the primitive side. However, to be fair, the Game Boy hardware was rather limiting and there wasn’t much room to create perfect graphics and music after adding a lot of content like monsters and maps. Despite that, the graphics and music weren’t that bad. There were some screw ups in the sprites, but all of that is forgiven when you look at what the artists managed to cook up.
Despite the fact that the hardware was limiting to what the music composers could do (which their tools make the music sound slightly primitive), they managed to make some impressive tunes. These tunes alone make these games most memorable to the players who were able to play it on their Game Boys (myself included). They were able to make some of the battle themes as epic as they were. They also made tunes for traversing between towns pleasant to the ears. Listen to this wonderful theme. Doesn’t this make you want to hop on your bike, with this playing in the background on infinite loop?
Why am I inducting Red/Blue into the Hall of Fame? Red/Blue is, without a doubt, one of the best games available to the Game Boy handheld, if not THE best. Underneath its cute and cuddly exterior lies a very solid RPG. The first games made an lasting impression on kids and hardcore gamers alike, and made Game Boy relevant again to children of different ages. It spawned many sequels including Pokemon Yellow (1999) and Gold/Silver (2000) as well as its own remakes, FireRed/LeafGreen (2004), all of which came out with great success. As each iteration becomes more advanced as the developers try to find ways to keep Pokemon relevant to the players, we could never forget that Red/Blue set the foundation of this particular RPG series that makes it successful through each game to this very day.