Review by BigCj34

"What started out a popular franchise still remains a classic today."

The Pokemon series became popular in the UK back in 1999 starting off as a Game Boy game, and have to date appeared on the Game Boy Color, Advance an the DS, plus spinoffs on the N64 and Gamecube. There are two versions, the Red Version and Blue Version which are ultimately the same, albeit with slight minor differences, such as Pokemon that appear on Red are more common than on Blue and vice versa. Along with it's popularity on the Game Boy, there was all this merchandise launched, including a TV program, sticker albums, sweets, loads of other things plus an attribute based trading card game. That was popular at the time, but schools like my former primary banned any of the merchandise being bought in because of theft of cards. Nowadays, every aspect of it is slagged off, all my cards sit in a shoe box catching dust, but one thing decent remains good today, the games.

Although I only play on it on holiday, the Red and Blue versions are arguably the best in the series. Why? Well they were original at the time, and the newer version sticks to the traditional, tried and tested formula with the only real changes in later releases being made to other aspects of the game such as the graphics, more Pokemon and the world for instance. The whole concept and story is simple, you are a boy called Ash who reaches his 10th birthday and so is eligible for a license to train Pokemon, so he sees professor Oak to get a Pokemon to start off with. There's a Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle who all end up to be powerful Pokemon on their own merits (I picked Bulbasaur) and to add a bit of spice, you also have a rival called Gary, a childhood friend who now is your rival and challenges you to a battle throughout the game, with one against him just when you've picked your Pokemon. You're later given the Pokedex that you are assigned to finish, the Pokedex being a database for recording information on any Pokemon you have got hold of.

On the quest, you come across wild Pokemon who can be caught by Poke Ball's for you to keep and raise them if you choose, while there's plenty of other Pokemon trainers who are ready to pit their wits against you, but who are mostly a walkover. Wild Pokemon appear in all kinds of areas, be it caves such as Mt Moon or the rock tunnel, long grass, surfing in the water, fishing, in the Viridian forest, as prizes, in game trades, you have to look everywhere to catch ‘em all. They must be weakened a lot to stand a chance of catching them, and higher level Pokemon can be caught only by tossing more durable poke Ball models.

Other areas of notable mention consist of a large office building which has been took over by a criminal gang in the name of Team Rocket, while Pokemon can also be won form the bandits in the Celadon city casino or the safari zone where the only way to catch a Pokemon is by throwing food or stones, fighting is forbidden! Gary appears on occasions waiting to battle you, who will be roughly the same level as your Pokemon while Team Rocket confronts you on their quest, stealing Pokemon and just not taking care of them. In most towns there is a gym, which is less of a place where you pump irons and row on stationary boats but more like a venue to fight the gym leader, each gym leader specialises in a certain type of Pokemon and should you beat the gym leader, you get a badge that grants you prestigious rewards such as allowing your Pokemon obey you at higher levels and increasing attributes. Once you get all the gym badges, you take on the Elite Four, who are the master trainers, and at the end of the Elite Four, you must battle the true Pokemon Master, that's Gary!

The battle system is pretty simple, you can carry up to 6 Pokemon, so it's advisable to have a mixed party of different types of Pokemon, and should be the ones you intend to use against the Elite Four. On the battle screen there are four selections, attack, use item, change Pokemon and run and each Pokemon can learn a maximum of four moves. The battle system is mainly turn based, but sometimes if a Pokemon is fast enough, they can steal two successive moves. The attributes include speed, attack, defence, special attack and defence, evasion and accuracy, whilst Pokemon moves have a limited amount of PP which vary, depending on it's strength (The tackle move for example has 35 turns, while hydro pump only has 5), and are only replenished at a Pokemon centre or with an item. Pokemon can learn new moves by training them and will learn moves at certain levels, or using a TM although compatibility with them varies depending on the Pokemon. The battle system, while basic, is perfectly usable and does lead to some tense times when fighting. The real decision makers are from what moves to keep and choose should a Pokemon learn a new move when it already has four, getting rid of tackle is an easy one, but should you get rid of sleep-powder? It's your choice.

All the Pokemon have their strengths and weaknesses from the many Pokemon types and attacks. Thunder attacks are good against water Pokemon, and thunder Pokemon are weak against rock moves for example. Pokemon HP increases through experience or HP-Ups, while some moves can also inflict status effects like poison, sleep, etc. while others can affect the attack in the battle for instance. Pokemon level up by the usual exp. points and go up a level when they've got enough and this gives the advantage of increased stats and new moves, all familiar RPG stuff, however if a Pokemon learns a new move despite having four, one has to be deleted (sorry, but tackle just has to go). Using Technical Machines ™ or Hidden Machines (HM) you can teach a Pokemon a move that they wouldn't normally learn, TM's can only be used once, but HM's can be used any time you like. There are 50 TM's and 5 HM's and these are obtained by finding them, prizes, by buying them or as rewards. HM moves are essential to learn to get through the game, as they can be used on the field map, while some TM's do that too. HM moves cannot be deleted, a feature not present until Gold/Silver, which seems rather odd if I say so myself.

One of the unique features of the Pokemon series is the ability to evolve Pokemon. Many Pokemon evolve simply by levelling up to the required level, while some are evolved by exposure to rare and expensive elemental stones. Four Pokemon evolve when trade to a friend (more on that later), while a few don't evolve at all. Evolving Pokemon has the advantage of them being stronger, but don't learn new moves until a later level, elemental stone evolvers don't learn any new moves when evolves, usually meaning it's not a good idea to evolve many until level 50. If you can't wait for your Bulbasaur to learn Solar Beam, press B to cancel the evolution process when it happens. Evolving Pokemon really does add an extra dimension to an over-saturated genre and adds that bit extra flexibility, plus the bragging rights that you've got a Blastoise in your team. Oh yes.

Most towns in the game consist of the usual shop, a Pokemon center to replenish all your battle-wounded accomplices while many also have gyms, while most townsfolk are happy to help you as well. Most towns have different characteristics about them, Celadon for instance has a massive shopping centre and the casino, Vermillion is a tranquil fishing harbour, Lavender has the Spooky Pokemon tower while Cinnabar Island is a hustling volcanic town. Shops usually sell first-aid equipment for you pokemon, such as potions and antidotes plus Poke Balls to actually catch wild Pokemon. Pokemon centres also allow you to store items and other Pokemon you caught in your PC (you can only carry six) plus you can receive a reassuring, but ultimately meaningless, Pokedex rating from the familiar Professor Oak. Pokemon centres are also the venue for trading Pokemon or fighting a friend (or enemy if you wish) via link cable. Certain Pokemon don't appear in one version but appear in another, while some situations require you to make a choice between one Pokemon or the other (such as at the start), meaning you'd have to trade to get the other in your Pokedex as well.

The battling formula is well done, and an original idea for the game. Catching Pokemon and raising them up is fun to do, and fighting with your high level Pokemon who were at level 5 or 2 gives you that satisfaction element. Raising Pokemon, while it can feel dull, is rewarding and simply making progress through the game takes time away mindlessly and proves to be satisfying when done. While random battles does feel a chore at times, trainer battles and that element of exploration is part of what makes the game great. But once you have defeated the Elite Four, and got your party to ludicrously high levels, who in the right minds bar the hardcore will want to complete the Pokedex? It takes ages searching around for hours, it took me 100 hours to fully complete the game, and most of it was finding Pokemon. On a more positive note, random battles are at least a voluntary occurrence on many occasions, simply because you avoid the rgass, although in dungeons you have no choice and gets painstakingly annoying encountering the same ol' Zubat when you're trying to find the exit but you can use a repelling item as well. However, wild battles are a vital part of levelling up a strong party.

Graphics wise, they are perfectly functional but not the best looking, and being an original Game Boy cartridge, the game isn't in full colour, although the Game Boy Colour does have a preset colour scheme for the games. The animations in battles are pretty poor, whilst the Pokemon look ugly and bear little resemblance to the drawings many of us are used to. The field scenes are quite good, using a standard birds eye view, but you will soon notice that many areas are cut-and-paste drawings with many having artefacts on the edges, while the animations in battle are horribly basic. The buildings all look samey but with different sizes as with the scenery and house interiors, but the graphics run pretty smoothly and are perfectly functional. Granted, they are Game Boy graphics, but surely they could've done a better job. The in-game music itself is pretty well accomplished, with many soothing melodies and sinister tracks alike scattered throughout the game. Some of the tracks in the game are worth flying to their respective places to listen to, and adds some more to the game experience. The sound effects aren't too bad either, with attempts to encapsulate water and rock effects in battle, although can feel repetitive.

Needless to say the game is a lot more accessible than some RPG games, there is more freedom for roaming about and this is still a very well made RPG, and is a pretty original concept too. It may be “uncool” to play now, but this is a classic travel companion and still has dozens of hours of action, and is available on any Game Boy available. So forget pocket chess, 100 sudoku puzzles, or the Times crossword, if you're going to own a Pokemon game at least own this. The only niggle is that you've “Gotta catch ‘em all?” I don't think so. 8/10


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/17/04, Updated 05/04/07


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