What's that? Look, it's coming over the hill...
Of all the Pokémon games I've played, Red is easily my favourite (with Black a close second). Why? Obviously it was the first game and felt completely fresh. And playing it while the Pokémon phenomenon was in full swing was pretty special. But mostly it's to do with the eponymous stars of the show - the menagerie of monstroodles.
Every one of the original 150 Pokémon are perfect specimens. Imaginative imitations of real-life fauna. Or weird and wonderful oddities. The first generation of Pokémon were so fun to catch because they were brilliantly designed, intriguing, fascinating and, above all, desirable. It was more than just the drive of brutal addiction. I genuinely wanted to catch 'em all because I actually liked 'em all. I would often choose my team based on how much a Pokémon appealed to me, as opposed to their ability to perform in a fight.
Above: I particularly like Lickitung. And Cubone. And Slowpoke. And Psyduck. And ALL OF THEM
And things were so much more manageable back then. 150 Pokémon I could handle. Give me a number between #001 and #150 and I could tell you the corresponding Pokémon. It was my party trick. Admittedly it didn't impress anyone beyond the age of 13, but that's not the point. Collecting them all didn't seem impossible. Now there's something stupid like a million-bajillion of the buggers to ensnare with my balls. I mean, where would I start? I'm a realist - I know I'm never going to catch 'em all. It's no longer an option.
Sharing is, like, caring dude
One of the advantages of being a self-proclaimed 'Pokémon Master' during pocket monster mania was that I got to attend various Pokémon tournaments and events around the UK. There were quite a few. It was a big deal. I think one of them was held at the Millennium Dome in London. I can't really remember. The Pokémon circuit was pretty crazy. We were partying hard, so it's all a bit vague. What I do remember is how much Pokémon Red and Blue brought the kids together thanks to the way it made use of the Game Boy's link cable.
The idea of having to trade Pokémon in order to complete the Pokédex was an absolute masterstroke. Genius. Everywhere at these events, eager gamers were hooking up their Game Boys. Oddish for a Bellsprout. Scyther for a Magmar. Kids that didn't know each other would just start chatting. No awkwardness. No bad vibes. Just hundreds of kids getting together, trading, battling, socialising and having a good time. A real-life extension of the game's caring and sharing philosophy. As a pacifist vegetarian hippy, this really appealed to me. Video games used as a genuine force for good. A very visible, positive thing.
Above: A lot of this happened
Another notable masterstroke, albeit an unintentional one, was the inclusion of a hidden Pokémon. Mew, Pokémon #151, was secretly added to the game by one of the programmers and originally intended for use by Game Freak employees only. However, it was eventually made available through special Nintendo events organised around the country. And the kids went nuts for it. Mew had to be got. If catching 'em all meant shamelessly ingratiating yourself to your parents in order to secure transportation to the nearest Mew distribution event, then so be it. Free downloadable content just doesn't inspire that kind of desperate dedication any more. Or capture the imagination in the same way that Mew did.
So from the humble beginnings of a little lad collecting bugs with his butterfly net and jam jars (which is probably how it was right?), Pokémon Red and Blue was born. Its impact on gaming has been beyond huge. But even if the idea didn't catch on, that Japanese gamers back in 1996 didn't buy into the concept of catching and battling colourless creatures, that the global Pokémon explosion never ignited, that all those spin-offs and mountains of merchandise were never made, that Pikachu was never considered for cosplay... Even if none of that ever happened, the fact would still remain that the first Pokémon game is an incredibly deep, incredibly imaginative, incredibly loveable RPG. Even without the phenomenon, it would still be an absolute classic.
(But I'm glad it did take off, otherwise children would never have experienced the joys of inflatable Pikachu)
Sept 29, 2011
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