Monday, March 2, 2015

The Pokemon Retrospective: Gen I

Hey boys and girls, It's Pokemon Month!!!

In 1999, my brother and I both got a copy of Pokemon Red and Blue from our parents for our Gameboy Colors. I don't remember playing much of the game, but I remember that my brother was able to complete Pokemon Blue while I was stuck at the first gym. I had no idea how to play Pokemon, but my brother was 8, so he was able to beat it. His cartridge though corrupted and is now permanently stuck with what his team was. We've never played Pokemon Blue again because of how corrupted the actual file was, so all we were left with was my copy of Pokemon Red. Even to this day, it's one of the few reasons I still keep my Gameboy Color around.

Welcome to Pokemon Month everyone! If you were to ask me what one of my favorite franchises of all time is, I would easily say that Pokemon is in the top 5 easily. Today, Pokemon is one of the most successful video game franchises in history to the point where I'm pretty sure that most of Nintendo's funds come from Pokemon's success. For nearly two decades, Pokemon has engulfed handheld gaming, trading card games, anime, movies, and even plush stuffed animals. Pokemon is a monster of a franchise, and for the next month, I'll be discussing my relationship with each generation of Pokemon and my opinions on each generation, or gens as we call it.

Now I want to make myself very clear first and foremost. I am not reviewing EVERY game in each gen. I'll be reviewing the core games of each gen, the games that set the tone for each generation. In other words, I'll be reviewing Red/Blue for Gen 1, Gold/Silver for Gen 2, and so on and so forth. I will not be reviewing remakes like Omega Ruby, Soul Silver, or Leaf Green. On that same note, I will not be reviewing each gen's "third game". So I'm not going to review Pokemon Yellow, Crystal, Emerald, Platinum, or Black 2/White 2. It's the core games only with no spinoffs. Just the influential games. All of this will conclude with my personal ranking for my favorite Pokemon gen to my least favorite gen. So, with all of that finally out of the way, let's take a look at the original Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue. 

Pokemon Red/Blue
were released in North America on September 28th, 1998. While I personally never played one at launch, I remember watching the Pokemon anime all the time as a kid. I never knew how the actual game was played, and based off my first experience and memory with the game, I never played it to completion until the mid 2000's, when I was well into my adolescence. Still, I remember enough about the game to give a brief and effective review of it.

The goal of Pokemon is simple. You start the game off with one of three adorable creatures called Pokemon, and you catch and train new Pokemon to take on rivals, gym leaders, and eventually the Elite Four, the four strongest Pokemon Trainers in the world before tackling the Champion. There are eight gym leaders to tackle, each with their own different Pokemon type, and there's even a criminal organization called Team Rocket that wants to take over the world. But at the end of the day though, all you want to do is capture every Pokemon and be the best trainer like no one ever was.

As for the Pokemon themselves, each Pokemon has a different type. A type essentially defines what moves the Pokemon can learn, what moves hurt it more, and what moves hurt it less. If a type is paired off against another type, some will fight normally while some will be super-effective. For example, fire Pokemon will be super-effective against grass Pokemon, but they'll be weak to water Pokemon at the same time. In the first gen alone, you had a whole variety of types of Pokemon, including normal, fire, water, grass, electricity, bug, rock, ground, flying, fighting, poison, ghost, psychic, ice, and dragon types. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses, so be sure you choose your Pokemon effectively and give them good moves! Having a team of various types is better than having a team of only grass-type Pokemon.

When you fight a Pokemon, you send out of one your own Pokemon to fight the enemy. You can attack them with one of four attacks, use an item to heal yourself or catch a wild Pokemon, swap out a Pokemon for another one on your team, or run away if you find the Pokemon in the wild. You can't run from trainer battles, so you'll have to prepare your team accordingly when you fight trainers. You can have up to six Pokemon at a time in your party, so if you plan on catching every Pokemon in the game, you'll need to figure out which Pokemon you want in your party. There are 151 Pokemon to catch in the first gen, so your task will take time, but it's nothing too impossible.

Okay, so that's all of the technical aspects of Pokemon that I'll never have to explain again in future updates. So what do I think of Gen 1? Is it old and outdated and doesn't hold up at all? Actually, I think that Gen 1 holds up beautifully and is still one of the best games in the franchise. Mind you, there's a lot of technical hiccups and game balance issues which ruin the game a bit for me, but I still love Gen 1. The graphics and gameplay are simple, but you don't really need anything more complex than the idea of "Gotta catch 'em all!" Pokemon are easy to find and are even easier to fight.

The hardest aspect about this game is that it has a lot of balance issues that weren't resolved upon release. Dragon and Psychic Pokemon were some of the most overpowered types in the first gen to the point where if you had a good Pokemon of either type, no one could stop you. Nothing could stop Psychic Pokemon back in the beginning, and fighting a gym full of Psychic Pokemon was a nightmare that no one wanted to experience.

Another big problem that the game had was the frequency that you learned new moves. Whenever you level up your Pokemon, there's a chance that you would learn a new move that could replace another move. The first gen though had a really poorly balanced leveling up system that made it difficult to make a strong team. Most moves that Pokemon learned were normal moves that didn't do a lot of damage, but when a Pokemon did learn a move that was it's own type, the move was almost always useless. For example, I had a Rabidash once that learned Fire Spin when it was in its 40's. It never learned a decent move until it was in its high 50's, and even then Rabidash was one of the weakest Pokemon on my team.

Balance issues aside, the game was perfect in its own simplistic charm. Nothing about the game was complex, but it allowed the gameplay to really shine on its own. If it sounds like I don't have much to say about the game, that's mostly because I spent a lot of time just explaining how the basic game is played. Every other game in the series advanced upon the formula, for better or worse, and those changes, new Pokemon, sounds, graphics, and world are what makes each game interesting to talk about. We wouldn't be here talking about the Pokemon  franchise if it wasn't for for Pokemon Red/Blue, so that has to mean that these games did something right. Whatever it may be, these two games are classics that deserve to be in every gamer's portable library.

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