Pokémon Red/Blue - Review

Why Must It Feel So Bad To Feel So Good?

By: MrSorcerer

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 7
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 6
   Originality 9
   Plot 6
   Localization 10
   Replay Value 4
   Visuals 7
   Difficulty Easy - Impossible
   Time to Complete

30-120 hours

got a lot of 8's this time round

Title Screen

   Pokémon.  Those evil pocket monsters seem to be popping up everywhere nowadays.  They have their own TV show, trading card game, legions of merchandise, and even two very bad movies.  But let's not forget that this strange phenomenon began with a game, or more accurately, two games: Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue.  These two games have been Nintendo's ace in the hole, their saving grace in the video games market.  And, bad merchandise aside, they deserve it.  Although Pokémon today is seen as some passing kiddy fad, underneath the corny exterior, it is a fun, innovative game.

   In Pokémon, you control a young boy who is determined to become the greatest ever collector of the strange monsters known as pokémon.  You are also pitted against a childhood rival who has the same task. Throughout your travels, you not only face off against your rival, but other trainers and wild pokémon as well.  Any of these encounters will initiate combat, which, while fairly basic and unoriginal, has a few twists on the basic RPG combat system that make it enjoyable.  In battles, your pokémon face off against the rival pokémon directly.  You can choose from up to four different attacks, which are limited in the number of times they can be used before resting your pokémon.  Although your character can't directly help out in the fighting, you can use supplemental items in lieu of an attack.  The fight continues until one team of pokémon manages to knock the other unconscious.

   Sounds simple, right?  Wrong.  Although the basics of combat are similar to just about every RPG you've ever played, there are several subtle intricacies that keep battles exciting.  Every pokémon is one of fifteen types, with each type having specific strengths and weaknesses to other types and attacks.  There are also dual type pokémon, which, as the name implies, are not one, but two types, having two times the weaknesses and two times the strengths.  As mentioned earlier, pokémon have four abilities.  However, over time pokémon learn many more abilities, and it becomes very necessary to decide which abilities to erase in order to make room for new ones.  Also, scattered throughout the game are Technical Machines and Hidden Machines which can be used to teach your pokémon a specific skill.  Add to that the fact that you can only carry six pokémon at a time, and carrying the right pokémon in the right places becomes essential.

   All of these factors give Pokémon an amazing degree of customization, which is augmented even more by the sheer magnitude of the pokémon themselves.  Indeed, there are 150 different types of pokémon in the game and catching them all quickly becomes a nearly impossible feat. From your humble beginnings of one pokémon, you need to capture more and more creatures to add diversity to your army, but you don't need all 150 to beat the game.  There are several ways of obtaining pokémon, the most common of which is catching one that you encounter in the wild.  This is done by using a poké ball or appropriate equivalent on the monster and hoping that it works.  Later in the game, this chance of successfully catching a rival pokémon grows very slim, creating frustrating battles involving using many pricey poké balls.  Also, your pokémon will evolve into new forms on their own, either triggered by leveling up, using a special item, or trading with a friend.  In fact, trading with friends is essential in order to find all 150 Pokémon, for several Pokémon that are in one version of the game aren't in the other and vice versa. Also, you have the ability to duel friends as an added bonus to the game.

   For a Gameboy game, Pokémon sports a fairly impressive, not to mention large world.  As basic as it is, the simple 2D is very easy to interact with, having only a few slightly confusing areas.  There are, however, some incredibly long stretches of area in the game, which are accompanied with frustration and frequent trips back to heal one's Pokémon.  The in-game menus are generally fairly easy to use, but can sometimes become slow and time consuming, especially when organizing your items and Pokémon, done through computers found throughout the game.

   The game's sounds are almost all cute and appropriate.   The repeating battle tune surprisingly doesn't get irritating quite as quickly as it should, and most areas are surrounded with a certain, suggested ambiance.  Although the battle sounds are also appropriate, many of them are reused for multiple attacks and become dull rather quickly.  All in all, there is nothing great about the sounds of Pokémon, but nothing horrible either.

   Aside from somewhat standard battle and town navigation systems, Pokémon is one of the most innovative and original games out there.  The near complete customization of combat teams, unending quest to find each and every pokémon, and the way the game is presented prove to be a breath of fresh air.  The clever quirks of the game and the world it creates are astounding.  Without such an original game idea, Pokémon would never have found its place in the US.

   Pokémon's "become the best trainer" plot is both weak and basic, but is also implemented diligently throughout the game.  Basically, the plot is very clear when it is explained, but this often comes at the cost of extra character development.  Also, the plot can take strange, unexpected turns.  While this seems like it would create a few fun side quests, it quickly develops into "Do task A.  Get task B.  Do task B, etc".  While this all adds up to clear plot, it seems very corny and often borders on being just plain random.

   Pokémon has had possibly the greatest localization of any video game in history.  This not only applies to the senseless and annoying merchandising that the game has spawned, but also to what can only be called perfect game translation.  Many pokémon were obviously renamed in order for the game to make more sense to an English audience.  The snake pokémon, for instance, is called Ekans (snake spelled backwards). Clever things like this show that the translation team really spent the time in making sure Pokémon was more enjoyable for English-speaking gamers.

   There are serious problems with the replay value of Pokémon.  This massive game sports only one save file, thus in order to begin a new game, one must save over the previous game.  Also, although there are different strategies for collecting pokémon, the game is almost entirely linear, giving little surprise the second time through.  Gamers would be very reluctant to part with dozens of hours of gameplay in order to get to the same point again.  This also creates an annoying state of nothingness come the end of the game.  Replaying, however, would allow players to try out different collecting strategies, seeing that there are several points in the game in which the player must choose between two or three Pokémon.  The cons, unfortunately, much outweigh the pros.

   Pokémon's graphics are fairly standard.  The outside navigation graphics show a few too many pixels, but nothing terribly annoying.  The combat graphics have definite ups and downs.  Although the art of rival pokémon and their trainers is very good, the close-up art of your pokémon is an incredible eyesore.  Not only is it made up of ugly pixels, but it often doesn't match the standard art of that pokémon.  Also, combat animations are often simplistic and cheesy.  All in all, for a Gameboy game, the graphics are good, but could be better.

   Pokémon can be either amazingly easy or nigh impossible.  If you select a solid group of about ten different pokémon, it's a cinch to level them up to meet and even pass the levels of your adversaries.  However, if you want to try to not only catch all 150 pokémon, but also level them up to a significantly high level, the game not only becomes increasingly difficult and frustrating, but also long.  Currently, I have logged over 100 hours into this devilish game and still have some 30 pokémon yet to catch.  Thus, Pokémon's difficulty is determined entirely by how much time you are willing to put into it, which can quickly add up to a lot.

 :  Although it has its numerous quirks, Pokémon is an amazingly fun game. Its amazing innovation, addictive gameplay, and comfortable, customizable feel show why it was able to create all of the horrible merchandise that followed its release.  Indeed, it's a sad day when gamers almost feel guilty playing such a fun game because it has been associated with an annoying trend.  Pokémon definitely deserves all of the hype that it has garnered and hopefully will overcome being the spotlight of one of many quickly passing trends to stand the test of time as one of the greatest Gameboy titles out there.

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