Remembering… Pokémon Red and Blue
What was Pokémon Red and Blue about for you? Was it the idea of creating a unique team of six like no other? Was it the challenge of catching all 151 Pokémon? Maybe you just wanted to explore the world and record a decent variety of Pokémon into your prized Pokédex, or perhaps you were more of a competitive player, attempting to get all your Pokémon to level 100. Whatever it did for you, Pokémon Red and Blue let you live the dream of becoming a Pokémon trainer, and for that they will never be anything but one of the most loved RPGs of our time.
And it opens with a professor, a Professor Oak to be precise. Thinking you are now ready to become a Pokémon trainer, ‘a world of dreams and adventures with Pokémon awaits!’
And so you go. Leaving your SNES - and your Mother - in an obligatory ‘leaving home’ moment, you stumble on out into the big bad world of Pokémon, into the grass and into the wild. Of course we all know this is a fool’s move, at least in retrospect, as a concerned Professor Oak stops you from going any further as there are wild Pokémon roaming the fields. He promptly whisks you off to his lab where arguably the most memorable moment of the game takes place; the decision between Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle. Once you have made the choice of the Gods you meet your rival and embark on the adventure of a lifetime, and start the mammoth task of collecting every Pokémon in the game.
“Pokémon Red and Blue let you live the dream of becoming a Pokémon trainer”
It is this first choice that gives a taste of what is to come. Pokémon is inherently a game of continuous choice. Throughout the game you are faced with the unending headache of whether to get rid of a Pokémon in the place of a newly caught stunner. There is always that gut-wrenching guilt that precedes giving a Pokémon the boot; it is never an easy thing to do. Not only this but you have the choice of whether your Pokémon will learn a new move, and if so which move will be replaced? Sometimes this is easy but when you have to choose between flamethrower and fire blast because you used up a spot for a HM, things start getting difficult. And that’s another thing – HMs, just which Pokémon do you choose to bear the burden of Flash? And when you think you’ve had enough of making tough decisions, Game Freaks go and give you an Eevee to evolve, heathens.
It was this abundance of choice that truly made Pokémon Red and Blue such a different experience for everyone. Thanks to the different types of Pokémon, the act of evolution, and the extensive move-sets that each Pokémon possessed - not to mention that there are 151 Pokémon able to be caught - each player would naturally experience the game in a different way. Customisation was a large part of the Pokémon experience – one player may choose to only train water Pokémon, for instance, or flying Pokémon. One might decide to have a team full of high levelled Pokémon that they have purposely chosen not to evolve. The beauty of the game was in part thanks to that feeling given to the player that you were tailoring the gaming experience to your own preferences. Play the game how you envisioned it, become the Pokémon trainer you would become in real life – it’s hard not to enjoy a videogame when you are such a big catalyst for its content.
“It was this abundance of choice that truly made Pokémon Red and Blue such a different experience for everyone”
When the game wasn’t throwing choices your way, it was throwing trainers (not the shoes, UK readers). These Pokémon trainers littered the various routes and cities, and helped give the opportunity to earn some money and earn some experience. From female bug catchers to male swimmers, from fishermen to psychics, from lasses to gentlemen - the people you run into are themed around the places you visit, and give the land a sense that in an ideal world these places do exist. It’s debatable whether the abundance of trainers tired or not, as you’d square up to the same kinds of Pokémon again and again. There would always be a few trainers with literally no idea what it takes to win, as sending out three Magikarp on the trot was sure to demonstrate. With every new battle however was the chance to see an entirely new Pokémon, and therefore chalk one up on your trusty Pokédex.
The game’s story is a simple as they come, with the motives of your character echoing that of the accompanying anime show. Once you leave home and the safety and seclusion of Pallet Town you naturally make your way to the first gym, lead by rock Pokémon extraordinaire Brock. The following battles were a cinch if you had chosen Squirtle, however not so easy if you happened to be playing the ‘yellow’ edition of the game, where Pikachu lead the adventure. From here you know that to succeed in the game you must travel to the eight gyms dotted around the region of Kanto, eventually taking you to the elite four where, once defeated, the game is in a sense, ‘complete’. Each gym held a leader who specialised in a specific type of Pokémon, and as such were decorated appropriately – Erika for instance trained Grass Pokémon, and only hired female trainers, as tribute to her Geisha culture. Naturally entry to each gym wasn’t as simple as you expected, and because of this you find yourself in all manner of interesting locations.
“The amount of memorable moments the game gives is testament to its critical success”
The game sprung many exciting places to visit upon you, and they played a part in the main story arc of beating gym leaders and ‘catching ‘em all’. One scenario happens early on where you board the S.S. Anne ship in order to learn the HM ‘cut’, which helps open the way to Lt Surge, the Vermillion City Gym leader. The ship is suitably epic with rooms filled with rich trainers and items – it is a ‘luxury liner’, of course. You’ll encounter a sick captain who yearns for a backrub, and all is well again in the world of Kanto. The amount of memorable moments the game gives is testament to its critical success, and act as delightful progress markers when discussing with friends. Who can forget the Snorlax blockade; the enormous Celadon City department store; Team Rocket’s secret hideout; the haunted Pokémon tower; the Safari park with the seemingly impossible task of catching a Scyther with bait and rocks; the game corner where a Porygon always seems out of your reach; and victory road, where the elite four loom. The game isn’t without faults however, as a little too many caves – and a little too many Zubats – prove.
The game was always keen to give you new features to play with, too. The first time you receive a bicycle is a happy day indeed, not only does it let you get through ‘cycling road’ but it speeds up your character’s movements tremendously. Almost as exciting as getting the bicycle was learning ‘surf’, as it lets you access islands and anywhere previously bounded by the ocean. Arguably the most important HM you receive was for ‘fly’, which gives you the whole world map and the ability to fly anywhere you desire – that Pidgey sure is useful. Obtaining your first fishing rod is quite interesting, until you realise that the old rod is pretty much useless past the first few reels and you might as well wait for something a little more ‘super’.
“You ate, breathed and slept Pokémon but you didn’t care because you wouldn’t have had it any other way”
It is difficult to truly condense everything that was so great about Pokémon Red and Blue. There would be the unparalleled tension you’d experience as you flung your only master ball at a paralysed, sleeping Mewtwo, and waited as the ball wobbled frenetically. The challenge of catching Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres was no easy feat, and the journey to find them no walk in the park either – the importance of their existence represented with a drawn sprite signalling that they are not to be messed with.
With Pokémarts, Pokécenters, Pokéballs and Pokémon day care, you ate, breathed and slept Pokémon but you didn’t care because you wouldn’t have had it any other way. The moment your Pokémon got healed at a center was like a hug from the developers as much as a KO to your Metapod is a slap in the face, and the crowning moment of Red and Blue? Evolution. Whether it be natural, by trading or using special stones, the act of evolution was a beautiful sight and the realisation that one of your team is starting to evolve is a feeling evocative of the ending of something like ICO, or The Shawshank Redemption.
Pokémon Red and Blue is perhaps so memorable and so fondly remembered because of things like this. It brought the ever popular Pokémon franchise to life and let people live the dream. You’d certainly be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t wished Pokémon to be real. Its sequels are great but will never have the same effect as Red and Blue because it’s not that new, exciting feeling of catching Pokémon anymore. It’s a more familiar feeling, which is fine but not a touch on what had never been done before. Another thing that’s great about the game? It hasn’t aged. The visuals still hold up, the playful tunes get locked in your head once again, and you’ll always choose that same starter Pokémon accompanied by the same sense of companionship. It’s an RPG that everyone can get on board with, and it’s a game that everyone can appreciate, whether you followed the Pokémon franchise or not. It will never be forgotten and will always be talked about; it’s quite possibly the best handheld game of all time.