Review by MaxH

"Water. Oxygen. Pokemon."

Do you have the T-shirts? Do you have the hit single? The trading cards? The movie? The other movie? The OTHER movie? The pencil sharpener? No? How about the game? You don't want it? All part of the craze? Wrong. It's the start of the craze, and the setter of a massively popular gaming trend. It's an RPG, but not one based on strong characters or an enthralling storyline. It's one that plays on our compulsive nature to have everything, and it does it with style. I hate to say it (no, I REALLY do) but you really have gotta catch 'em all.

Anyway, on to the story. Ash (Or whatever you choose to call him) sets off on a journey to become the ultimate pokemon master (That's pronounced 'MASTAH!!!') and to win the final battle against 'the elite four'. There's no real backstory behind the character, or anything like that. Catch the pokemon, train the pokemon, win battles with the pokemon and that's basically it. Other important characters are Professor Oak the crazy old recluse who gives you a pokedex (A machine that will store information on every pokemon you have caught and seen) for his study, and also gives you a choice of three pokemon to start with. The other major player Gary, or whatever you want to name him (Juvenile idiots like me will take pleasure in giving him a 'rude' name and laughing every time he appears). He is Prof Oak's grandson, and your rival, he's so mean! Well I assume he's supposed to be anyway, although lines like 'get ready punk!' don't upset me too much.

Other characters? Pokemon! there's 150 of them! Well, technically since I'm reviewing Blue there's slightly less than 150 (The fantastic Oddish is missing for one), but those can be traded in from the red version, and vice versa for the creatures Blue has but red doesn't. Which should answer your question of 'why are there two games?' Well, to make loads of money for nintendo is another, but let's not get into that.

So you move Ash from town to town, training and catching new pokemon, helping citizens and beating the gym leaders of each town. The story may not sound exciting and, in essence, it's anything but. But it's the way things are done, the wonderfully crafted atmosphere, the world you live in. You get to name your pokemon (You can carry up to six at a time) and you grow to really care about them. you have your strong ones, your cute but useless ones (Good for lowering the energy of your opponent down enough to catch it, but not to kill it) and your plain all-rounders. I named mine after family and friends, and after the hours of playing time, that's exactly what they felt like. Old Jean my Pidgeotto, Max my bulbasaur (I have to get SOME glory) and Corey my butterfree. If you've not played the game, then it's likely you are writing this paragraph off as irrelevant babble. But if you have, I bet the names of YOUR pokemon are whizzing through your head right now.

Before I get into minute details, you'll need to know the basic gameplay structure. You have space in your bag for six pokeballs (containers of Pokemon) once the amount of pokemon you have caught exceeds six, newly caught pokemon will be sent to a computer where they can be swapped with pokemon you currently hold, or set free (There's no limits on Pokemon you can store on the computer, so I'm guessing only people who still collect Tamagotchi's will be choosing this option). These computers can be accessed in pokemon Centers, buildings in each town that can heal your pokemon. Other places found in towns are Pokeshops, where you can buy Pokeballs (You need one for every new pokemon you catch) and various health potions and other assorted RPG-familiar items. Also you will find a gym, which will usually contain two or more pokemon trainers you will have to fight, followed by the gym leader (Who will almost always possess just one type of Pokemon) battle them and you receive a badge allowing you to build your pokemon up to higher levels. Then it's on to the route between this town and the next. And so it continues.

The format, laid out in basic description, sounds a bit dull really, but really the locations, characters and story are irrelevant. They are all eclipsed by the presence of the mighty pokemon. To find these you must search around in patches of long grass until you are suddenly thrown into battle with a wild one (It's not just patches of grass, other random battles occur in places such as the sea, caves and special places like the haunted tower). To catch a pokemon, you must whittle it's energy down to almost nothing, and then throw a pokeball at it. A pokemon has space for four moves, it starts off with one or two, then learns more as it progresses (You can also find new moves scattered around the game world which can be taught to certain pokemon). When your moves are full up and you can learn a new one you must ignore the new move, or throw an old one away. Fighting will gain your pokemon experience points which will level them up eventually. Some pokemon evolve into new ones when they get to a certain level. You have to figures for each pokemon, attack points and hit points, both can be replenished for free at the Pokemon Center.

Sorry if that summary of the basics seemed rushed, but I don't want to spend too much time on that, if I'm going to score this game a ten, you need to know why. Quite simply it's all about obsession. I completed Pokemon in a month, but it took me 60 hours to do so. I don't usually spend 60 hours a month on one game, especially if it's one I got for christmas, meaning there are usually about three other brand new games vying for my attention in that same month.

It just draws you in. The over-used slogan is indeed correct, gotta catch 'em all. That's what goes through your brain as you travel through your quest. You won't be content until you get that e-mail from crazy old Prof Oak congratulating you on catching all 150 pokemon. I've said this a lot in my reviews, but I've never meant it more than I have here: It's one of the most satisfying, fulfilling moments of a videogame ever. Actually, I'd go for THE most satisfying moment in a game ever. You'll stare in awe at the screen for a few seconds, maybe minutes, looking constantly at the number 150. It feels like a life goal achieved. Rather dramatic I know, but you have spent a solid month on this after all. I'd lost weight during finishing this (Not a lie). There are a lot of games that you can lose yourself in, but this is the only one I've ever played for a full day before, from when you get up, to when you go to bed. No time to pause, play it under the dinner table. It eliminates the need to do anything else.

And it's these wonderful creatures that makes the game so appealing. Every time you encounter a pokemon you haven't seen before you feel a pang of excitement, and a tense veil comes over the otherwise cheerful game. This may be the last time you see this pokemon for hours. It MUST be yours, or you'll die trying. You'll have your favourites around you, helping your crusade towards the elite four, your family and friends. The challenges come thick and fast, trainers who DARE challenge your excellence will be crushed. And hours that seem like seconds will be spent just wandering around in the grass, waiting for something new, or simply finding something for your existing pokemon to battle to raise their levels. Even the most boring tasks turn into something real, a personal quest and something you know which will amount to a lot of glory, a lot of fun, and a lot of pokemon. And why? Because you're there. I've never, ever been so taken in by a gameboy game before, so enthralled, but this game is so inspired, so captivating. The concept is so BRILLIANT, I just can't help but forget everything else.

The basic gameplay only serves to compliment the genius central idea. It's simple enough so as not to over-complicate things, but it also has enough moments of variety (The pokemon safari park is excellent fun, as is the haunted tower and the pokemon cruise) and depth in combat to keep things involving. There is a lot of extra stuff to get (Such as the bike, once you have it you wondered how you lived without it) and quite a few secrets to uncover. Even without the pokemon it would be a solid, if unspectacular RPG. With, it's pure gaming joy at it's very best.

It doesn't look too impressive in the top down RPG mode. Nothing is ugly, it's just VERY basic. It does the job but I feel a little more style and imagination could be put in, considering the huge amounts of both that were lavished upon the gameplay. The pokemon animations, though, are brilliant. They jiggle around as they attack and so it all looks very, well, gameboy-ish but the cute anime style and creative character design lend the game massive visual appeal.

The game's music is ever so slightly under-pronounced. It's subtle in many areas, bold and garish in a few. But I feel something great could have been achieved here, subtle is good, but the tunes often feel as if they need to get going. Still, that's the only real complaint, the music usually gives a great mood to the game, enhancing your belief that you live in this fantasy world.

As for how long you'll spend on it, mark down 60+ hours. I collected extra pokemon and trained up existing ones before finishing after 60 hours, but I also had a few hours of monster hunting left. And since the 60 hours is so damn enjoyable, I'd say that's pretty good for a 'mere' gameboy game. Although I'm sure playing through again would be a fairly pleasant appeal, I'm pretty sure the draw of the game would lost second time round. It was some of the best hours I spent on a game, but I don't have the urge to play it all again. Although I always come back to battle my pokemon with those of my friends'.

So please, whatever you do, don't carry on thinking it's just hype. Try it, after playing it I can't see how anyone would want to miss it. It's a true classic to be remembered by all. I don't like RPG's, but I LOVE Pokemon. Pokemon was my life for the month of January, and those of my friends who have owned it would say the same (Some of them casual gamers. Well, not any more they aren't). It's a simple idea, turned into a sprawling, living, breathing world. Catch them all. You won't be disappointed.

How do you get Pikachu onto a bus?
+ It swallows you up and doesn't spit you out until you've finished.
+ Sleep, food? what's that?
+ Truly magnificent idea for a game
+ Executed with stunning style and lots of ideas
+ Gameplay is basic enough to appeal to younger players, but deep enough to attract wisened RPG fans.
+ Lots of variety to brighten things up
+ Excellent pokemon animations
+ Long lasting, fun multiplayer
+ The appeal of the Pokemon themselves
+ Secrets and extras to uncover
+ Over 60 hours of gameplay. Not counting the time spent on multiplayer.
+ Frankly, blue is a much better colour than red.

You Pokemon!
- Basic graphics overall
- Music isn't as good as it should have been
- It ends. And once it does, you don't feel the need to replay it

If you like this....
Pokemon Yellow - GB: Basically the same as this, except you have Pikachu tag along with you, there's a surfing pikachu section, and Jesse and James from the cartoon pop up
Pokemon Gold/Silver - GBC: True sequels to red and blue, these add a whole load of exciting new features, and add on enough variations to make it worth purchasing for people who have this one.
Pokemon Crystal - GBC: Aside from being able to play as a girl rather than a boy, I'm not entirely sure in what ways this differs from gold and silver.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 12/08/01, Updated 12/08/01

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