Pokémon turned 20 this year and what better way to celebrate than with a re-release of all Generation 1 games on the Nintendo 3DS? In a quest for pure nostalgia, I jumped at the opportunity to buy Pokémon Yellow as soon as it was made available on the Nintendo eShop. What I didn’t realize was how much the series has changed over the last 20 years, and there was a lot that I had forgotten about those first charming games for the Game Boy.
I’m sure there are things that stuck out to everyone about Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow: the glitches, the grinding, the simplistic characters, the horrible, nightmare-inducing renditions of simplistic characters:
I’m here to tell you what you may not have noticed about the Generation 1 Pokémon games, what you may have forgotten, or what you may never have had the chance to examine.
Streamlining is a Beautiful Thing
Remember the days when you would take hours to catch a legendary Pokémon, only to then be notified that your box was full and your efforts were pointless?
With each generation, the Pokémon Company manages to weed out annoying gameplay factors that hinder the enjoyment of the games. One of the most irritating experiences from replaying Yellow is dealing with a number of slow and pointless mechanics. I hate opening the menu, scrolling down, and manually selecting “Bike” from a long list of unrelated items, only to later bump into a tree that forces me to reopen the menu to select “Cut.” Streamlining is something the newer generations definitely got right. The whole experience has given me a new appreciation for running around in buildings.
There’s No One There to Hold Your Hand
Want to know my biggest pet peeve that only seems to get worse with every generation? The hand-holding.
The newer generations rarely let you decide your own path in the game. If you want to delay your encounter with a legendary or dive into a fight with a trainer 20 levels higher than you, you’re denied. However, in true RPG fashion, the Generation 1 games let you choose. Want to fight Blaine on Cinnabar Island before you knock out Lt. Surge’s 3rd badge? Do it. Hate Zapdos and want to avoid it for eternity? Cool, it’s not an integral part of the game. I’m hoping that in time Nintendo will go back to this formula, but I’m not holding my breath.
The Tone has Changed Drastically
Playing Pokémon Yellow makes me wonder when Nintendo realized Pokémon would work best as a franchise for kids, because the game doesn’t always have the interests of children in mind.
In later generations, characters constantly reassure you how strong and important you are. In Pokémon Yellow, no one seems to know your name or care about your well-being in general. Newer games have fun locations like a Carnival and the Eiffel Tower. Pokémon Blue has a gangster-run casino. Team Flare wants everything to be beautiful; Team Rocket killed Cubone’s mom. Not to mention the peeping tom peering through the windows of Erika’s all-female gym.
In Pokémon Heartgold and SoulSilver, he explains that the gym is great because it’s full of “strong trainers.”
There is Literally No Plot
Can you summarize the plot of Pokémon Red? I can’t either.
While every generation sicne has had some epic arc (usually involving a team harnessing the power of a legendary Pokémon to further an extremist ideal) Generation 1 has very little in the way of a story. Instead of feeling like an integral part of something greater, you find yourself caught up in the drama of Team Rocket. Legendaries also aren’t hyped as an important part of the game. Instead, they serve as neat Easter Eggs with cool lore scattered across the Kanto region.
While none of this is necessarily good or bad, it shows a wide separation between Generation 1 and Pokémon X and Y.
The Remakes Didn’t Do the Original Games Justice
I’ve played Pokémon FireRed millions of times since its debut in the U.S. Because of this, I thought I had a complete grasp of the original games. Replaying Yellow has proved me wrong.
Because of streamlining and a different typing balance, the remakes’ pacing doesn’t feel the same. For example, in Generation 1, psychic was by far the strongest type, having no real weaknesses at all. When the remakes were introduced in 2004, bug moves were an actual thing and bite was classified as dark. There was no longer a reason to think twice about Sabrina’s Alakazam. In addition, streamlining, (while fantastic) made the games seem a lot shorter. Hold items, abilities, and breeding took away the limited options to your team. While the remakes are still enjoyable, they don’t capture the feel of the games from the ’90s.
Replaying Pokémon Yellow has reminded me how deeply flawed yet wonderful and unique the original Pokémon games are. While nothing will ever recapture their essence, it won’t stop my excitement every time a new generation is announced.