A look back at the Game Boy glory days
It’s been 20 years since a little electric mouse named Pikachu won over the globe and created a worldwide phenomenon.
Let that sink in for a bit. 20 years. Since then Pokemon has gone on to become one of gaming’s largest franchises, and has spawned nine generations of sequels, numerous movies, a television show, a collectible card game… the list goes on and on. Pokémon has been there and done that.
To kick off 20 years of creature-collecting, Nintendo and the Pokémon Company are re-releasing the games that started it all — Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow — on the 3DS virtual console on February 27. Unlike the Game Boy Advance remakes of Pokémon Red and Green released in 2004, these are the unaltered OG Game Boy games in their sprite-based, slightly off-color black and white glory. It’s the games exactly as you remember them.
So, get ready to kick it in Kanto, and party like its 1996. Here’s why going back to the first generation is going to rock.
The Original 8
Boulder. Cascade. Thunder. Rainbow. Soul. Marsh. Volcano. Earth.
If you’ve never played Pokémon, those words might read like gibberish. But to fans of the original games, they occupy a special place in our hearts: The names of the first eight gym badges. The first eight gym leaders that you fought on the path to Victory Road, and ultimately, the Elite Four. You know what they say; you never really forget your first... eight.
Don't get me wrong: That’s not to say that Pokémon hasn’t developed a lot over the past 20 years. But I’m going to be honest: as much as I grew up with and still love Pokémon, I can’t name all the gym leaders and badges from all of the different generations.
But Cerulean City leader Misty? Or Pewter City’s Brock? The psychic-using leader Sabrina? The only badges that I’ve paid and ordered a replica pin set of? Yeah, it’s the first 8.
This is nothing against any of the gym leaders we’ve had since — there’s been a lot of cool ones! — but it’s refreshing to go back to the basics and battle against trainers that I watched growing up with the TV show. It's like a nice visit with old friends… even if I do have to battle them.
Catching ‘em all (for real)
Most kids growing up in the ‘90s probably wanted to become Pokémon Masters. I know I did. I very clearly remember staying up late trying to trade for that penultimate Pokémon I needed…and then spending hours trying to capture a Tauros at the Safari zone to finally reach that mythical all-150 Pokémon number. It was quite the accomplishment.
But now, as hard as that task was 20 years ago, the same quest today is almost Herculean in scale. Including all the limited event and giveaway Pokémon, there are 722 of them now.
Yeesh. Yeah, that’s a lot. I always say I’m going to catch them all, but to be honest, I haven’t completed the Pokédex since the original Red and Blue games. But now there’s a realistic chance that I’ll actually be able to do it again, and be able to go around and tell people that I’m actually a certified Pokémon master*. Get ready completionists, because it just got a lot easier to actually catch 'em all.
(*at least in Red and Blue)
The Pokémon Virtual Console re-releases are nearly identical to the ones you played in the 90s, with one noticeable addition this time around. Remember how you had to trade in the original games? That purple link cable? Well, this is 2016. No more link cables. No more cables at all, in fact.
Instead, you’ll now be able to battle and trade with your friends over local Wi-fi. It’s a shame there’s no online, but this still means that you’ll be able to battle without having to worry about cords or wires. It's makes the games a lot more playable by today's standards, but doesn't really change the core experience.
I have many fond memories of the original generation of Pokémon. But no memories are more fond — or at least fondly frustrating — than all the glitches… and sense of mystery and adventure that came with hunting for and trying them out.
Chief among them is MissingNo. the now-infamous glitch Pokémon that could be encountered if the right conditions were met and you decided to surf along the side of Cinnabar Island. MissingNo. could do a slew of useful things, like giving you unlimited Master Balls or Rare candies. It also messed up your Hall of Fame, causing random and weird entries to show up in it. Like a certain Pokémon that was rumored to be in the game somewhere…
And then of course there was the hunt for Mew. The elusive Pokémon number 151, Mew, was an event-only Pokémon in the day before such legendary creatures were wildly distributed over the internet, so unless you were really lucky, you weren’t going to get one.
But I wasn’t convinced — and neither was the Pokémon community at large. There were myriad rumors about how to find and capture Mew. If you used Strength on the hidden truck around the S.S. Anne... well nothing happened, no matter how long people tried. Sadly, it wasn’t until years later (and after I long had gotten rid of my Red and Blue cartridges) that Mew was eventually found through another glitch.
So far, neither Nintendo or the Pokémon Company have said if the glitches will still be in these releases, but given how almost nothing has changed, hopefully there’s a chance that we’ll still be able to play around with what has become one of gaming’s most infamous glitches.
I mean, they did kind of hide MissingNo. in Pokémon X and Y, so maybe. Maybe.
A simpler time
Since Red and Blue, Pokemon has grown up quite a bit. There series has a lot more depth now, and has grown and added features in every new iteration.
Adding depth by itself isn't a bad thing. These changes have kept the series moving forward. But there's a lot of complexity in modern competitive battling -- so it will be nice to revisit a version of Pokemon from a time before breeding, before IVs and EVs, before Pokemon attacks were split between physical and special, and especially before HMs were used for everything (though that problem seems to be getting better, at least).
Well, and there's probably a bunch of people wanting to go back to a time before Mega Evolutions, too.
In other words, it's a chance to play Pokemon with the pressure off, and without having to worry about competitive team-building and stat balancing. This is Pokemon at its simplest, and it seems fitting to play the game at its most basic and bare-bones to ring in the anniversary. And maybe I'll stand a better chance in battles, too.
If you've felt lost with any of the more recent Pokemon entries, this is a chance to go back to where everything started and see why you enjoyed the series in the first place. Or, if you’ve started playing Pokémon with any of the other titles, these releases are a unique look back through time to the adventure that started -- and inspired -- the rest of them. And you'll get to see what it was like to catch Pokemon before the games had some of the basics -- like running -- nailed down.
Either way, 20 years went by really fast. But come February 27, it’s time to catch ‘em all. Again.
Willie Clark is a music and video game writer, barrel-rider, reliable brave guy (TM), and podcast host at 8 Bit Awesome. You can find his writing at sites like Polygon, Vice, GamesRadar+, GamesBeat, and many other fine dining establishments. Or, you know, you can also follow him on Twitter.