With the recent release of Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee, I decided to look back at the second video game I ever owned, Pokemon Yellow (the first was Pokemon Blue, I did not understand the concept of these games being similar).
Up until this point, I’d only ever played old DOS FPS games like Doom or Wolfenstein 3D, or platformers like Commander Keen. These came to me in pirated copies on discs of a dozen or so games, as they just seemed to do in those days, but that all changed when I received my first Gameboy, a Gameboy Pocket, and not long after that I remember going down and getting a copy of Pokemon Yellow. It was different to Blue, you see, and it had Pikachu on the cover. A six year old me, and I suppose the entire world of 1998, didn’t understand the idea of releasing essentially the same game with different versions that had minor differences.
I just saw a Pikachu and a different title and knew I had to have it.
However, unlike Blue and Red, Yellow was actually a bit of a different game, at least as far as the story was concerned. The game saw you being put with Pikachu as opposed to the three main starters, and from there followed various beats from the anime, as opposed to the mainline game having its own world and story.
Things like characters being retooled to look more like their anime designs, various parts of the anime being incorporated like Jessie and James showing up and consequently failing on the regular. It was different enough that I absolutely didn’t mind I was playing the same game twice. Even going back and taking another look at it, it was delightful enough that I was still engaged, although nostalgia for both the games and the anime probably plays a big part in that.
And when I say ‘engaged’, I was only playing for about thirty minutes before I realized just how poorly the original games stand up when you look at modern quality of life improvements in comparison. The old titles are clunky, simplistic and at times downright frustrating and slow to play.
That’s why it’s always so hard to talk about these games in a modern setting.
At the time, this game was brilliant. At the time, there was a good reason why weeks on end were spent with these games trying to, as the subtitle insists, ‘catch ’em all’. And yet, the game lacks the features we’ve come to appreciate today like day/night cycles, more types, smoother gameplay, etc. etc.
But it’s certainly an interesting way to look at where these games came from, how they’ve evolved, and how many Meowths this game will let me catch before it gets kind of weird. ‘Oh, you can’t finish the game with just Meowths!’
That is quitter talk.
‘Oh, you gotta build a balanced team full of good Pokemon that compliment the situation’.
I can and will build a team of my favourites but then only use my starter because I’m too lazy to switch, because switching is way too much of a hassle.
So, with my team full of low level Meowths and my lone OP Pikachu, I absolutely destroyed this game as a kid. It began my love of RPG’s, and my RPG habit of ‘keeping a single few characters, grinding only with them, and then having my entire day ruined because other RPG’s love to split your party up’. It began a lot of bad habits with me.
But it also began a love of game design and how subtle differences, and a few more overt ones, can make the same game present in such different ways.
Also, Pikachu walked behind you for the whole game and you could interact with him, and an adorable little portrait would come up of his various emotions ranging from ‘delighted’ to ‘complete disdain’. Trying to get Pikachu to like you was so important to me as a kid, and honestly, fair enough. There’s nothing in this world like a happy Pikachu.