Nostalgia is in the air. On February 27th, 2016, Nintendo and GameFreak rereleased a little piece of our childhood onto relevant consoles. Enter in Pokémon Blue, Pokémon Red, and Pokémon Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition, which now all have homes on the Nintendo 3DS for downloads at $9.99 a pop. Unlike Nintendo’s Leaf Green and Fire Red editions–which featured an updated Kanto environment with new features, better graphics, and enhanced music–, the Pokémon RBY rereleases keep all of the gameplay identical to its initial iterations with 1998 and 1999’s GameBoy Colour versions.
And it works.
But no game is without its kinks. As much as it pains my soul to say this, it’s time to get into The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly of Pokémon RBY.
As I mentioned before, the simple rerelease works. Maybe it’s nostalgia talking, but in a time where game developers are fighting over who has the brightest and smoothest graphics, who can make their game as cinematic as possible, and who can import the slightest music cues to make the player launch into a full ugly cry at the absolute perfect moment, it’s quite refreshing to take our gameplay back down to the basics.
Pokémon RBY feature good, old-fashioned, blocky pixel graphics and a charming soundtrack to make you bob your head while wandering around town after town. The focus of the game isn’t on the graphics or the music; it’s on the gameplay. And really, isn’t that what all games should aspire to be. It’s similar to the lesson learned on Pitch Perfect 2: if you take away all of the frills and glitter, do you still have an engaging and functional game left?
In Pokémon RBY’s case, the answer is yes.
These rereleases also grant more of a challenge to seasoned gamers. There are no running shoes. There are no signs literally saying, “Go here and click on this to progress”. There isn’t a magical EXP SHARE that falls out of the sky to help you grind up your lower level Pokémon. You can’t cheat and wander around in the dark without using HM Flash (more on this later). This is a grungey, dirty, Pokémon game that will make you sweat, but will also make you cheer at your victories.
Also wonderful is that the Mew glitch still exists. By defeating the Nugget Bridge trainers in a certain order (Google is your friend), you too can have your very own Mew shortly after earning your second Gym badge! And for a lover of Psychic Pokémon like myself, this is a very, very welcome thing.
A sign that a game is well-made is that I’m having to nitpick to find entries for “The Bad”. There’s a lot of good, there’s a little of ugly…but overall, nothing in Pokémon RBY is truly bad.
One noticeable change that can throw players for a loop is that the game is more difficult! As I mentioned previously, there is no guided dialogue/signage in this game saying, “Why don’t you head right towards Route 69 so you can fight the hooded trainer and get into Blah Gym?” You literally have to figure things out for yourself. The Pokémon in the wild are also higher levels, leading to more grinding in-between Gyms and obstacles like Team Rocket ambushes.
But again, there’s not a lot of bad in this game…which should be wonderful news to the developers! However, we still need to get into the ugly…
HMs have often been the bane of many a Pokémon trainer. Some like Surf and Strength are wonderful moves, others like Cut are decent, and some like Flash leave players banging their head against a wall.
Many players will build a team of 5 main Pokémon, using a common Pokémon like Rattata as an “HM slave” to force these unwanted moves on. Other trainers who desire to build a team of 6, like myself, have to suck it up and admit that one of their Pokémon’s moveset slots will be filled by a “useless” move rather than a heavy hitter. Of course, by the time you reach the Elite Four you can Fly to anywhere in Kanto, which definitely helps out for the final battles, but the HM policy is still a downer leading up to that point.
Also ugly in this game is that it truly panders to the “Gotta Catch’Em All” catchphrase. I know, I know, one of the main focuses of the shot (especially the first season, which Pokémon RBY are based off of) was to literally try to catch all 151 Pokémon. Heck, they even made the main character’s last name a pun off of this theme. But whereas in Generation 2 games and onward, it was more of a notion to do if you wanted to–typically after defeating the Elite Four just to get full completion of the game–Pokémon RBY reeeeeallllyyyy forces this concept on you.
Throughout the Pokémon series, you are often gifted with “game enhancers” such as Luxury Tickets, Running Shoes, Exp. Share, Nuggets, and more as you continue through the worlds. These enhancers are normally delivered by the region’s lead Professor, your mom, or the region’s reigning Champion. In Pokémon RBY, these enhancers come with a price: a certain number of Pokémon having been captured by that point in time.
Let’s take the Exp. All for example in the original Kanto region. It comes as a gift deliverable by one of Prof. Oak’s helpful Aides. In order to receive it, you must have personally owned at least 50 different species of Pokémon. Going ham in the Safari Zone can help you to get closer to that number, but for seasoned veterans who go into the game already knowing what Pokémon they want for their team, they are forced to either slow down their progress or forgo some of these enhancers. Again, not a huge deterrent to keep someone from playing the game, but still one of the more rather annoying features of Pokémon RBY.
And there’s the fact that you still are given no choice on whether to join Team Rocket. Yeah.
Overall Score: 9.5.
Pokémon Blue, Pokémon Red, and Pokémon Yellow all offer an engaging, entertaining, and fulfilling gaming experience for all players, whether rookie or veteran, young or old, casual or competitive. While a story narrative is in place to help you reach from A to B, no two experiences are identical, leaving players in control of their own Pokémon destiny. These games are a great starting point to hook in new fans of the series, and a nice opportunity to remind longtime supporters of their roots and their basics without all the bells and whistles.
Bottom Line: For the price of $9.99, you really have no reason not to give Pokémon RBY a go and take the Kanto region by storm. With the announcement of two brand new Pokémon games heading our way in the late Fall, now’s the perfect time to begin playing through the six existing generations of games, in order to become the very best like no one ever was.