Review by MSuskie

"Face the truth: Pokemon is a force to be reckoned with."

[Just a foreword. The original Pokemon was released in two color-coded versions, Red and Blue. They're essentially the same game, but merely have a few very minor differences that I'll detail a bit later. I have played them both extensively, but I've decided to review Blue, since that's the one I bought. But seeing as how both versions are basically identical, you can go ahead and consider this my review for both games.]

Explaining the popularity of Pokemon would be silly and unnecessary. We remember the craze. The games, the show, the cards, the T-shirts, the Burger King toys, the imitators, the presence of Pikachu everywhere you look. It was ubiquitous, an inescapable frenzy that could drive you crazy if you weren't a fan.

Ah, but I was a fan. Because no matter how lame all those spin-offs are, no matter how much the fad has died off, and no matter how sick I am of seeing Pikachu's face, one thing will never change: The handheld Pokemon games are fantastic.

Picture this. A massive RPG, fully loaded, with a hundred and fifty characters to choose from, each with their own unique traits: Elemental types, offensive and defensive moves, transformations, out-of-battle abilities, everything. And each one of these characters must be hunted down and caught individually, and trained excessively to perform well in combat. Pokemon was, at the time, the deepest RPG ever to grace a handheld, and today is only topped by its sequels, of which there are many.

These characters are of course the Pokemon themselves, strange and varied little creatures that inhabit this fictional world. They run wild, but are mainly captured, trained, and used in battle for sport. (Kind of like cockfighting, really.) As a lone trainer from the tiny Pallet Town, you are tasked with catching as many different kinds of Pokemon as you can and taking on the world's most powerful Pokemon masters in combat.

Each Pokemon has a different type, with said “types” working like traditional RPG elements taken to the next step. The basic triangle of Pokemon types works kind of like rock-paper-scissors: Fire beats grass, grass beats water, and water beats fire. It expands from there. Lightning does nothing to ground, but takes out flying-type in a snap. Flying beats grass and bug, but is weak against rock. Fighting beats rock but can't do zilch to ghost. And so on and so forth. It's so complicated that the instruction manual has an entire chart dedicated to this madness. Creating a well-balanced party – you can have up to six Pokemon at any given time – is just part of the strategy.

Battles work in the typical turn-based sense, but are incredibly simple since no Pokemon can have more than four battle moves at once. All Pokemon level up, and many of them will eventually evolve into bigger, grander, more powerful Pokemon types when they hit a certain level. Allowing these creatures to grow is a great way to reward players for their hard work, and really puts the motivation on us.

Catching a Pokemon involves a bit of strategy, too, as it's not just a matter of defeating any wild Pokemon you come across. Pokemon are captured with Pokeballs, but you have to weaken them first. But DON'T KILL THEM! You've got to fight them until their HP is just low enough to make them weak for capture. If you accidentally knock a Pokemon's HP to zero, it'll faint and it can't be caught. It's a tricky process and really requires careful strategy.

At the center of this gotta-catch-‘em-all madness is a device called the Pokedex, which records data on any Pokemon that you've personally owned. The basic objective of the game is to wander the world collecting badges from appointed “gym leaders” (i.e., Pokemon masters that are tough to beat), which eventually leads you to an enormous battle tournament at the game's climax. Completing your Pokedex – that is, getting information on all one hundred and fifty Pokemon – is not required, but merely a side objective for completion freaks who want to take on that extra challenge.

The task is daunting. Some Pokemon are more rare than others, and a select few can only be fought once. There's also the process of leveling up your Pokemon to get their evolutions recorded in your Pokedex, which takes time, too. Furthermore, each version of the game – there are two, as I mentioned before – has its own set of exclusive Pokemon. You can only ever get the special Pokemon from another version by using the Game Boy link cable to trade with a buddy who has that version. So completing your Pokedex really takes commitment.

On that multiplayer thing, I have to say something. Pokemon allows you to link up with players of either version, whether it be to trade Pokemon or engage is a friendly battle. The latter is optional, but a completed Pokedex requires you to link up at some point. And just like that, without online clans or chatting or anything, Nintendo had created a Pokemon community on a system that previously barely used multiplayer at all. It really is commendable.

What's even more commendable, though, is just how broad a range this game struck when it hit the scene in 1998. Pokemon is generally considered by non-fans to be a kids' game, what with all the cutesy characters. And the game is simple enough that an eight-year-old can easily understand how to play it, as evidenced by the franchise's numerous pre-adolescent fans. But it's also deep enough that an adult can be instantly engaged. This is how every game should be: Incredibly simple at heart, but a dense and addicting adventure when all is said and done.

You have to remember something: It all started with this game. All of it. Had Pokemon, the Game Boy title, not been a success, we wouldn't have witnessed the Great Pokemon Craze that struck the world like a comet. Some will take this as reason enough to hold the game with contempt, but you've got to think about it. There's a REASON so many people became mesmerized by the franchise, and no, it wasn't because Pikachu is so gosh-darn cute. It's because the videogame itself is simple, intelligent, and breaktakingly monstrous.

I could cite Pokemon's few weaknesses, like the cruddy graphics (some of the Pokemon are drawn so poorly, I have trouble figuring out what they're supposed to look like), or the fact that there's only one save slot. But I'd rather not get into that, because Pokemon is such a spectacular adventure that its few flaws are practically irrelevant. It's huge, addictive, expansive, and quite simply the best handheld RPG I've ever played.

Pros

+ A hundred and fifty of ‘em. Start catching.
+ Amazingly deep and expansive.
+ Challenging and very rewarding.
+ Completing the Pokedex is a daunting task.
+ Multiplayer options were outstanding (and encouraged).

Cons

- Ugly graphics.
- Why only one save slot?

Overall: 10/10

If you think you're too manly to play Pokemon, go ahead and ignore it. But you'd be missing out on one of the most amazing RPG experiences ever crafted. Honestly, these games are so big and open-ended in their designs, and so fun in the meantime, that there are few other ways in which I'd ultimately rather be spending my gaming hours. The original Pokemon has since been overshadowed by its numerous sequels, but none of those will ever be the revelation that the original was. Nintendo really has created a franchise worthy of its popularity, and these Game Boy RPG's are the proof.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 05/07/07


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