Today, as you may have already read, Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver were released in Japan. While the North American and worldwide releases won’t be coming until 2010, thoughts of my time with the Pokemon series are percolating now. I bring you, the potentially interested, the sum of my Pokémon experiences and where I see myself going with it.
In 1994, one of my first issues of Nintendo Power (having at long last been given an NES in Christmas ’93. I know, you don’t need to say it) contained a feature on games which never left Japan. One such game was called Pocket Monsters. This would sit undisturbed in the back of my brain for several years without a second thought.
Subscribers to Nintendo Power were occasionally subjected to video previews (on VHS tapes mailed to subscribers) to hype games. But unlike the fun, behind-the-scenes look at Donkey Kong Country or the fantastic gameplay videos for the N64 launch, the Pokémon video fell flat. It was barely focused on the games at all, serving more like a catalog of all the merchandise you would undoubtedly be buying. I was less than impressed with this blatant act of marketing (the marketing spectrum ranges from subtle to insulting) and once again, Pokémon was banished from my active mind.
Some time after the first generation games were released stateside, a friend bought Pokémon Blue. On one occasion, when another friend and I were visiting, he showed us the game. His parents were not interested in TV ownership, so he relied on a Game Boy (and later, a PC) for nearly all of his videogaming. To that end, he often found gems that most of us had overlooked, such as Final Fantasy Adventure. Despite the bad taste the hype had left in my brain’s mouth, this friend had long ago earned the benefit of the doubt on these matters.
It was a good idea.
It was obvious the hype machine wouldn’t win over, nor be aimed at, a high-schooler. On the other hand, the game was beyond solid. Sure, there were a few architectural annoyances (I was quite happy to leave behind the laborious, original box system that required repeated saving in the third generation), but Pokémon reshattered my expectations for the venerable Game Boy (the original shattering occurred through the tandem efforts of Warioland and Link’s Awakening).
After that experience, I purchased Pokémon Red as soon as I could. I started off with the box’s suggestion of Charmander, overleveled to power my way past Brock, then quickly grew tried of Hikers and Geodudes. I kept on pushing through the game, trying to hunt down every last creature and add it to my poorly organized collection. “Gotta catch ’em all,” indeed. Pokémon at long last gave me a reason to use the link cable (mysteriously, I did not own a copy of Tetris until much later), and to copious use I put it.
Almost two years later, barely in time for me to still be in high school, Pokémon Gold and Silver came to North America. I upgraded to a Game Boy Color and bought Silver as soon as I could. I was hoping for a more polished experience of the original game, and got so much more. 100 new pokémon, holding items, the pokégear, real-time day/night/day of the week cycle, breeding, phone calls and specialty balls made from nuts (get your mind out of the gutter) were features I’ve sorely missed in later games. The game also had a much more memorable and threatening theme for Team Rocket (who could forget casually turning on your radio, and discovering the station had been captured!) which remains in my iTunes library to this day. Really. It’s also the ringtone for when my boss calls. I also enjoyed using the other types for the new gyms — I bet the programmer who suggested making a normal-type gym had a lot of guts. But the best thing of all was the greatest endgame content ever devised: Going back to Kanto and seeing the original game world years later — even fighting the protagonist who came before you.
For all this and more, I look to GS as the best iteration of Pokémon. Small wonder the release of remakes leads me to wax nostalgic, eh?
I was in college when the third wave hit in 2003. I already owned a Game Boy Advance, so I picked up Pokémon Sapphire when it came out. Perhaps I was disappointed that most of the features I loved in GS were absent. Perhaps I just couldn’t get into the 100 new new pokémon. Perhaps I was just older and busier. For whatever reason, it didn’t hook me. I stopped after fewer than 20 hours, and sold it off not long after. It seemed the adventure was over.
Flash forward to 2006, two years after the release of Fire Red and Leaf Green. A dear friend eventually managed to get me back on the wagon, and I was curious at how much more I’d like the original game with a makeover, newer elements and a vastly superior box system experience. Maybe it was the extra time I had to shake off franchise fatigue or perhaps it was channeling the Good Old Times, but I was having fun and breezing on through. My momentum carried me through Pokémon Emerald and Pokémon Colosseum. I even grabbed a copy of Pokémon Ruby to collect two or three version-exclusive pokémon (and endlessly trade starters to my Emerald and Fire Red games). I also picked up Pokémon XD (aka “Pokémon Emoji“), but have yet to dig through it. You see, a larger version of an old problem cropped up before I got going in XD, but we’ll get into that in Part Two.