Pokémon is now more than 20 years old. With smartphone and trading card games, TV series, films, and manga to its name, Pokémon has become the highest-grossing media franchise of all time. It’s a cultural phenomenon.
But the whole franchise would be nothing without Pokémon Red, Blue, and Green.
Many of us have fond memories of the original GameBoy titles, and, realizing there’s demand for them, Nintendo has released Pokémon Red, Pokémon Blue, Pokémon Yellow, Pokémon Gold, Pokémon Silver, and Pokémon Crystal to the eShop. So, are old Pokémon games still worth playing? And, even more importantly, worth paying for?
Do the Graphics Feel Outdated?
This is going to be your immediate issue.
If you’ve picked up any Pokémon games over the past few years, you’ll be used to quite stunning visuals. Pokémon X and Y—and the re-releases, Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire—proved a significant step forward in graphics. Grass actually resembled grass, water seemed to flow (at least a bit), and the Pokémon themselves could be enjoyed in higher definition.
Finding Latios or Latias on Southern Island in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire really expanded the games’ horizons, allowing you to explore the Hoenn region to its fullest and participate in Sky Battles. Here were two games that fully demonstrated how far the franchise had come.
So what’s it like going back to the original Generation I and II games?
Obviously, the visuals are a step down. Red, Blue, and Yellow are even in black and white. Everything feels like Minecraft—and that’s not a good thing in this instance.
The Pokémon are less refined: they’re darker or bigger. Chansey looks like she’s had one too many, for instance; without the anime to compare to, the original Raichu is a bulky beast. They actually feel like monsters, not the loveable creatures we have now.
And yet they retain their charm. Remarkably, the visuals feel just as real and just as immersive. The less polished graphics feel oddly more intimate than the clean lines of Pokémon Sun and Moon.
The titles may not take full advantage of your 3DS, but some clever shading nonetheless gives them depth. The basic designs remain very smart, perhaps more practical than some modern games.
If the idea of inferior graphics puts you off downloading these early Pokémon games, you should cast your concerns aside immediately. There’s nothing wrong with the rustic approach!
Are the Stories Just as Compelling?
Graphics mean nothing if the plot is non-existent.
For much of the franchise’s history, the narrative of Pokémon games has remained basically the same: you collect Pokémon, train them up, fight gym leaders to get badges, see off other trainers and ne’er-do-wells like Team Rocket, and proceed to the a final battle stage to become a Pokémon Master.
That is, until Pokémon Sun and Moon. For Pokémon’s 20th anniversary, the games shifted up a gear. Sure, you still collected and battled the little monsters, but the narrative is looser. There’s a lot of hand-holding at the beginning, and the only proper trial is the Island Challenge. Team Skull are there to cause mischief and mayhem. It’s the same structure, essentially, but it’s not as regimented. And you don’t get to show off some colorful badges either.
It divided opinion, as such overhauls often do. Either way, most agree that the gym stricture is missed. That’s where the downloadable Pokémon games come in. The original formula works beautifully, and if it ain’t broke…
Crucially, it feels simplified without being patronizing or tedious. There’s place for convoluted ideas in all mediums, but let’s not undervalue the importance of straightforward plots. Without unnecessary diversions, you can sit back and enjoy.
Plus of course, Pokémon is known for having some flexibility. Narrative is great, but the main aim is collecting the creatures. Gotta catch ’em all!
Other Things to Bear in Mind
The downloadable games feel immediately slower than modern iterations. We don’t mean the narrative: it’s the actual speed of your avatar’s movement. You can’t run. You’ll soon get used to it, don’t worry. Still, it takes some time to adjust. Cerulean City has a Bike Shop, but fees start at impossible prices. Head to Vermilion City’s Pokémon Fan Club, where the Chairman will give you a Bike Voucher. That’ll speed things up.
Amazingly, the two most notable glitches from Pokémon Red and Blue still work on the 3DS. If you’ve never been rebellious (in a conformist sort of way), these are: the Mew Glitch; and the Missing No. Glitch. We won’t go into exact instructions for them, but you should at least know they exist.
The first—as you can guess—allows you to catch the legendary 151st Pokémon, Mew. This was originally an Easter egg for the employees of developer, Game Freak, but once word got out about this mysterious creature, the game’s popularity skyrocketed.
The Missing No. Glitch, however, is riskier. It appears as a Pokémon to catch but looks like a coding error (which is exactly what it is). Obtaining it might make your system glitch further, and the only guaranteed way to undo the damage is to restart the game, thereby losing all your progress. However, it can also lead to item duplication, including unlimited Master Balls. It’s a gamble, essentially.
The other thing you should be aware of is the fact you can’t play against others online. Nonetheless, one cool feature is the ability to send Pokémon you catch in the downloadable titles to Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon via the Pokémon Bank service. This means you’re closer than ever to catching them all.
The Nostalgia Factor of Pokémon
We can’t ignore nostalgia as a major reason you need to download Pokémon Red, Blue, Yellow, Gold, Silver, and/or Crystal. These take you back, back, back to the 1990s and early 2000s.
There’s nothing wrong with that at all! Nostalgia is good for you: it wraps you up in a comforting blanket by reminding you of happier times and places. It challenges you and brings back things you’d long since buried in the annals of the past.
And it’s all there, still guaranteed to make you smile.
Because you have to input a name, Professor Oak forgets what his grandson is called. You’ve forgotten the joy of those early evolutions. The first gym feels ridiculously easy; unless you’ve picked Pokémon Yellow which pairs you up with Pikachu, AKA the worst Pokémon of all time to take on Rock-types. Our advice? Catch Pidgeys and Caterpies, and train them up relentlessly.
We’re told not to “live in the past,” but there’s nothing to feel guilty about here. This is why all downloadable games are so popular. We need to embrace that.
Which Old Pokémon Game Should You Download?
This is the one question that remains. Because we’ve already answered the question over whether old Pokémon games are worth playing, at length. Of course they are! So, which should you choose?
You need to download at least one from Generation I. Go with the one you bought originally, if you were a fan back then. If not, Blue or Red are both solid options. It’s a good idea to follow this up with Crystal because it combines the best of Gold and Silver.
The old Pokémon games are all utterly fantastic. And if you really want to delve deep into the history of the Pokémon series take a look at our ranking of official Pokémon games.