Review: Pokemon Red & Blue

2016 is the 20th anniversary of Pokemon. I can safely say that this is one of my favorite video game franchises, if not the best. I could go on for many posts about what I love about Pokemon and I just might make a month out of that sometime. But for now we’ll just talk about the re-release of the original Red/Blue/Yellow Gameboy games on the Nintendo eShop. The 90s were something of a magical time for video games. Not because all the best games came out that time (but, holy shit, does the SNES have an amazing library). But because game developers had to make incredible games with very limited tools. Limitations breed creativity and it was so very obvious at this time.

It’s because of these limitations that reviews of older games need to be somewhat specialized. You could expect an inventory with 10,000 slots in it for a Gameboy game but that would just be foolish. Pokemon Red is 1MB big. Let that sink in for a moment, that’s a holy shit kind of moment right there. The sprites for raindrops in modern games are at least this big if not many times larger. It’s incredible to think that an entire game is inside that single MB. It blows my ass away so hard that I don’t know if I’ll be able to sit right again.

There is a lot that could be better in Pokemon Red, and I know, being a man of the future, that these things have largely been done. So this game is something of a time capsule reminding me of the promises I hoped for the future and how well the future turned out. The inventory, painfully small in Red, would grow to bursting in the future. The moves which are anything but balanced in the originals find their way to a beautifully honed edge in the future. And so on, and so forth.

How does the game hold up? Remarkably well! The music is mostly hits, they fit a lot of emotion and drama into a very small space. The artwork for most of the pokemon is absolutely great from the front, maybe not-so-much from the back but the artwork from the back is at least very inventive. Lest we forget that there are at least 150 (151 counting Mew) Pokemon Sprites from the front, another 150+ from the back, all the trainers, and even special event sprites like the ghost of Lavender Town. And, speaking of Lavender town, lets hear that song.

Sweet-tapdancing-christ. Every note is chilling, it’s a minute and a half of nightmare inducing perfection. This is the kind of thing that hits you throughout the entire game. Meticulous care to every pixel, every sound effect, and every motion. This is the kind of game that fills me with hope for my personal work and simultaneously fills me with dread. It shows me just how good developers already were in the 90s. How much they could fit into so little, how much they could get right on the first try.

I’ve been enjoying my entire time in the harsh lands of Kanto. Each Gym Leader, save for Erika, has been punishing and delightful. The level of their critters, and indeed the Pokemon of all trainers leading up to them, has routinely been at the level or higher than my own team. Part of this is my unwillingness to grind, but it means that each moment is intense. And the criticals, sweet jesus, every other move seems to degenerate into madness and tears. I love it.

And let us not forget the knowledge that soon I’ll be able to dupe via the magical majesty that is Missingno. I am so genuinely excited to dip back into the world of exploits that has been stripped clean from modern titles. The desire to nickel and dime users has lead developers to patch out any bugs that might “tarnish” their multiplayer or cash shop experiences. I don’t give a single care to the multiplayer world of any game, and I most certainly don’t respect cash shops. Every gym leader I defeat, every zone I clear, is one step closer to that great moment. I’ll be surfing up and down the side of Cinnabar Island and then BLAM…there it is.

I’m very excited. I purchased the 20th anniversary 3DS that came with both games and a custom theme. The print job on the plates is top notch. If I didn’t know any better I’d swear that the artwork was literally painted onto the plates. The theme itself is great and the pokemon SFX replacements for all the theme sounds, as well as the Pokemon music, is a great touch. I’m happy each time I open up the 3DS and it really sets me up for excitement as I load up the game.

Pokemon Red has brought back the most beautiful side of Nostalgia for me. It’s a side that has not tarnished with the passing of time. I am reminded that not all glory moments of my childhood were fallacious. Some were genuine, true pieces of joy and luck. I could have been born in any generation, but I got to be in the one that was blindsided by this game. Pokemon Red has pulled me away from four or five other games (including Dark Souls and Fire Emblem Fates). Each time I play them I think about it, and each time I play it I think about nothing else.

Is it a perfect game? No, it was and is an incredibly ambitious project that did a phenomenal amount of things with an incredibly small resource pool. Taking in mind just what they had to work with and what they created though…that for me really paints the picture. This is a great game for anyone that likes a challenge, and anyone that missed out on this moment of history. I heartily recommend it. Really, there needs to be no actual qualifications. Pokemon Red (and its sister game Blue) are both great. Not a single moment of my youth or current adult life has been wasted playing these games, I can say that with confidence.

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