Developed by: Game Freak
Published by: Nintendo
Platforms: Game Boy
Feeling Like: Gotta Catch ‘Em All
There can’t be many consoles with a lifespan greater than the Game Boy. This little electronic brick that could launched in 1989 and Pokémon Blue and Pokémon Red, the handheld’s 2nd best selling games ever, came an astonishing nine years later. I can’t tell if that’s a testament to the Game Boy’s longevity, or how rabid players were for Pokémon.
I also can’t tell what’s more shocking; the fact that a Game Boy game that was released two years after the N64 managed to take over the world, or the fact that the series is even more popular 25 years later.
I’m ill equipped to discuss Pokémon. I can’t do it justice. I played Pokemon Blue and watched the first fifty episodes of the anime, but that’s about it. Aside from some peripheral appreciation due to their presence in the Smash Brothers games, I’m completely out of my element. I can’t tell you how many Pokémon there are now (close to 1,000?) or what the latest series of games are, or what they entail.
All I know is that when I played Pokemon Blue for the first time, I forgot to eat for the entire day.
It’s a deviously addicting premise – you play a young boy who is charged with finding and collecting as many Pokemon as possible so Professor Oak can fill out his Pokedex (Pokémon Wikipedia). You have a rival right from the start who progresses alongside you as you travel the world. It’s a simple premise and the gameplay loop is mildly repetitive, but the vast variety of Pokémon is too much of an allure to resist.
The fact that it all fits on a Game Boy cartridge is incredible. This is a system I was used to games lasting a few hours, tops. Looking at some YouTube clips, some games that I played for dozens of hours, or thought I played for dozens of hours, could be mastered in less than half an hour.
Not Pokemon Blue. To finish it, I needed a few dozen hours and that certainly doesn’t count collecting every single Pokémon (151 total to my recollection) or trading missing ones with Eric who, naturally, had Pokemon Red Version.
Looking back at it, the combat was very simple. It’s akin to rock-paper-scissors in that each Pokémon is assigned a type, like a “bug” type or “fire” type. They’re strong against other specific types and weak against others. You can only have six in your party, so it’s necessary to have a variety to ensure you don’t get caught against a single Pokémon who could wipe your party.
What that means is you can’t rely on a single buddy and it encourages exploration and capture of types you may not be initially interested in. I will give the creators credit – there’s a ton of creativity and silly uniqueness about the Pokemon to the point where I bet I can still name at least 50 off the top of my head. Being mildly obsessed with the anime at the time didn’t hurt either.
I always found the perspective trick really impressive. The Game Boy obviously can’t handle three dimensions, but through forced perspective the battle screen really does look like it has visual depth. Nice touch.
The soundtrack is pretty catchy too, although the one that sticks more than others is Lavender Town’s theme. Nearly every other song is upbeat and catchy, whereas this one is dark and depressing. The tinny sound of the Game Boy’s single speaker I think aids in making you feel unsettled as you listen. Not that towns are very big (usually no more than a few buildings) but it certainly motivated me to resolve my quest quickly and move on.
I don’t have much of an itch to continue on with any Pokemon games, though I must admit the success and continuous sequels the franchise presents is tempting from time to time. Still, I’ll always have that day in my living room on Oliver St. where I was so dialed in, I ignored most bodily functions.