Review by FuzzyJello

Reviewed: 06/22/10 | Updated: 11/19/10

It has clear problems, it divides gamers, and it's fun will never fade.

Pokemon Blue Review

Pokemon became a phenomenon thanks to far more than its original games (The American media is far more likely to reference the card game, for example), and known for various technical and design problems and creating one of the most polarizing series in video games. They still stand as technical marvels. They adopt the philosophy of simple, approachable game play that the Gameboy stood for; all the while pushing the machine to its limit- they filled the cartridge!

Plot/Concept: 5

No, I did not give the Gamefaqs default Pokemon score of 3.

You play as a nameless boy, who has become old enough to legally leave home and begin a Pokemon journey, in which he captures monsters to befriend and train to battle competitively with other trainers and the eight gym leaders, high-level trainers specializing in different types of Pokemon, to ultimately battle the Elite Four and the reigning Champion and be declared best in the country. When you attempt to leave town, Pokemon Academic Professor Oak stops you, giving you and your nameless rival two of his last Pokemon and tasking you with completing a “Pokedex”, a portable electronic encyclopedia which would ideally be the most complete reference of its kind- a feat he had wished he completed. Team Rocket, an ambitious mafia specializing in the control, breeding (and ultimately, abuse) of Pokemon, has begun to operate across the country. Their leader, Giovanni, understands that he who controls the strongest monsters controls the world, and his group’s various schemes revolve around either fundraising or finding them.

The Pokemon story is a typical Japanese Children’s Video Game story- a world which revolves around its gimmick, complete with a legitimate tournament that the protagonist hopes to compete in, and a dark organization that spits in the face of what the rest of world believes which he must defeat. On one hand, most of the people you encounter on your adventure exist to help you (Explaining Pokemon, Game Mechanics, or aspects of their hometown relevant to the player), the general populace is your tool. There are few plot twists, and the ones that are there could have been much better implemented. On the other hand, the world is diverse, there are a few devout citizens, and a number of important characters- the Gym Leaders in particular- get important bits of back story.

Being a kid’s game, there are awfully suspicious moments. Why is a ten-year old boy being allowed to travel the world, when having super-powered monsters does not protect him from ten-year old ignorance? Are Rocket soldiers really so unarmed as to be powerless once their Pokemon fall? What a world this must be where so few people to care about having their homes barged into! Some trainers have the boldest dialogue too, “Eek! Did you touch me?”, “I’m the Karate King! Your fate rests with me!”, “I raise Pokemon because I live alone”, and the now famous “I like shorts! They’re comfy and easy to wear!"

You will wonder what Satoshi Tajiri and the rest were thinking when they wrote this game. It is too simple for most, but let it be and it is charming.

Gameplay: 8

Outside of battle, it is a simple quest. Though there are some legitimate events, such as finding new methods of transportation or driving out Team Rocket, much of the game is simply getting to your next Gym, solving whatever problems- serious or petty- to get there. Most of the people in the game can be avoided if you know what to do. You move from town to town, battling and capturing wild Pokemon and humans training them, the latter of which earns you money. You talk to people, solving their problems, take their advice, or solving environmental puzzles.

You buy incrementally more effective and costly medicine for your Pokemon, and sometimes buy or find other items on the road, such as “Technical Machines” which teach Pokemon attacks, Poke Balls (Pokemon capture devices), or other tools. On occasion, you gain a “Hidden Machine”, which teaches a Pokemon a special attack that has a use outside of battle, be it moving boulders, riding on water, or cutting thick trees. All of these moves have corresponding Gym Badges, rendering the first half of the game linear, and the second half completely open.

Battles are turned-based, in which Pokemon exchange attacks until one of them faints- or captured, in a wild battle. Attacks either deal damage, increase or decrease statistics, or inflict status problems (Paralysis, poison, sleep, burn, freeze or confusion) -some doing more than one. Wild Pokemon are found in tall grass, caves, abandoned buildings, on the water, or from fishing. A few are obtained from events, such as a revived fossil, a gift, or a prize. The Pokedex provides interesting (but irrelevant to gameplay) information on Pokemon, and allows you to check for known locations of anything you have seen, whether or not you have caught it. You can store more Pokemon in twelve 20-monster boxes in Computers in Pokemon Centers across the country, and items in a single, thirty slot box.

The five stats, HP, Attack, Defense, Speed, and Special, determine a Pokemon’s overall combat ability. HP being Hit Points lost when damage is taken and regained with healing items or recovery moves- a Pokemon faints and leaves battle when they hit zero. Attack, determining physical attack strength, Defense, determining physical resistance, Speed, determining which who moves first, and Special, determining the Pokemon’s power with and resistance to special attacks. Physical attacks tend to involve contact (Normal, Fighting, Flying), or earth and soil (Rock, Ground, Poison), special attacks involve things considered supernatural to control (Fire, Water, Psychic, Ice, etc.)

Pokemon can be one (or two) of fifteen types, which determine the attack types they prefer (The “base power” of a same-type move rises by 50% before damage is calculated), what they are vulnerable to and take double damage from, and what they resist and take half damage from. Having a team of different types and with diverse attacks is recommended- having three Pokemon of the same type with three different moves of one type, for example, is a horrible idea. The Psychic type is odd, because it’s one weakness, the Bug type, does not have many attacking moves, and on few Pokemon. As an unexpected consolation, most Psychic Pokemon have either pitiful physical defense, are slow, or have a second type that can be easily taken advantage of.

When Pokemon battle, they gain experience points, and eventually level up (To a maximum of 100). This increases their properties by a point or three, and may cause them to learn new attacks, or even evolve (The ultimate goal of battling monsters, get them bigger!). It is perfectly possible to level up too high and sweep through most of the game’s battles with ease and throw all of this type nonsense out the window, but if you play with a full team of six, this is unlikely. Evolution for most is simply reaching a certain level, but some Pokemon evolve when given elemental stones that set them off, and four (Kadabra, Machoke, Graveler, and Haunter) evolve by trading over a link cable.

Multiplayer is split into two modes: Battle and Trade. Battles are just that, two player’s Pokemon teams battle without gaining experience points or using items. Given that the Pokemon used in the story cap out at level 65, going toe-to-toe with a friend with monsters of similar levels is the game’s ultimate replay value. Trading is also self explanatory, two players exchange Pokemon. Though traded monsters get 50% more experience, they will only obey the player if they have corresponding badges.

Though the game is great fun, there are a number of problems. Many features are not explained, such as which types are physical or special, nor their weaknesses and resistances. Several types do not work properly. The game’s choice of replenishable TMs is horrid- powerful attacks such as Earthquake, Psychic, or Blizzard can only be obtained once in a game, while you can buy mostly normal-type attacks that many Pokemon cannot even use. HMs cannot be forgotten at all, and most of them are not viable attacks. Pokemon boxes must be changed manually when they fill, which can ruin a good catch with a “The box is full!” message.

The other flaws appear the in stat system, specifically the Special stat, move distribution, and to an extent Pokemon distribution. By making Special both an offensive and defensive stat, any Psychic Pokemon competent in the stat becomes both an attacker and “special wall”, essentially resisting half the types in the game without type resistance- while everything with low special is overly vulnerable. Many physically inclined Pokemon, such as the crab Kingler, can barely use their own type offensively because their Special is low. The distribution of attacks is also unbalanced; some Pokemon can learn moves from 8 types with TMs, most can learn around five, but some learn as little as two. What is worse, some Pokemon are straight up stronger than others; between two skilled players it is not difficult to create one-sided, genuinely unwinnable match-ups.

I give the game an 8, in spite of these things, because monster balance means little in the actual story, and rest of the hiccups can be predicted.

Graphics: 7

The world of Pokemon is a delightful mix of fantasy and space-age technology, in keeping with its inspiration being nature and wildlife in the face of urbanization, and presents a miniature world on the tiny-screened Game Boy. The world itself has many of the normal Role-Playing locales; quiet small towns, sprawling cities, and landmarks, most of which use color puns (“Pallet Town”, “Vermillion City”, etc.). You have several laboratories, a department store, and a central city so big it connects to the four adjacent towns. You also have a nature reserve, several caves and mountains, and long routes of nothing but grass and streams. All of which are cleanly rendered with square buildings, bricks, and endless background bits. What the game lacks in plot, it makes up in scenery.

The Pokemon themselves are a mixed bag; represented as one of six general sprites on the overworld and on your team menu, and as still pictures in battle, as much as can be expected of a Game Boy RPG. Most of the monsters do not match their appearances in the other Pokemon media- a few of them look more ridiculous, most are more menacing. The irony of Pokemon being so cute despite their powers and natures is on full display with these sprites.

Sadly, there are a few that just look bad, and many of the back shots you see when you control that Pokemon are pixilated messes. The attack animations are either generic “pow” marks, or specific animations, such as flames, lightning bolts, or falling rocks. It’s all bearable enough.

Sound: 8

Pokemon’s soundtrack is not the most ambitious. It is a stellar mood-setter. Every environment in the game has a clear feeling, thanks to the music that accompanies it. Routes use several quaint tunes, based on their size. Small towns are quiet, large ones busy, caves are intimidating. The cruise ship SS Anne is regal, the Silph Corporation, a large building and a target of Team Rocket, is panicked. The battle with a run-of-the-mill trainer is a game, with a Gym Leader serious business, and the final battle theme is considered borderline legendary among fans. As Game Boy tunes, however, they quickly repeat, if you end of despising the sounds… mute your machine quickly.
The sound effects amount to simple clicks, attack noises, and Pokemon “cries” when they enter battle. Nothing extraordinary.

Though the plot is of fair length, the player has little to do after winning at the Pokemon League. There are four “Legendary Pokemon” to capture, and three optional dungeons. The story suddenly dies; there are no secret bosses, and no places to battle with uniform levels. Link battles and completing the Pokedex are your only real post game activities. You cannot re-battle most trainers; your only late game source of money is to endlessly defeat the Elite Four. It must be noted that replay value rises significantly when you connect to the Pokemon Stadium games on Nintendo 64. The two games give you dozens of “competitive” battles to make additional use of your monsters, as well as on-cart storage in case you want to reset the game.

If the "mature" gamer does not let age, platform, or past marketing deter their judgement of what a good game is, than despite its reputation, design flaws, and technical limitations, Pokemon holds.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Pokemon Blue Version (US, 09/30/98)

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