Now, we’ve all heard of Pokémon…whether it was the anime we watched when we were smaller, the collectable trading cards we took to school and traded and used in battles when it was too wet to be shoved outside and told to exercise and, the only reason I’m mentioning the franchise, the games. I’ll be focusing on the proper Pokémon games – so don’t expect to see Pinball, Mystery Dungeon or Ranger here – it’s the original, the best, all four Generations of the RPG that graced the Game Boys, and the DS.
Before I get into detail about each generation, I want to talk about the gameplay in the series, because let’s be honest – talk about gameplay for one of these games, you talk about them all. Now, you play as the silent protagonist who is friends with or befriends the local Pokémon Professor who lives near your house, and gives you a rare Pokémon for no reason, saving his sorry self, or pure dumb luck. You go through <Enter Region name here>, collecting eight gym badges through various towns, trapping cute and…Not-so-cute critters in tiny balls, battling Team <Insert Team’s name here> about four or five times before forcing them to disband, meet a Legendary or two, go through Victory Road, beat Elite four and Champion, all hail new Ruler of <Enter Region Name here>
Now, the one thing I’m not too keen on about these games is the constant level rising that you have to do to not get pummelled by the next “Boss” trainer. And it will kill the flow of the game, put you off playing, and add it to your to-do list, which will include clean room, run marathon and Kick a Professional Boxer in the crotch, and live to tell the tale. Usually, each gym has a slight puzzle element to it, which started to come into play during the Johto era, with the puzzles matching the gym’s type – like Thunder gates in an Electric Gym, and Ice puzzle for an Ice Gym, stuff like that.
The gameplay itself, which is the battles, is rather strategic. There are seventeen types of Pokémon, ranging from normal and Fire, to Dragon and Steel, with Dark and Steel added to the original fifteen in Johto. It was all about remembering not only what type your Pokémon was and what your opponents Pokémon’s type was but also what they were strong against, what they were weak against, and what attacks they had so to avoid sending something out which was going to get devastated. For something that, at the time, was probably aimed at kids, there was a lot of strategy involved, even in Generation I. Another thing that disappointed me that once you had beaten the Champion, there wasn’t much else you could do except explore one or two new areas that took twenty minutes, and fill up your Pokedex – and let’s be honest, how many of us could be arsed to do that?
Right, now to look at what each Generation brought to the table, starting off with the very original Red, Blue and Yellow Versions. Incidentally, the Yellow Version was the first handheld game I ever owned – still have it, fully functional. Back in 1995, when Game Freak first released this, we all thought handheld games were fantasmical! Over thirteen years later, and they’re so common, they’re mostly rubbish, with the occasional gem hidden away…but I digress. Who can forget the timeless music around Viridian City? The fact you could alter the colour giving it a bit of a weird look? Or one of the most infamous parts of Red and Blue…Missingo! And the Level 130 Hypno and such you met in the water ((That creeped me out a little when I was younger)). Sure, compared to the quality of games today, it’s terrible in terms of graphics, and you may get the same feeling playing FireRed or LeafGreen – but if you’re gonna play Generation I, then do it right, and do it original. Before moving on, Yellow is the most unique game in the entire series, as you got everyone’s favourite mouse, Pikachu, to follow you around, with a realistic cry! And…that’s pretty much all that new Special Edition version brought, but at least you got Pikachu, and all three starters as well! …Well, I thought it was cool >.>
Next we have my personal favourite, Generation II, which consisted of Gold, Silver and Crystal. This generation brought us the Day and Night feature, only ever implicated again into Diamond and Pearl. Released a full five years later than R/B/Y, this was one of the most exiciting sequels as well. We had the opportunity to capture new Pokémon! Explore new locations! And, it lived up to the potential, in an unexpected way. We also had the Match Call system, where people we’ve beaten in the past phone you up, and ask you to go see them so they can turn around, bend over and give you a lovely target for your shoes, Berries and Item holding, which are now essential to fully understand to do well in the game and Pokémon Breeding, now a staple of the series. The one thing which made this generation my favourite though? The game didn’t end after defeating the Champion…we got to go back to Kanto! In-game it was three years after our exploits in R/B/Y and we could have a good look! It’s the only game to not only have more than one region, but also not to receive a GBA/DS upgrade. Although rumours are flying that a DS version of Gold and Silver, similar to what FireRed and LeafGreen were for Red and Blue – if they’re true, then allow me to be the first to say w00t! This Generation completely revolutionised the series, and is deservedly held in high regard.
Ah, Generation III, Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald. ..The first Generation to introduce Gender choices! Yes, it took Game Freak over 8 years to realise that girls play Pokémon as well! Gender choosing also appeared in FireRed and LeafGreen, but those are just upgrades of Red and Blue, so don’t count. They still had time keeping in this generation, but ditched the Day and Night rotation, rendering it pretty pointless, to be honest. More new Pokémon, new locations, and more than one type of bike -either a super-speed bike or a stunt bike. Didn’t really affect gameplay much, as you could change bikes whenever you wanted, for free. This was also the first series where you didn’t want to bash your rival’s face in with a large stick. Where in Generations I and II, we had arrogant, nasty, vicious, thieving S.O.B’s…starting from this Generation, we now have helpful, opposite gender rivals, who give you stuff after you beat them. This Generation introduced powers, that differed from Pokémon to Pokémon, such as Levitate, which meant ground moves missed completely – letting battles make a hell of a lot more sense. I mean, how the hell did Gastly get hit by an Earthquake? Honestly…Also, Pokémon Contests made their debut here. Bit of a filler addition, honestly…no real point to them.
Finally, we reach Generation IV, Diamond and Pearl. This had the potential to do what the second Generation did and revolutionise the series, but at this point the story was oh-so-too familiar for veteran players, and that took some of the 2.5D awesomeness away. Don’t get me wrong, the welcome return of Day and Night cycles, the Poketch ((Pokémon Watch…apparently)) and the actual puzzles in the gyms made this a good, worthy addition, but I have to admit, I hated Bidoof – the new Ratatta, the fact a large percentage of the “new” Pokémon are just baby or evolved forms of old ones and the dullness of after the Champion has been defeated. I mean, surely, what they did with Silver and Gold, they could do with the newer Generations? Here’s what I think Nintendo should do – make a Pokémon MMORPG, with all four regions, the Whirl Islands….bloody everything that was in the Anime. All in glorious 3D! That, my friends, is the only logical step forward.
Now to finish off with my overall opinion. Yes, Pokémon may be aimed at kids, but underneath its cuddly exterior beats the heart of a solid, well-thought-out, RPG. Now, get rid of Bidoof, change the story template, and it’s perfect! Next time, join me as I talk about the only game to ever change my mind…Left 4 Dead.