Japanator Games Week: The Pokemon retrospective part one


The Pokémon series is a special one to very many of us. A lot of us grew up with it, and many of us never grew out of it. With five generations of Pokémon games, the critter total has inflated from a pretty sizeable 151 to a staggering 649, and that isn't counting all these 'formes' that the game has been introducing lately. It's quite the collection, and the series shows no signs of stopping.

I wanted to do a retrospective for this week, but I just kept coming back to this series. Why? Probably because of how intense it is. In all seriousness, the games have been around since my childhood, so there's no better series for me to write about. Probably. Anyway, hit the jump for the first half of a look at the major releases we've seen in the past 16 years.

February 27 1996 - Release of Red and Green

There's every chance I'm going to start showing my age now, but I imagine that there are at least a few of you reading this that weren't even born in 1996! The Japanese games did indeed grace the shelves of retail sixteen years ago, but the games were of course in development long before this. In fact, work on the first two games started in 1990, which makes them the two Pokémon games that have spent the longest time in development.

It's not hard to see why, either. Sure, there were RPGs on home consoles at the time, but they were very much in their infant stages. To create a brand new RPG from the ground up, as well as figure out how players can find and catch 151 Pokémon, how to deal with learning new moves, evolutions, using the link cable... it was an incredibly ambitious task, and one that has long since paid off with over 200 million video games sales across the whole series. I digress, back to Red and Green!  

Pokémon Red and Green were the first two games in the series released, starting the trend of releasing differing 'versions' that contain exclusive pokémon to capture. In October of the same year, Pokémon Blue was released in Japan, which featured many bug fixes and minor changes. Kanto received a bit of a facelift, with certain in-game sprites being changed or altered, as well as bigger things like Cerulean Cave/Unknown Dungeon being redesigned. It also featured all of the version exclusive pokémon from Red and Green, just to give another reason for players to buy this one too. It would be the revised engine from the Japanese Pokémon Blue that would later used for the overseas release of Pokémon Red and Blue in 1998. They were copies of Red and Green, but with the fixes brought with Blue. Confused yet? Good!

The race to raise monsters, defeat renowned trainers and stop the evil Team Rocket started with these games, and this basic concept has followed the series up to the most recent of the games, albeit with the bad guys changing out occasionally. Why don't they bring back Team Rocket anyway?


August 1 1998 - Release of Pokemon Stadium

It would be almost two years after the release of the Japanese Pokémon Blue that there would be another game in the franchise, and it would eventually release on a little known console called the Nintendo 64. This was in fact released two months before the American release of Red and Blue, so that should give you some kind of idea where the series was before we got our hands on the games! Oh, the anime had also been going for over a year, having started in April 1997. 

Anyway! Pokémon Stadium was certainly an exciting idea for the Japanese players at the time. Even now you find people who are still begging Nintendo to release a home console version of the main series, and while I doubt that'll ever come to pass, Pokémon Stadium seemed to be a good compromise. Rentable pokémon, loads of tournaments to win and 3D battles? Sounds good to me! However, what a lot of people don't know is that the game we would eventually get in the west was actually Pokémon Stadium 2! Nintendo, keeping Pokémon games from us? Yes, but with good reason.

See, the original game was only really meant as a tech demo of sorts. It was a good way to show off where the game could go in the future, as well as raise interest in the franchise to get the three handheld versions to sell some more. That's fine and all, but there were more than a few people who were a little peeved at only being able to use 42 of the original 151 pokémon, even though models for the remaining pokémon were viewable outside of battles! The game also showed footage of some of these missing 'mons battling in the credits, so it really was baffling why they weren't included. However, Nintendo released the 'sequel' in April 1999, featuring all 151 pokémon, and it would be this that we would eventually get to play in February 2000. 


September 12 1998 - Release of Yellow

Pokémon Yellow was released in Japan a few weeks before our first opportunity to buy Pokémon Red and Blue, thus being the last of the 'big' games released before the series graced the west. Due to his popularity in the anime, Game Freak decided they wanted a bigger Christmas bonus that year and created yet another version of the original game, featuring everyone's favourite yellow pokémon, Zapdos. However, they couldn't secure his contract, so they went ahead and used Pikachu instead to justify the colour themes that were already in place. 

The game didn't feature any game-changing mechanics, but it did feature Pikachu following you around the map. You could turn around and talk to him, which would give you an idea of how he was feeling, as well as the chance to hear a really terrible sound clip from the anime. You could also pick up all three of the original starter pokémon on your journey too, which pretty much guaranteed it a place in the hearts of everyone around the age of eight at the time. It was a cash-in through and through, but I think it's safe to say that there are very few of us that complained at the time!

As for myself, I didn't really get into the game too much, and instead carried on playing Pokémon Red. I'm don't think it was because I realised that it was essentially the same game, as I have a strange feeling that I was upset that Brock and Misty still couldn't join you... 


November 21 1999 - Release of Gold and Silver

For some people, including myself, the second generation is considered to be the pinnacle of the handheld series. Of course, this is just opinion, but many people were won over by the sheer number of improvements these games had over the previous three/four. We had new mechanics such as the pokégear, the introduction of 'shining' pokémon, as well as colour! The previous games had colour in some respects when you used them on particular consoles, but not to the same extent as Gold and Silver

Of course, these additions were fine and dandy, but most people were interested for another reason entirely; new pokémon! Having an extra 100 creatures to find, capture and evolve was more than enough reason to pick these games up, but damn, how cool are those game covers? Many unsuspecting parents were having to spend hard earned cash on their children, purely based on the striking birds on the front of those boxes. But what if you liked Kanto better than this new, alien land of Johto? Well, you can go visit it later and win all the old gym badges again! I dare say this is one of the most sought after features fans want for the newer games.

It wasn't just the new game that people enjoyed, but the throwbacks to Red and Blue, too. Seeing Koga crop up in the Elite Four was a very cool touch, especially when you later had to battle his daughter Janine when visiting his gym. The battle system also became more in-depth with the addition of held items, which to this day can make the difference between a win or a loss in competitive play. One of the nicest changes to the game was a relatively simple one, and that was the simplification of the backpack system. Trawling through that list in Red and Blue was a nightmare!

Eggs, the bug catching contest, a built-in clock and even the music. These are just a small helping of the new features that these games had to offer, and it helps explain even a little why so many people regard it so highly. There was also the release of Pokémon Crystal later down the line, bringing with it a few new additions as well as the Suicune side-story. Plus it came in a see-through glittery cartridge, so children were just utterly defenceless against the game. 


That's it for part one! I'll be covering the remaining major titles in the next half, so look out for that! Also, don't fret if your favourite game hasn't featured either. Games like Pokémon Snap and Puzzle Challenge were great in their own rights, but there's only so much I can talk about without losing my marbles! If you want to write something about these games, perhaps try out a community blog. We're always looking for some great stories from our readers, and who knows, perhaps you'll make the front page!

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Chris Walden
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