Saturday, 27 September 2014

Pokémon: Red Version (GB)

Pokémon Red Version title screen game boy
Today's 'P' game is POKéMON: Red Version! Okay there's no way I'm writing it out like that for the rest of this. I'll let it keep the acute accented é but that's where I draw the line.

I was surprised to find (because I know astoundingly little about the series) that the game is not called Pokémon in its native country. I mean I get that it's a portmanteau, but I assumed the name originated in Japan, like with 'Tamagotchi'. In fact the original Japanese title for this is basically just pronounced as 'Pocket Monsters'; so someone took a sensible English title and then mangled it up for the English release. It's a perfectly likeable mangled up name though, so I ain't complaining.

Man, look at those cartridges, it's very unusual to see a Game Boy game with a coloured case like that in my experience. The original Japanese games got the typical boring grey cartridges, but I guess they knew they were onto something special by the time of the Western release and wanted to make a bigger event out of it. It definitely seems to have worked, as Pokémon Red/Blue/Green became one of the highest selling games ever made... sitting between Wii Fit and Kinect Adventures in wikipedia's List of best-selling video games.

I'm not sure if this is the first game to come in two nearly identical variants you could link together, but nothing older is coming to mind. In Japan though the colours were originally Red and Green, with Blue being a third updated version released eight months later. Then they took the Japanese Blue, translated it, and split it into the Western Red and Blue you're looking at in the picture. Then there was another updated release called Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition. Oh, plus the FireRed and LeafGreen remakes for the Game Boy Advance...

Sorry I'll shut up and play the game now. I only really showed this photo to remind you what colour looks like, because you won't be seeing it again for a long while.

The game starts in a white void, where Professor Oak introduces the concept of Pokémon. Which is basically what animals are called in this world. For some people, animals are pets, he explains. Others use them for fights. We're going to be doing the second one, because amazingly Nintendo got away with publishing a kids game about making pets fight each other.

There seems to be a bit of a 'woody' theme going on with the character names so far, with Oak and Ash, but I couldn't fit 'Yggdrasil' in so I gave up and just called my guy Bart. The remake later added the option to play as a girl, but in this one you're stuck with a male character.

After we've finished working out what my name is, Prof. Oak moves onto trying to remember his grandson's name. It seems that this guy has been my character's rival since they were babies. They had baby rivalry going on, fighting over the letter blocks and trying to see who could cry the loudest.

A SNES? How quaint. This game got an incredibly late release for a Game Boy game in the West (and in Europe especially), so we were a fair few years deep into the N64 era when it hit shelves. Though as far as I can tell this is actually an original Famicom in the Japanese versions.

Pokémon FireRed (GBA)
There we go, the GBA remake settles it once and for all.

I don't know why I'm so preoccupied with his console anyway, when the thing is sitting in bedroom like 8 meters across. My young Pokémon trainer has a room bigger than some entire houses, complete with its own staircase. And yet there's no bathroom on this floor.

Out of curiosity I walked over to the PC to see what games he had, and found he was actually running item storage software on it, recording real world objects as computer data. Very Tron. Anyway I found a potion in there and moved it from the hard drive into my backpack before logging off.

Down the stairs I found the ground floor of the house and yet still no bathroom. Also the guy's mother apparently lives here too, despite there only being the one bed in the whole building.

She tells me that all boys leave home some day, and that she heard that on TV. I tried to reply by saying that most of them wait until they're at least in their teens, but there's no dialogue options in this.

Out of curiosity I walked over to the TV to see what she's watching, and from the description it seems to be that Stand By Me movie from '86 with Wesley Crusher and Jack Bauer in it. She's getting her parenting advice from a Steven King film.

Right outside my house I saw an NPC walking around, so I decided to have a chat. She mentioned how she's raising Pokémon as well, so that they can protect her. There's something very creepy about this town and I not just talking about the dancing flowers.

Anyway I can't hang around this place forever, I need to go out and... actually I have no idea what my goal is. My only objective so far has been to 'leave home', which I have successfully achieved, but I guess I could try leaving my home town as well.

I managed to take just one step outside of town before Prof. Oak ran after me, yelling like a maniac about raptors prowling around in the long grass. Or Pokémon, whatever.

In the Yellow version a Pikachu jumps out here and Oak manages to save the day by catching it in a Poké Ball, but nothing so dramatic happens in Red, Green or Blue.

Prof. Oak decides that if I'm going to go do stupid things like leaving town, then I'm going to need my own Pokémon to defend me. Apparently it never occurred to anyone to try mowing the grass that covers the only road in or out of town.

He's also brought my rival-since-infancy here, but seeing as Oak likes me better than his own grandson, I get to have first choice of the three available Pokémon on the table.

Pocket Monsters Red/Green (1996) | Pokémon Red/Blue (1998) | Pokémon FireRed/LeafGreen (2004)
I get to pick either the lil' dragon creature Charmander (fire), the happy turtle monster Squirtle (water), or the creepy frog/plant hybrid Bulbasaur (uhh?). I already know that the game basically has a rock/paper/scissors system, where different types are strong against some Pokémon and weak against others, but without looking it up online I'm going to have to figure out how they affect each other myself.

A dragon seems like a good bet for early success to me though. He seems like he's the Pokémon equivalent of Blackbeard the pirate, except that he puts fear into his enemies with a flaming tail instead of a burning beard. Plus he's on the box cover of the version I'm playing, so I pretty much already made my choice.

Though straight after I picked Charmander, my rival went with Squirtle and now I'm starting to worry that fire plus water may not equal steamed turtle.


EPIC BATTLE ANIMATION! 
(Youtube link for battle music)



My dragon's so low res!

Given the choice between GROWL and SCRATCH, I decided that SCRATCH seemed to be the move more likely to do anything useful, and went with that. But that turtle must have had the type advantage, as his attacks really hammered my health bar. Fortunately though I'd smuggled in that potion I'd found in my PC, and using it kept me in the fight just long enough to scratch that Squirtle to death.

Oh hang on, I guess he actually just fainted. The funny thing is, if he'd kept hitting me instead of using tail whip to lower my defence, he would've won that.

Alright, now I've got a fightin' pet with a victory under his belt I'm going back outside to brave THE LONG GRASS.

Man there's a lot of long grass outside of Pallet Town, each square packed with random battles. There's one-way ledges around that let me skip past a lot of the grass entirely on a return trip, but right now I'm forced to take the long way up, trying to step on as little of each patch as I can along the way.

Okay then, now that I have my Pokémon to protect me I can head off into the world and do... something. The best clue I've got is an email I found on Prof. Oak's PC earlier mentioning the elite trainers of POKéMON LEAGUE, but I don't think I'm quite ready for them yet. seeing as I've only got the one Pokémon so far.


Crap, a random encounter appeared! I was doing so well too.

The thing about having just the one Pokémon and no potions, is that even if I win a fight, I come out of it weaker. Health doesn't regenerate between battles so these rats are nibbling my Charmander to death one fight at a time. Plus I only get a limited number of uses from each move until it's out of ammo.

I just hope these little rodents are as outgoing when I finally get myself some Poké Balls and come back to the long grass do some recruiting.


A SCREEN OR TWO NORTH.


I've reached Viridian City... population: 20. It'd be a stretch to even call it a village really. There's a free Pokémon healing clinic, a house with one room, a school with one desk, a gym, and a general store. And the general store refuses to sell me anything, just because I know Prof. Oak!

I don't meant imply that there's some kind of vendetta between the two of them, the shopkeeper's just got a mysterious package that he wants me to deliver to him. Immediately.

Well fuck that guy then, I'm going exploring!

Oh, well I guess I'm not going exploring then. This guy is pulling an Arthur Dent: lying in the road, yelling at everyone who tries to get past him. So I either have to find some coffee somewhere, or go back to Pallet town and deliver this package.

Alright Charmander get your tail lit, we've got some rats to burn.


EIGHT SCREENS SOUTH, IN PALLET TOWN.


Pokémon: FireRed (GBA)
Delivering the package (a custom Poké Ball) to Prof. Oak reminded him that he had a job for my rival and I. We're to go around the region catching Pokémon and entering their information into our new POKéDEXs, with the goal of making a complete guide on all the POKéMON in the world!

Hey Oak, does that mean that you're going to let me take that ultra-rare one just sitting right there on your desk then? I mean, I need to catch it to scan the data in right?

Oh fine, I guess I'll go find my own Bulbasaur then! I would've traded my Charmander for my rival's Squirtle, but he ran off too fast, so I can't scan that one either.


SEVEN SCREENS NORTH AGAIN.


Pokémon game boy shop screen
At least the shopkeeper in Viridian will let me buy things now, though at these prices I'm not sure I want to any more. Also he's out of potions!

I guess I'll take a POKé BALL... and nine more POKé BALLs. Alright now I can at last start catching 'em all!

Hey Pidgey, I've got a ball for you!

It seems that Pokémon can only be captured in the wild, after they've jumped out to fight me. First though it's apparently best to smack them around a little, as wounded animals are easier to trap. Don't worry, I'm sure he'll be very comfortable stuffed inside that tiny ball. I think POKéSCIENTISTS must have stumbled across the same technology that genies use to shrink themselves down into a lamp.

Right, now I can cross pidgeon off the list of animals to capture. Time to go hunting for rats.

Oh crap, I was just hunting for new Pokémon, I didn't expect to run across my rival and get dragged into a fight! I bet he's been levelling his team as well.


SOON.


The fight's not going well; my rival's already wiped out my Charmander, my Spearow is going to get one-shotted the instant I bring it out, and my Rattata and Pidgey are equally useless. I blame that bloody Poké Mart for being out of potions.

I don't believe it, I actually got him down to his last Pokémon! Though I'm at my last Pokémon too, as well as my last health point, so I can't celebrate just yet. But if he keeps using debuffs on me, then I actually have a chance to win this.

Oh, he used bubble on me, which apparently counts as an offensive move in the world of Pokémon as I just lost. Crap, I can't even remember the last time I saved the game.

Distraught by the loss of all his Pokémon at the hands of the man who first taught him the concept of hate, Bart blacks out right in the middle of the road.

Hey I reappeared back at the Pokémon Center! I guess my rival ain't all that bad after all, seeing as he dragged me all the way back to safety after my mysterious inexplicable black out.

Oh, plus he helped myself to half my money it seems. That bastard!

At least it seems that the guy blocking the road has had his coffee now, so I should probably save and continue north. There's no save points in this by the way, I can save the game any time I want! It's always nice to be able to turn a game off whenever I feel like it without worrying about losing progress.

To get to the next city I have to cross a forest maze, which suits me as it's full of new Pokémon for me to collect. But it's also full of Pokémon trainers dragging me into mandatory battles whenever I first cross their line of sight.

Trainer battles are important though, because even though I can't grab their Pokémon they seem to be the only way I can raise money (short of selling stuff). Now that I know that money is such a limited resource in this, I'm even more paranoid about blacking out in a fight and losing half of it.


Alright, I've just made it through the forest, so here's my progress so far. Viridian City and Pallet Town are the black squares directly below me, and I've just arrived at Pewter City, which is "A Stone Grey City" according the sign. Well obviously; everything's grey in this game.

Hang on, are all these cities named after colours? It's Pallet Town actually supposed to be Palette Town?

Pokémon: Red Version (Super Game Boy)
The game has proper Super Game Boy support so it is possible to see the town in it's full four colour glory. Though it's clearly green, not grey, so I don't know what the sign was talking about.

Anyway I've got a full set of Pokémon now, trained in the forest and healed in the Pokémon Center. Plus I've even been able to grab a few $300 potions, so I think that I'm finally ready to take on my first gym.

I don't know why Pokémon masters have their own gyms, but they do, and to earn the Pokémon gym's badge I need to take out everyone in here that stands in my way!

Uh, why am I getting gym badges again? Oh right yeah, I need a full set from the gyms in every city to gain access to the Pokémon League and fight the elite trainers to prove that I'm the best trainer in the world!

Also I can't move on to the next area without getting the gym badge, which kind of impedes my ability to catch 'em all.

Oh shit this is a rock Pokémon gym, and rock is apparently strong against everything! Well it's definitely not weak to fire, birds, rats and insects anyway. Why didn't I think of bringing a paper-type Pokémon?

Brock definitely seems to have the better team, but he made the amateur mistake of only bringing out two Pokémon. It took my whole team of six to wear down this Onix, but I got him in the end.

Hey, Brock gave me TM34 as a reward! Is that some kind of Star Wars robot then?

Oh it's a one-use item to teach a certain move to one of my Pokémon. Well, I'm not sure I'm going to keep this team for long, so I'll leave the thing in my inventory for now. If I start teaching Stanley the Weedle advanced combat moves I might be too tempted to keep him in the party even when a wild Godzillahulk or Mammothtank or whatever shows up.

Man, the trainers are definitely coming out in force on this next stretch. I keep having to run back to Pewter City every few fights because my Pokémon are worn down and I'm too cheap to buy them potions.


LATER, AT MT. MOON.


Whoa, this guy's selling a Magikarp for just $500? I don't know if the creature is any good or not, but that's not really all that important. I don't have it yet, therefore I need it.

Oh, it turns out that the fish is a piece of crap with only a single move, called 'Splash'. In fact the thing is so lame that I have to wonder if there's some kind of use for it later. I've already got a full party though, so it gets sent to a computer hard drive instead, where it can hang out with all the other Pokémon I've been finding and not using

I'll deposit one of my team into the network using that PC over there, and then pull the fish out and put it in my party to level it up a bit. Inactive Pokémon don't get the slightest bit of XP, so I gotta use 'em to improve 'em.

To get to the next city I need to go through this dark cave under the mountain. Down here I'm playing by standard JRPG rules, where random encounters can strike wherever I'm standing. It also feels like they've upped the encounter rate, as I'm running into another bloody Zubat every few steps. Zubats and more bloody rock Pokémon.

Man, I'm defnitely glad I taught Landrat that 'Water Gun' TM, as water seems to be the rock type's weakness. It took six Pokémon to kill an Onix earlier, but now I can basically wipe them out with the one.

Speaking of water types, I actually sent the fish out first but his main only move isn't actually all that much of an attack. He just kind of splashes around. But I have to bring him out once in every single fight to give him a share of the XP at the end of it or else he'll never get better.

I'm definitely getting buyers remorse with that thing now.


A FEW NARROW ESCAPES LATER.


I've run into Team Rocket! I've always wondered what the deal with these guys is supposed to be, and fortunately they explain themselves pretty clearly here: they're Pokémon gangsters. The Animal Mafia. So now I finally know.

These guys have come down here to steal some fossils, which is apparently a bigger deal than it sounds. I remember reading a sign requesting that people come forward to the police with information on fossil thieves way back in Pewter City in fact.

But now that I'm here I have a chance to but an end to their thieving ways... by knocking out all their Pokémon and leaving them trapped and helpless in the dark surrounded by Zubats. The same thing I did to all those young Pokémon trainers on the way down here in fact. Perhaps the real monster was me all along...

First though I need to get out of here to recharge my troops, as that fight left me with just 6hp on my final Pokémon. ESCAPE ROPE!


ANOTHER TRIP BACK UNDER THE MOUNTAIN LATER.


Pokémon Red helix fossil screenshot game boy

Hmm, do I want the HELIX FOSSIL? Do I really want to steal a fossil from this cave even after it has been repeatedly mentioned that taking fossils is a crime?

Sure, I guess.


EVENTUALLY, AT CERULEAN CITY.


Right, it seems that the second gym leader, Misty, is going to be using water type Pokémon, so this time I'm going to use my head and build up an anti-water team first.

Alright what's going to be good against water? Electricity maybe? Judging by the starter Pokémon on Oak's table, Frogbulb is the one that's good against Squirtle, but who knows what that thing's meant to be. Plant type I guess?

Water Pokémon seem like they'd be a good compromise, and I know just how to catch a few. They won't be super effective against Misty's team, but they won't be weak either. Of course I'll have to level them all up first, but I'm trying not to think about that right now.

Finally, an enemy that my Magikarp can take on in a fight... another Magikarp! I'm kinda regretting dragging this thing around with me all this time, bringing him out in every fight to level him up for no gain at all. Especially now that I know that I could've just caught one instead of wasting $500 on it!

Seems like there's nothing in this water but more useless Magikarps, so I'll put my recruitment scheme on hold for now.


SOON, AFTER MEETING ANOTHER TRAINER.


Okay that's weird. NPC Pokémon trainers trade Pokémon with me using the link cable interface... and an original old-school Game Boy.

I was expecting to at least see a Game Boy Pocket here, but apparently the game was released just a few months before the release of the system in Japan (and then it came out a year after the Game Boy Color in Europe).

I've managed to trade Spearmint the Spearow for a Farfetch'd called Dux from one of the NPCs, but I'm not sure that gaining another flying Pokémon is going to help me any. Still, it's another entry in the Pokédex. 20 something down, 130 to go.


LATER.


As my heroic and entirely reasonable search for some Pokémon that are good against Misty continues, I've decided to go explore this Diglett cave I've found to see where it takes me. I'm hoping there's at least a Pokémon Center at the other side, because right now I'm in a world of hurt.

Look at these little mole bastards, look what they're doing to my heavy hitters! They like to dig underground for a turn where I can't hurt them, then spring back up to inflict massive damage.

I'll be lucky if I have anyone left by the end of this tunnel and I definitely don't have any faith that I could survive a return trip. The only reason I've lasted this long is because I have an Abra with a Teleport skill that gets me out of battles.

No! There's no Pokémon Center here! There's basically nothing here, except paths blocked with these little trees. Not even a nice little electric Pokémon or two. I am so entirely screwed.

Well not entirely screwed. But I'm too cheap to buy potions, so I'm carrying a fair amount of cash right now which would be halved if all my Pokémon faint, and I'd really like to hold onto it all if possible. I guess all I can do is take my chances in the Diglett cave again, head back through to civilization, and hope for a miracle.


A COUPLE OF MINUTES LATER...


Pokémon Red Magikarp evolved into Gyarados screenshot
My useless little Magikarp evolved into a bloody dragon! It's a miracle! I wonder if the next evolution will turn it into GlaDOS so I can finally get my electric type.

Oh it wasn't Gyarados who got me back out of the Diglett cave again by the way; this evolution actually happened shortly after I got outside. No, my unlikely escape was all thanks to my fluky little Rattata, who survived the trip practically on his own by the end of it. That guy is NEVER leaving my party from now on; he's earned his place.

Funny thing though... I learned shortly afterwards that Abra's Teleport skill could've instantly brought me back to the last Pokémon Center I'd visited, letting me skip the return trip through the cave entirely.

Anyway, what was I doing? Oh right, I've got to go fight Misty. Come on Gyarados, we've got a badge to get.


TWO MINUTES LATER.


I may have overestimated the threat just a little bit here. My level 23 Gyarados took out the entire gym by itself and only lost 20 HP in the process.

But by beating Misty I've gained the ability to use the CUT command on the field to remove small bushes! But only for Pokémon who know Cut, which right now is roughly none of them. So now I guess I go back to breaking into people's houses and talking to everyone until someone points me in the right direction.

Last time I got an ability like this, I'd stumbled across Team Rocket trying to steal it. Instead of bringing the ability machine back to the victim, our heroic Pokémon trainer just decided to keep it for himself. So that's twice now I've beaten Team Rocket at their own crime.


ONE LONG TRIP THROUGH THE CRUISE SHIP S.S. ANNE LATER.


There, I can finally cut these bloody things out of my path! The map has opened up for me, with so many new side roads to visit. Seems like a good time to turn it off to me.


CONCLUSION

In one line, Pokémon is an addictive RPG thing built around a genius idea, spoiled a little by the grind.

I love how relentlessly focused the thing is on Pokémon though. That man who wanted some coffee is practically the only NPC in the game whose issues don't relate to Pokémon in some way. Every bookcase is full of Pokémon books (that I can't read), schools only teach about Pokémon, shops only sell Pokémon gear, everything in this world revolves around the cute little collectable capsule creatures, and that makes your quest to catch 'em all feel so important. To succeed as a Pokémon trainer, fighter and scholar means really something in this society, so it means something to the player too.

It's a little annoying that it doesn't tell you what any of the Pokémon's moves do, so it's all about trying things out and guesswork. Or more accurately, all about swapping advice with the other kids at school or checking the internet. I suppose I can forgive Game Freak though, seeing as they probably couldn't fit another byte of data on that cartridge without the whole thing crashing down.

The game's an easy gold star, but the way that only Pokémon that participate in battles gain XP really hurts it for me. You can't build up your own handpicked team without putting in the time and sitting through some tedious grinding, and that's just... tedious. The presentation helps to offset the frustrations though, which isn't something I get to say about Game Boy games all that often. The music is this is so horrifically catchy that I'll likely still be humming it all the time next year, and long after I've forgotten where it's from. The GBA remake doesn't quite do so well musically, but the graphics are definitely a lot more colourful, in that they have colour at all.

I'd play either version again though, so like I said, it gets a star:

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3 comments:

  1. Is that Postal up next? If so, I must sheepishly request ostrich farm screenshots, even though it is in the second half of the game if I remember correctly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You got the game right, but the halfway point is way further into it than I'll be going I'm afraid.

      Delete
    2. That's a pity, and a relief.

      Delete

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