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Classic game appreciation section: Pokémon Red and Blue

Imagine a world without Pikachu. Not very nice is it? A drab, post-apocalyptic wasteland that has had all the cuteness nuked out of it by homogenised buzz-cut war blokes, their brains algorithmically engineered with the un-science of violence. Yes, I know, I'm a grown-man and Pokermonz is for little babies what poo themselves. But you know what? It takes a real man to admit that he loves Pikachu. At least that's what my mummy always tells me.

Above: A world without Pikachu cosplay? I'd rather not

Admittedly, my love for the mouse with lightning in his cheeks has waned somewhat since we exited the last millennium. The novelty of communicating in Pikachu speak ("Pika-Pika" etc) wore off long ago. And my vibrating Pikachu plushy is now safely in the hands of actual children where it belongs. At the time, though, as editor of various rogue Pokémon publications, I was fully submerged in the world of Pikachu and all his jolly pocket monster chums. And I loved it. Pure brilliant. At the shining core of that brilliance was one game. Or rather, one game cunningly marketed as two games. Pokémon Red & Blue for the Game Boy.


In the beginning

Have you heard the one about the little kid that liked collecting bugs and insects and grew up to create one of gaming's most successful mega-franchises? Chances are you probably have. The story of Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri's childhood habits manifesting in later life as the founding concept behind Pokémon has been told around a million pixellated camp fires over the years. It's gaming lore.

For me, knowing that the games weren't just the contrived product of grubby marketing men accidentally stumbling upon a seemingly bottomless pit of Yen really endeared me to Pokémon. It made me see it as something other than an insatiable money machine. It was an insatiable money machine with a heart.

Above: It might have happened something like this

I loved the idea that everything - the games, the cartoon, the trading cards, the toys, the whole damned flea circus - originated from one man's vision and his belief to see it come to fruition. Making Pokémon Red and Blue (which was actually Red and Green in Japan, but let's not confuse things) took six years and almost finished Tajiri's Game Freak studio in the process. It was a struggle. Hardships were endured. But, in 1996, the games were completed.

At this point I like to imagine Tajiri standing on the steps of the Game Freak offices, carefully cupping the very first, newly born Pokémon Game Boy carts in his hands. The sun is shining. The breeze carries the scent of cherry blossom. He pauses as if contemplating an invisible question. Then, in one single expression of euphoria, he throws his hands up to the heavens and releases his babies into the wild. It is time. He watches them flutter away. He turns and walks back inside the building with a proud smile on his face. Somewhere in the distance, a cash register rings out.


I choose you, Pokémon Red and Blue!

So why exactly did I - and a few bazillion other people - spend an unhealthy amount of time at the end of the 90s not doing designer drugs or watching Lethal Weapon 4 or pondering what colour iMac G3 to purchase, but choosing instead to stare into a screen the size of a post-it note? By now that doesn't even need to be a question because it's obvious. It was written on the box -  'Gotta catch 'em all'. And I literally did. Everyone did. Once people started playing they absolutely had to catch them all. Every last one of them. With their funny names and digitized screeches and zero frames of animation.

Above: Gotta catch 'em all! Suggestion, command or health warning?

Anyone that's played any of the core Pokémon RPGs knows how it goes. It starts with a quick Pidgey here, maybe a cheeky little Weedle there. And that's it. Hooked like a stupid Magikarp on the line of a Super Rod. Gateway Pokémon to a simple-to-pick-up, yet beautifully impossible game to put down. From Pallet Town to Victory Road. Keep exploring. What better incentive than the promise of discovering new creatures? Creatures that I could catch and collect. Creatures I could give names to (and imaginary personalities). Creatures that would fight but never die. Imagine that.

Above: Pallet Town. Where it all begins. All roads lead to ADVENTURE!

Every successful new capture meant another gap filled in the Pokédex. And abducting the beasts was just the start. Once safely impounded, if you wanted them on your team they would have to be levelled-up. That meant the grind of battles. But the reward was worth it. More powerful attacks and, in some cases, the next stage of evolution. That meant a new Pokémon to add to the files. It's the perfect bait. Crack for the obsessive compulsive geek disposition. It's no wonder that the fundamentals of this magic formula haven't changed in 15 years. New layers are added with each iteration, but the foundations are rock solid and remain the same.

44 comments

  • h3lp3r - April 14, 2013 6:20 p.m.

    Ive been a fan of the games since i can remember, but gave away my copies awhile ago. so a while back on a boredom induced search, i came across playr.org, its an emulator site with the pokemon games from the old days (red/blue/yellow and gold/silver) best part is you can play them online, no download. If pokemon gets old theyve plenty of zelda and mario games to boot!
  • Shinra - October 5, 2011 6:37 p.m.

    Well, I can't be sure of this and don't have proofs or anything. However, I do claim (and used to) that I was the first boy in Greenland who got his hands on Pokémon. Came back from a vacation in Denmark with a two VHS with them (Lt. Surge and Raichu FTW!). Got hooked, got the games and before you knew of it, everyone had the games and the card games. (not to mention the Danish voice-acting for Pokémon is some of the best they've ever done in that lil' country)
  • 4fromK - October 2, 2011 8:05 p.m.

    OHOHOHOHO YOU WOULD WTIRE ABOUT POCKET MONSTERS. DIRTY OLD MAN CUNDY HAS GOT A POCKET MONSTER FOR YA
  • 4fromK - October 2, 2011 8:11 p.m.

    OHOHO DIDNT FINISH THE ARTICLE TO SEE YOU EVEN SLIPPED A BIT OF THE OLD DOWNSTAIRS PIKACHU KEBAB IN THERE.
  • Super Barn Owl - October 2, 2011 9:33 a.m.

    It's strange! I've been playing red for years, and no matter where I go I cannot find a sandshrew! Ts really taking the fun out of the game for me. Might move onto a new game soon.
  • Raheria - October 1, 2011 1:02 p.m.

    Blue is still, and always will be (I'd imagine) my favourite Pokemon game. I think I got up to 130-something Pokemon and stopped; it'd be nice to play it again...
  • Bubbagoof - October 31, 2011 9:31 p.m.

    I got up to about the same and to this day it still bugs me that I never finished catching all of them...
  • RonnyLive19881 - October 1, 2011 8:26 a.m.

    OMG is that kid crawling up Pikachu's vag?
  • MCN2011 - September 30, 2011 9:37 a.m.

    Christmas 1998, I got Pokemon Red and a Game Boy Color. My brother got Pokemon Blue and my old Game Boy Classic. We got a link cable, and we then dedicated our lives to Pokemon and catching and trading our way to 150 each.
  • FemJesse - September 29, 2011 8:53 p.m.

    I feel like the game came at a perfect time to ignite the RPG genre and truly push it to the mainstream. EVERYBODY played pokemon. My tough guy friend from study hall was planning on joining the Navy after high school, so I gave him my copy of Blue and one of my many GB Fats (I was since using GB Color/Pocket and silver/gold). He was instantly hooked, proving it doesn't matter what age you start, if you pick it up and give it a chance it will grow on you. I imagine he took his Pokemon with him on wonderful Naval adventures.
  • Ariaka - September 29, 2011 7:54 p.m.

    I started off with Blue back when I was a kid, and sister got Red later. Good times =) I think my first introduction was at a friend of my mom's house-- they had just come back from Japan, and they had a tape playing Pocket Monsters (I think it was Mystery of Mount Moon) playing on the TV. Later, we saw the anime (we caught the St. Anne episode during its pilot! XD) and then I got hooked onto getting the game... What was also awesome is that I met a very small group in Middle School who all had a Gameboy and wanted to battle and trade during lunch. I met a friend this way and we still keep in touch now. I also remember how gullible some of us had to be to fall for the Pokegod rumors. Anyone remember that? Or Mew and the truck? XD
  • Shinra - October 5, 2011 6:34 p.m.

    Mew and the truck, I think that thing went all over the world. It certainly got as far as to Greenland (also, damn thing didn't work...).
  • masterjoe123 - September 29, 2011 6:15 p.m.

    Love for the classics. Sigh. I miss my copy of Red.
  • AuthorityFigure - September 29, 2011 5:55 p.m.

    Everyone already appreciates this game - it seems like a waste of an article to focus on a game so prominent in everyone's mind and experience. It's like: "Classic Game Appreciation: Super Mario Bros."
  • Matt Cundy - September 30, 2011 5:15 a.m.

    Don't worry. We'll still be appreciating classics that are under-appreciated. But it's inevitable that we'll cover some of the most celebrated classics along the way as well.
  • The_Ouroboros - September 30, 2011 7:54 a.m.

    What an odd and improper complaint. This walk down memory lane reminded me of a much easier time in life and an every now-and-then remembrance of it is well appreciated and embraced. This is like complaining that they play the national anthem during the Superbowl because we've all heard it before. Also - recaptcha... None of those are words!
  • RandomIdoit - September 29, 2011 4:25 p.m.

    ahh...the originals. I remember them well. I was only six when I first saw them, and originally I wasn't even interested, this changed, however, when I saw someone else in the daycare (that was ironically in the college that my mom went to) playing the game, I begged my parents for red version (I still loved dragons at that early age) and eventually, on my birthday (my 7th birthday) I got all three original versions! so, it's not normal to find a mew in the grassy area next to nugget bridge then? (just kidding! I used a gameshark, but I did train that mew myself from lvl. 10)
  • Katlu - September 29, 2011 3:38 p.m.

    *nostalgic tear* Pokemon Red is where it all started with me. I still keep it with me in my desk's drawer.
  • ShowMeYourKitties - September 29, 2011 2:02 p.m.

    Nostalgia button pressed. This was one of the first video games I ever played. I kinda miss my first Blastoise...
  • badgraphix1 - September 29, 2011 1:31 p.m.

    The Pikachu cosplayer on the right is HOT.

Showing 1-20 of 44 comments

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