Pokémon is a franchise beloved by many, over 22 million to be more exact. This number is based solely on the sales of Pokémon’s most recent game, “Pokémon Sword and Shield,” and doesn’t even factor in the sales of movie tickets, trading cards, and various other merchandise! But how did this all come to be? Nearly all of Pokémon standing today can be attributed to the booming success of its first game: “Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue.”
Released in September of 1998 (1) on the Nintendo GameBoy, “Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue” was a smash hit. Playgrounds were filled with trades, discussions, rumors, and battles all made possible by Nintendo’s genius implementation of the link cable, allowing the first communication between video game consoles. Everyone you ask who played these games as a child will sing its praises, but how good are they really? In this article, I will answer this and much more, as I have played these games and their remakes numerous times and have forged my opinion in the fire of the heated online discussions and debates of the deepest, darkest crevices of the internet (2).
“Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue” are entertaining games, even by today’s standards. The combination of battles, traveling, training, and unraveling the mysteries of Kanto (3) all come together to form a gameplay loop so perfect that it is even used today. Whenever I play “Pokémon Red and Blue” or any of its variants, I never fail to get invested in my Pokémon I am raising, the character I play as, and the fictional journey the game takes me on. I absolutely love all of the personalities that are tightly condensed into eleven megabytes, so much so that people often describe the game as being held together by love and duct tape. Gym leaders are always interesting to meet, new Pokémon are always interesting to encounter and evolve, and your rival makes you want to become the champion even more than your fictional in-game character.
Now that you have a good understanding of how the game works and makes you feel, let's get into some of the more negative aspects of the game. First off, the fact that you probably have a higher yearly income than the number of pixels on the screen (4) at any given time is one of the games’ biggest detriments and does the graphics of the game no favors. More often than not the game leaves the details of various routes and cities, people, Pokémon, and attacks up to the player’s own imagination. I personally feel that the graphics of the game give me so little to interpret, making it hard for me to form an image in my head of who and what Kanto really is. All of these reasons lead me to the conclusion that the graphics are my biggest gripe with the game.
Many will also cite the chip-tune audio, condensed story, lackluster animations, and the game’s major glitches (5) as making the game unplayable, all the way to making the game the best game that will ever exist. If you’ll notice a pattern here, most of the game's shortcomings come from the technological limitations of the time. If you look at the remakes of the games that have come out as recently as 2019 in “Let’s Go Pikachu” and “Let’s Go Eevee” all of the “limitations of its time” are cancelled, giving us an extremely refined experience with the same heart of the original game.
It’s really hard to give a definitive answer as to the quality of these games because it can be looked at in so many different contexts.
In the context of 1998, I would say “oh boy is this a fantastic game. Even with other handheld consoles and their games that look slightly nicer than this, they cost almost 3 times the amount of a Game Boy with a copy of Pokémon and a link cable for a game of almost equal quality. I’d say If you're not playing Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue, you’re missing out, big time.” However, it isn’t 1998.
In 2021, Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue are kind of mediocre games. Whenever I play I think “hey, why am I not playing a better Pokémon game or game in general?” The gameplay can get repetitive at times and the best way to play it is emulated on your phone or computer, so why not just alt-tab or swipe out and go do something else much more entertaining?
On the other hand of their mediocrity, they are relics of their time and if you’re a fan of the series as it is now, you would definitely find some enjoyment in going back and playing the games. You might even find yourself laughing at how little the series has evolved and progressed when looking at the most recent resales, exploiting the interesting glitches, or simply appreciating and learning where all of the modern games originated from.
I haven't lied to you, reader, these games absolutely reek of when they were made; however, I wouldn’t let this discourage you from playing them, as there are many ways to do so. To the person who knows they would get confused or bored staring at the little blocks moving around on screen, I recommend playing the most recent remake on the Nintendo Switch. To the person who needs to be on the edge of their seat every second that they play a game, to you I do not recommend these games at all. Now to the person who has a genuine interest in Pokémon, I would believe that you have already played and enjoyed all aforementioned games, and if you haven’t you should definitely go out and do so.
If I had to give the games an objective rating, I’d say it’s a sturdy 5.3/10; however, if we get into the realm of personal preference, as someone who is a huge fan of Pokémon, I’d say 6.8/10.
1 -Technically Red and Blue were released in 1996 in Japan, however the versions of the game are vastly different. With rough dialogue translation, bug patches, sprite changes, and more being changed and fixed before overseas release, it is unfair to clump the two together. I played the american copy of the game, so I am talking from the perspective of the American.
2 - Reddit
3 - The fictional region in which the Pokémon game takes place (yes it is based off of the “Kanto” region of Japan)
4 - The number of pixels on a screen is determined by the screen’s resolution. The resolution then represents the number of horizontal rows of pixels by the number of vertical rows of pixels. Your average resolution today is 1920x1080, theoretically giving you a dreamy 7 figure income if we continue to abide by the aforementioned analogy. The gameboy’s screen resolution is measly when held to today’s standard, standing at miniscule 160x144.
5 - Most of which, if not all require the player to go out of their way to perform