Replay: Pokemon Yellow

pokemonyellowax3

To coincide with its 20th anniversary, Nintendo have finally released the original Pokemon game on the 3DS virtual console. As a self-hating Pokemon fan, this was an opportunity I simply couldn’t pass up, despite the nagging sense of shame I feel in the background whenever I play the game.

Putting aside my personal issues, I was actually pleasantly surprised with what I discovered when I started playing. I expected and had prepared myself for first a potent nostalgia hit, followed by the crushing realisation that retro games rarely belong on the shiny pedestal I place them on. The nostalgia part certainly happened, but the disappointment I anticipated didn’t. Pokemon Yellow actually still plays really well.

I’m not sure if it’s testament to how great the original concept was or lack of meaningful innovation to the series, but the Pokemon Yellow actually feels better than recent iterations of the game; more pure. Playing this game again serves to highlight how most of the additional crap that’s been added over this years is just that: Crap. It’s meaningless filler and bolted on junk that, in hindsight, has left the series feeling over-encumbered when compared to this stripped back original.

This also seems true of the all important Pokemon line-up. As the quantity went up with each new game, the quality seems to have gone down. Coming back to the original 150, they now feel like pure-bred’s in comparison. I’m surprised by how many of these classics I still remember, especially as it dawns on me that I can’t name a single one from the most recent game I played. These guys are iconic.

67984-pokemon_-_yellow_version_usa_europe-2

There are a few innovations that I miss though. The ability to map items to short-cut keys is a sorely missed feature that’s been added to later games. Having to keep bringing up the menu, browsing down the list and manually selecting items adds nothing but frustration. This issue really presents itself in activities like fishing, or when you want to select your bike to move faster.

At first I also really missed the indicator that lets you know if you’ve already caught the Pokemon you’re battling. Then it dawned on me that it really only serves as a crutch for the lazy. Like any good sticker collector of the 90’s, you came to know your Panini sticker album inside out, back to front. When that Argentine goal keeper turned up, you didn’t need an indicator telling you whether you needed it or not, you already knew. With “gotta catch ’em all” being one of the key objectives, the same should be true of your Pokemon. Taking the time to study your Pokedex is a mechanic that helps bind you to the spirit of game, so not being able to shortcut that process is actually quite important. I think it helps you feel more involved, committed and immersed in the game.

Aesthetically…aesthetically this is a game from the 90’s; a gameboy game from the 90’s no less. This is where things get a bit surprising again though, as it really doesn’t look that bad. Had this of been a first person shooter or driving game, it would have probably looked bad back then and positively hideous today. However, given that it’s a cutesy little RPG that takes place from a top-down perspective, time has actually been fairly forgiving. Being of the 8 bit generation and in two dimensions,  Pokemon invariably fairs much better than later games that took the move to early 3D. They’ve created a rich, vibrant world; a world packed with such a variety and intrigue, of both locations and characters, that it’s still a joy to revisit all these years later.

PokemonYellow36

The same rings true of the gameplay; but then that’ hardly surprising when you consider that even today’s Pokemon games use the same core mechanics. Random encounters and the inevitable need to grind can start to grate a little, but this is generally offset by the “catch ’em all” mentality. The monotony of fighting off endless Rattata’s is often broken up by the appearance of a rare Pokemon that you need for your collection, or by the eventual levelling, evolution and new moves learn by your team. It adds an important element of excitement to what would otherwise feel like thankless task.

Your initial quest quickly becomes multi-faceted as you explore the world and have run ins with characters you meet along the way. Unravelling these plots is key to progressing from town to town, as you take on each of the eight gym leaders. Although presented as serious, there is an air of pantomime villainy about it all, that keeps things light-hearted and enjoyable. It’s all timeless “good guys vs bad guys” stuff, so is as fun now as when it was first released.

The games music is like hearing the familiar voice of a old friend. From moody battle anthems and foreboding dungeon tracks, through to quirky Pokemon sound bites  – the music really supports and compliments the whole experience, helping drive emotion into each situation. The poke-centre melody really is quite relieving and uplifting to hear after hours of dragging your weary Pokemon through a cave.

Overall, Pokemon Yellow is much more than the simple nostalgia hit I was expecting and is still a great game in it’s own right. Although there has been some handy innovations over the years, there’s also been a lot of unnecessary tat – making Pokemon Yellow feel like the unadulterated classic that it is.

Advertisements