27th February marks the 20th anniversary of the Pokémon series, with the original Red and Blue games being released in Japan on that date back in 1996; and my how the franchise has grown in that time. As well as a card game, an ever continuing cartoon series and manga, the handheld games are now in their 6th generation, coming a long way from their humble roots as daydreams of game designer Satoshi Tajiri, in terms of graphics, story line and the sheer number of Pokémon available (currently sitting at 721). In order to mark this momentous occasion, Nintendo have decided to hit fans with a dose of nostalgia by re-releasing the original Red and Blue games on the 3DS Virtual Console to coincide with the day.
Gamers everywhere, myself included, rejoiced at the news that we would be able to go back and enjoy those good old black and white memories of the original 151 pocket monsters. For me Pokémon Red was the first game I played as a child and the decision of whether to pick Charmander, Bulbasaur or Squirtle, or any of the starters in the following generations, was and still is one of the toughest choices I have faced in any game I’ve played. Deciding on my rival’s name was just too much of a temptation normally and, let’s not forget the big thing: you have your own team of monsters, what kid didn’t want that?
you have your own team of monsters, what kid didn’t want that?
The game mechanics for Red and Blue were simple but brilliant, as shown by the fact that not much of the core game playing experience has changed in 20 years. You have the choice element of picking your team as well as the strategy side of things with needing to pick certain types (e.g. Rock, Electric, Ghost) in order to defeat the gyms, which use specific types in each city, to continue with the story. The ability to play as yourself and then name your rival and Pokémon allows players to feel a lot more involved with the game, then add in the hero element of stopping the evil team and what’s not to love? It also pioneered the idea of collective and co-operative gaming, making use of the connection cable for the Nintendo Gameboy to encourage battling and trading, indeed you couldn’t ‘Catch ‘Em All’ as the game encouraged you to unless you traded with someone who owned the opposite game cartridge to your own.
These key features have been built upon very successfully over the years, through the introduction of different features such as breeding, contests and more recently in Pokémon X and Y, the introduction of character customisation and Pokémon-Amie, allowing you to feel more attached to your virtual self and monsters. Increasingly, storylines have also grown more sophisticated such as that of Black and White, where the story examines the morality of keeping Pokémon, helping to keep the formula fresh for all generations.
It’s clear that Nintendo is pulling out all the stops with some of their other titles such as Super Mario Maker and Splatoon also getting the Pokémon treatment in the way of additional levels and characters. As well as that, the Pokémon Company’s first foray into a fighting game, Pokkén Tournament is due for home release on the Wii U at the end of 2016 with their first mobile game Pokémon Go in the works. With so much hype around the series, now would seem the perfect time for Nintendo to announce the 7th generation of games. However, until then, let us enjoy the two games that started it all and inspired a generation of gamers. Red and Blue, I choose you!