Pokemon RBY: The Games That Started It All

For those of you living under a rock outside of the realm of gaming, last Saturday, February 27th was Pokemon Day, the 20th anniversary of the release of Pokemon Red and Green in Japan. To celebrate, Nintendo rereleased the original Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow onto the 3DS Virtual Console. It’s hard to believe that Pokemon has been around for two decades, with six generations of games. Pokemon Blue was actually the very first video game that I remember truly enjoying and playing to completion. Well at the very least I became the Pokemon Champion (I have never completed the Pokedex).

Pokemon has always been my game of choice. It was the first game I ever owned for the Gameboy (which I shared with my sister), and Pokemon Yellow was the first game I got with my first handheld gaming system, a Gameboy Color. This was super important to me. I always had fun playing video games as a kid, but I always had to share with my sister or with my cousins. My purple translucent Gameboy Color was all mine, and I loved it. I took it everywhere I went and played the hell out of Pokemon Yellow.

That’s why on February 27th I bought Pokemon Yellow on the Virtual Console.


Let’s begin this old new adventure, shall we?

Now Pokemon Yellow has been the only Pokemon game I haven’t played since my initial play-through 17 years ago. I have played every other generation within the last 5 years, either through replaying the game itself or playing the remake (or I replayed the remake). This was not an option for Yellow. It is the only generation one game that didn’t come out with a remake and the battery in my original game cartridge has gone kaput. This meant that I can start a new game, but the cartridge would not save the data. I have tried to do one run without turning off the game, but that was easier said than done.

So it’s safe to say I’ve been dying to play it again.

I’m going to just say it right now, this game is VERY dated, and did not age well, especially after years and years of the newer generations with newer features.

The number one thing that really dates the game against the newer generations and just really (excuse the reference) grind my gears is the lack of running shoes. I have to walk… EVERYWHERE. That is until I get the bicycle. But it makes the game go by so much slower. The walking speed is so slow that after a week of playing (although on and off) I STILL don’t have the bicycle. It takes so long to just walk from the Pokemon Center to the Pewter City gym.

Combine this walking speed with the need to grind for levels (surprisingly a quality of all Pokemon games I enjoy), it takes much longer to achieve any story progression. At the time of writing this article, I have approximately 6 hours of gameplay and just beat Misty in Cerulean City with a reasonably levelled team of 5. I can confidently say at least half of that time has been dedicated to either level grinding in the tall grass (again, an unavoidable truth of Pokemon), or walking back and forth from the Pokemon Center to said tall grass.

Yellow Party.jpg

My current team as of 03/04/16… I do love my Nidorino and Clefairy. 

After the requirement of walking everywhere, the next thing that dates the games to the late 90s is the shallow move pool. And when I say shallow, I don’t mean a Pokemon here and there has an obscene lack of moves. More like ALL of them have a lack of moves. It’s pretty much as shallow as the splash pad at the local community centre: it did the job back then when I was little, but now I can’t help but feel a need for something more.

Something that I’ve kept all of these years is my Official Pokemon Yellow Strategy Guide. And it’s not in bad condition either. Definitely used, but not bad… Looking at the back, at the Pokedex, the average Pokemon has about 6-10 moves that it can learn naturally through levelling up, assuming it can learn all of the moves within the evolution line.


My original strategy guide from Christmas 1999.


Now that doesn’t seem too bad right? Well, what if I told you in Pokemon Yellow, Pikachu has 11 learned moves. Above average right? Great. Now, as of the latest 6th generation game, Pikachu has 18 learned moves. And this doesn’t include that specialty move Volt Tackle that can only be taught via breeding with a Light Ball. And that 18 doesn’t include Egg Moves.

But Christina, you might be saying. Why should that matter? Obviously they didn’t have the large variety of move sets that they do now. It’s was a small cute 8-bit game! Now they have elaborate moves like Trick Room and Volt Switch, full of strategy and out predicting your opponent. Let this game just be the simple game that it is with it’s shallow move.

Well my friend, I see your point… But it matters when your Sandshrew doesn’t learn any Ground type moves and becomes virtually useless as a Ground type, unless you use your TM28 on it even though you really want to give that move to another Pokemon and increase that Pokemon’s diversity in type coverage. But don’t worry, I’m not mad….

I totally don’t want this to become a Pokemon first generation bashing. These “little things” about generation 1 have been addressed in the newer generations, as early as Ruby and Sapphire in 2006. These games have been even further improved as the Pokemon Company has continued to develop *cough* roller skates *cough* physical/special split *cough*. What I would like to point out is how amazing it is to think about how these annoyances were not even on my radar as a child.

We now live in a [gaming] world that is always looking for something faster and with more variety. We need faster upload times, faster vehicles, faster weapons, more weapons, different guns, different swords, better equipment, better graphics. There is the neverending request for more, more, and more. In this game, there are only 151 Pokemon available (152 if you count MissingNo.) versus the now over 720 Pokemon available in X and Y (and assumably even more to come with the new Sun and Moon release for the holiday season). There is even a lot of concept art for several vehicles in the new games, something that has only been introduced within the last one or two generations.


A screenshot of Brendan and May watching Beautifly in a route from Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, the newest in the Pokemon series and remake of the third generation Ruby and Sapphire

A franchise like Pokemon should always be looking forward and striving to innovate their world (something that I strongly believe Pokemon has done well over the years, minus that awkward 5th generation phase), but going back to this game is a reminder of how simple and satisfying this game was to me as a child.

Up to date graphics didn’t matter at the time. I didn’t care if it took me an entire week just to get onto the S.S. Anne, or that my Pikachu didn’t know anything more than just Thundershock and Growl. What mattered was adventure. This was going to be my very first adventure and I had my own special Pikachu literally at my side along the way. We travelled, we grew, and we gained new friends along the way, but it was always Pikachu who stuck with me to the bitterend.

Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project and a researcher on habits, once said (and I’m paraphrasing) if you want to do something for yourself, to make yourself happy, do what you enjoyed when you were a child. Pokemon is what enjoyed, and still to this day, I love it. I always played the latest generation in the main series and even gave those side spin-off games a try (if you haven’t already, I’d recommend checking out the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series). I try my best to keep up to date on all the Pokemon news – which there has been an handful of lately. I am even a content writer on a Pokemon fansite/podcast called PUCL, where I have made great friends from around the world. Pokemon was an important part of my childhood and it has stayed with me through to adulthood.

Going back to the original generation was a nostalgia trip that I was more than happy to take. It felt like I was going back to the roots of the entire franchise, forgetting about the metagame, trying to min/max all of my Pokemon so I can have the very best team, trying to out predict the AI. All that mattered with playing the game. It reminded me of that Poke-charm that made me fall in love with games all those years ago.

So thank you Pokemon. And Happy 20th Birthday.


Have any of you played the rerelease of Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow? What’s it like for you going back in time and playing the game? Or maybe you haven’t played since the first generation? I would love to hear your Poke-stories in a comment!


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