Out of any video game franchise, I don’t think there is a bigger one than Pokemon. Since its inception in the late 90s on the Gameboy Color, it has continued to take the world by storm. Billions of players and buyers, tons of merchandise, and thirty-two video games across eight generations on five different handheld Nintendo consoles, it shows no signs of slowing down. If anything, it’s more popular than ever.
2019’s Sword and Shield, despite lukewarm critical and consumer reception, were massive hits on the Nintendo Switch. I don’t see it going down anytime soon. How can it, if you have the gaming equivalent of crack in your hands? There are two more games due to release, the Diamond and Pearl remakes, as well as a strange Breath of the Wild-inspired Arceus game, which could go anywhere. I have no idea what to make of those.
I have been with Pokemon from the beginning. While I haven’t played every single game, I’ve played every single generation, with multiple playthroughs on many games. Thousands of hours and a lot of money are spent on handhelds and the games themselves, and that’s just counting these games. I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the franchise’s hundreds of third-party fan hacks and games. I won’t go into those in this series, but I’ll be happy to make an article or two discussing my favorites if there’s enough interest!
What did I sign up for?
How many Pokemon handheld games are there? Just counting the main lineup, we have:
Game Boy/Game Boy Color
Red, Blue, and Yellow (Green in Japan)
Gold, Silver, and Crystal
Game Boy Advance
Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald
Fire Red and Leaf Green (Red and Blue Remakes)
Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum
Heart Gold and Soul Silver (Gold and Silver remakes)
Black and White
Black 2 and White 2 (Sequels)
X and Y
Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire
Sun and Moon
Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon
Let’s Go, Pikachu! And Let’s Go, Eeeve!
Sword and Shield
An Idea is Born
That’s…a lot of games. I haven’t even mentioned the others for the family console, like XD Gale of Darkness, Stadium and Battle Revolution. I won’t cover those. Not yet, anyway.
I recently finished Omega Ruby for the first time after giving up halfway through during my original playthrough back in 2015, and an idea began to form in my head. I’ve been meaning to review the franchise and do somewhat of a ranking from best to worst, but I know I can do better than that. What if I do a series where I explore the Pokemon handheld franchise from beginning to end. Where I take you on a journey from the murky days of 1999 all the way to the present day.
These articles will not just be reviews but a recollection of how I played each generation. Of course, I won’t review every single game in every generation, just the ones I directly played. However, because of the weird way my memory works, I distinctly remember most of my experiences playing the games. So why not put a unique twist in these reviews and show you how I originally played the game as well? It’ll combine nicely with reviewing it from a present-day’s angle too. All these games have their strengths and weaknesses, and some generations are far superior to others.
So kick back, grab some snacks and drinks, and enjoy with the first installment: Generation One! I’ll be discussing the game largely through Red, but I’ll talk a little about both versions as well as Pokemon Yellow.
Pokemon Red: My Personal Trip
The story began for me in 1999, the year Red and Blue first came out in Europe and North America. I was a small child at that point, a nine-year-old with an ambition. At least, I like to say it was ambition. shrugs
Of course, Pokemon was huge in my primary school, so I was desperate to try it out when it came out. Well, Christmas that year got me my heart’s desire when I got a Gameboy Color and Pokemon Red from my parents. I still own both of those to this very day! So naturally, I booted it right up and began.
I ended up spending the entirety of Christmas Day with it. I picked Charmander, as most boys my age tended to do, and began my road as a Pokemon Master. These days I usually go with the grass-type starter Bulbasaur, as it makes for an easier early game, though it’s difficult to find great fire types. Charizard is badass, but it does struggle the most early game. Squirtle tends to have the middle route, and Blastoise was a beast in the original games, but there are so many good Water pokemon that I always found it tough picking it.
In my original run, I remember getting up to Pewter City and Brock with Charmander, Pidgey, Pikachu, Beedrill, and Ratatta, all around the Lv10-12 mark. Viridian Forest is the first real ‘dungeon’ of the game, and with the 1990’s slow movement, the early stages of the game can be frustrating. Lacking the QOL features of newer generations meant these first battles were a slog, and you’ll need a lot of Potions and antidotes to get through them. Getting poisoned all the time is such a pain, up until the 4th/5th generation when you no longer lose your Pokemon to poison in the overworld.
Pidgey is also a horrible bird type. It never really did anything, and it was completely outclassed by Spearow (and later Doduo). It didn’t learn any real flying attacks, for crying out loud! I ditched Pidgey early on because it just sucks. At least Mega Pidgeot was good.
Onix is Terrible
Brock could be a challenge if you picked Charmander like me, but even then, it wasn’t too hard. Ten-year-old me realized my Charmander’s Ember attacks still did damage. Onix…man. What an awful Pokemon. It was always made to be badass in the anime, but its stats are just atrocious. You know you’re a bad design when you have less attacking power than an Oddish. What a joke. Charmander was able to win with little difficulty, using non-attacking moves to counter Onix’s Bide, a move that reflects damage back with double strength after two turns.
Well, one badge down, and I went through Mt Moon. This was a pretty tough dungeon, to be honest. With your slow speed and only so much you can do against poison, it can be a rough one with some very difficult opponents. Wrap and Bind also paralyze you for several turns. Thank God this got changed in future generations. In the early game, you have very little money to buy supplies as well. In Red and Blue, there’s a Team Rocket member with a Level 16 Raticate, an illegal evolution, and an absolute monster to fight. It’s quite a lot of fun, but the dated mechanics get annoying. Pokemon Gen 1’s age shows from the beginning.
Misty and the second gym awaits, and welcome to my worst nightmare. Misty has a level 21 Starmie, once of the fastest and deadliest water types in the game. Generation 1 also was broken in many ways. Critical hits (moves that deal double damage on chance) run off how fast an opponent goes, and Starmie is one of the quickest in the game. With a powerful Bubblebeam, Starmie is lethal, and I spent several hours on Christmas Day losing to her over and over. Her Staryu was never any trouble, but Starmie wiped me out several times at first. Even over leveling past hers was useless. It’s just so fast and hits like a truck. Misty is always difficult, even in future remakes. I ended up switching up some Pokemon, dropping the weak Pikachu, and picking up an Abra. Kadabra and all Psychic pokemon are overpowered in this generation, but more on that later.
On the tenth attempt, I got lucky. My Beedrill was able to defeat Staryu and inflict enough damage to Starmie for the rest of my squad to win. I cheered like a fucking banshee! I felt sorry for my parents. Ah well!
Vermillion City and the SS Anne quests are up next. You can get the hidden machine Flash by backtracking through Diglett’s Cave, a necessity for getting through the pitch-black Rock Tunnel without tearing your eyes out. Once again, the lack of quality of life features in the original games is a rough experience because you can’t delete Hidden moves in this game, and with the exception of Surf and Strength, they suck in battle. Fly isn’t too bad as a move, but Cut and Flash are. So I stuck Flash on a backup Pokemon. The third gym leader, Lt. Surge, is here, but he’s incredibly easy if you come prepared. Diglett’s Cave can give you Ground-types that are immune to his electric types. And if you’re lucky like me and get a Dugtrio, you auto win. Insanely fast mole boy with the broken move Dig, which has 100 base power in this generation? I was swimming with joy. If you don’t have a ground pokemon, then it can be challenging, I guess. Thunderbolt is no joke.
My team at this point was Charmelon, Beedrill, Raticate, Dugtrio, Kadabra, and a random Drowsee as a Flash slave. Raticate, while looking like a joke, can hit quite hard. In a future playthrough, I dominated the whole game with one. Super Fang + Hyper Fang (Half HP plus a highly damaging move) killed most enemies. Raticate is pretty cool. I need to use it more often, even though it gets outclassed eventually.
The Pros and Cons of Antiquity
While Rock Tunnel is a slog to get through, the game really opens up once you get to Lavender Town. In Celedon City, you get access to evolution stones, the Game Corner, and more good TMs like Ice Beam. In more recent playthroughs, I began to appreciate how tight Generation one is. There’s no real story, just a few roadblocks that make sense, and it’s solely the journey of getting gym badges. In later Pokemon games, roadblocks get annoying. Looking at you, Black and White 2. It’s nice playing a more simple game sometimes, and they feel rather concise. Shame the games are so glitchy and broken.
A lot of options open up to you at this stage. There are a few areas to get through, like the Game Corner dungeon to gain access to Pokemon Tower (Giovanni’s Kangaskhan is pretty nasty), which upon completion, gives you the Flute to wake up Snorlax. Snorlax is one of the strongest Pokemon you can use, so I replaced Raticate immediately. I also grabbed the random Eevee in Celadon and evolved it into a Jolteon. This little guy became my competitive monster during school, and it allowed me constant wins over friends. Jolteon, I miss you. The 4th gym is Erika, who is no threat. Fire equals boom.
Open World in the 90s?
At this point, the game becomes non-linear, which is surprising for a game this old. Koga and Sabrina are on the same level, so you can approach either gym leader which way you want though you need to get through Team Rocket again to access Sabrina. On Cycling Road, ten-year-old me went through a day of hell when I got lost. My team was low on health and power points, and I tried to lose so I could find my way back home, but I kept winning with my increasingly weakened team. Snorlax is a beast. It was a relief to get to Fuchsia City, home to Koga and the Safari Zone.
After a walking puzzle that’s a pain in the ass, I grabbed Surf as well as Strength. Koga is pretty easy, a break from the true challenge waiting for me in Saffron City. With the next badge, the south water routes are open to me, including Cinnabar Island and Seafoam Islands, home to loads of great Water and Ice types. I grabbed a Cloyster and added it to my squad, as well as a Venomoth from the Safari Zone. I still love these two pokemon to this very day, but in future playthroughs, I often go with better water types. You get a Lapras during the final Rocket event.
Once you have Surf, you also get access to two Legendary birds, the trend which continues to this day. Zapdos is available very easily in the Power Plant, and Articuno is in Seafoam Islands after a fun puzzle. You have no idea how much happiness I felt when I completed that puzzle for the first time and finally caught Articuno. I didn’t use it the first time around, though.
Some more Challenge
Your next rival fight during the Silph Co Rocket event can be quite challenging here, and it’s nice to have challenges in a ‘kids’ game. His Blastoise and Alakazam were a real threat to my ten-year-old mind, but I was able to leverage Snorlax and Jolteon to good effect. Cloyster having access to the immobilizing Clamp attack was also helpful, and it had Ice Beam for extra coverage. Fighting Giovanni again isn’t too hard.
Now we have Sabrina, with the most overpowered Type in the game. Because of glitches, they have an immunity to Ghost moves (which doesn’t mean anything in this game, because the best Ghost move is a puny Lick) and only one weakness to Bug, a type woefully weak in this first generation. Fortunately, my team is in the low-level 40s and very strong: Charizard, Cloyster, Venomoth, Snorlax, Dugtrio, and Jolteon. This ended up being the team I carried through the rest of the game. A combination of Snorlax’s bulk and Jolteon’s high-speed Thunderbolts won me the battle.
Too easy even for kids
The final two gym leaders are a joke. Blaine and Giovanni are never really any trouble, and any half-decent water type can win you the battles easily. It’s also weird that Giovanni’s team is so weak, he doesn’t even have the Kangaskhan from his previous matches in the gym battle. He’s even easier in the Fire Red and Leaf Green remakes. Do you know what they replaced his Rhydon with? A fucking Rhyhorn. Why?
Cinnabar Island also allowed me to get my fossil Pokemon to come alive. Kabutops made the team for a while, but I eventually swapped him back out for my Cloyster. It’s this place that also birthed one of the most notorious glitches in all of gaming, the Missingno glitch. This insane bug was madness to discover when we were young, and many save files got ruined in my school days. Mine too, in the end, but that’s a story for another time. Seriously, read up on it sometime. Bulbapedia.com has some good information on the subject.
With all 8 Badges done, only one thing remains… the Pokemon League. This was a huge thing as a kid, and I remember spending many hours getting prepared. I believed back then if you lost at the League, you had to restart the game again like a silly person, so I took no chances. Firstly, I had to get through Victory Road. It’s a nice, simple dungeon crawler in Red and Blue, with tough trainers and a couple of puzzles to work out. It’s fairly easy, and it felt good pushing through it. I also caught Moltres.
My end team was between levels 50-70, consisting of Charizard, Jolteon, Cloyster, Snorlax, Dugtrio, and Venomoth. As almost everyone did, we over-leveled our starter Pokemon, so Charizard was my most powerful team member. My Venomoth was close in power, though, and I bought the powerful Hyper Beam move for it. Bit of a dumb move. It would have been better on Snorlax. It could hit pretty hard with Psychic and put things to sleep.
The Elite Four in these games were really disappointing. They’re pretty high level, from the 50s to mid-60s, but the majority of their movesets are very poor, nearly all based on level up. In future generations, Elite Four opponents are much more difficult, with the Fire Red/Leaf Green remakes making it much harder as well. I was able to win the League on my first attempt. Using my team’s strengths effectively, I only remember Lance putting up any minor trouble with his Dragons. In the final rival battle, his only real threat is the Alakazam, and three Slash attacks from Charizard finished off his Blastoise to make me the Champion.
After that, there’s not much to do in these games. You have the Cerulean Cave and the all-powerful Mewtwo to catch (the most powerful Pokemon in any generation at this time. Seriously. It was insane), but that’s it besides beating the Elite Four again and battling friends. I still had a ton of fun doing that, becoming quite the successful battler in Year 6 and into secondary school.
The Third Game and the Path to Profit
Game Freak began to realize just how rich a goldmine they had with Pokemon, and they’ve taken full advantage of that ever since. Third versions of the generation became incredibly common, dominating the first four generations before they switched to remakes and sequels. I can’t really say much positive about the practice as it’s just another way to suck money out of fans, but I’ll admit they usually do a very good job on these third games. Pokemon Yellow was one such improvement, offering better enemy teams to fight, vastly improved Elite Four movesets, a new starter in Pikachu, and some improved movesets for Pokemon as well.
I’d probably say it’s worth playing Yellow over Red and Blue today. You can get all three starters during the game. In fact, you barely need to catch any Pokemon to build a good team, with all the gift Pokemon you get. Pikachu, with a little help from either Nidoran, Mankey, or Butterfree, can easily beat Brock, with all three starters offering huge diversity. Back that up with the gift Lapras and Eevee you receive, and you have a well-balanced and deadly team. It’s also slightly less glitchy though it doesn’t fix the many broken mechanics that curse these embryonic games. Those fixes will come in the future. Overall, it’s a good game but doesn’t add any post-game.
Generation One is a weird series to review. On the one hand, they have not aged well at all, plagued with glitches and ancient mechanics. The relatively short playtime, slow beginning, lack of quality of life features (the item limit is by far the worst part of it), and a poor postgame also make for a frustrating experience at times. However, seeing as these came out in the 1990s and it’s the first games in the franchise makes some of these flaws forgivable.
In spite of those, I found myself enjoying the replay more than I expected. They are quite tight, simple games, much more so than the story-heavy sequels. They have a surprising degree of freedom in where to go from the mid-game, and with a healthy way of getting evolution items, getting a balanced and diverse team is relatively easy. I’m not sure how much I recommend them now when the Fire Red/Leaf Green remakes are improvements in every way, but I quite liked them for the nostalgia alone.
Red, Blue, and Yellow created a legacy, the start of a monster. They’re worth remembering for that alone. Join me next time, for we’re going to jump forward to 2000/2001 for the second generation, Gold and Silver. These games were a huge leap forward for the franchise, but how good are they now? We’re going to find that out.
- Suprisingly tight gameplay
- Non-Linear after a while
- Better teambuilding options than its successors on occassion
- Incredible nostalgia
- Dated mechanics
- Poor enemy AI
- Broken at times
- Very slow
- Poor postgame content
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