Get ready to feel old.
It’s been 20 years since the first Pokémon games — Red and Green for the Game Boy — debuted in Japan, and since then, the Pokemon series has sold 275 million video games worldwide, shipped 21.5 billion trading cards to 74 countries, launched an 18 season animated series, and become an industry defining brand for both Nintendo and the Pokémon Company. To celebrate the anniversary, they are rereleasing the original, classic adventures that started the creature-catching phenomenon. For us here in the States, that means Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow, out via the 3DS Virtual Console on February 27.
At the Nintendo RPG Showcase in San Francisco last week, I played the Virtual Console versions for the first time, taking me back to my childhood, and the quest to catch-’em-all that is probably responsible for my gaming habits — and by extension, probably my career — today.
Just like you remember
The good news? Everything is exactly as you remember it: the battle cries; the weird-looking sprites; the slightly off-color shaded graphics; and the squat, short protagonist. And there’s just something about that original box art that brings back so many warm memories of one of my first memorable gaming experiences.
I got to play through the first gym, with a team already assembled for me. Good ol’ Brock — the very first gym leader — is still there, waiting for you to battle him after all these years. He still uses an Onix. And you still get a nice, shiny Boulder badge after you take him down. These releases are essentially unaltered, the closest thing you’ll get to riding a time machine back to 1996.
They do have one change, however, and it’s a pretty big one. The originals needed link cables to trade and battle with other players. It’s 20 years later, and link cables remain in the ’90s (and the 3DS doesn’t even use them!). The Virtual Console rereleases have added in wireless support for trading and battles, updating that one aspect of the series to be in line with today’s technology and modern-gaming expectations.
But even this new feature works pretty much the same it did when you were using link cables. When you go and talk to the Cable Club counter, a new menu pops up on the bottom screen that gives you the options to either set up a room or join somebody else’s request. I tested wireless battles as well — everything worked fine, no purple link cables required.
Everything else in the process is pretty much the same. You still sit down at the terminals across from the opposing player, just like you did back in the day. The disappointing thing is that these new options are all limited only to local wireless and aren’t online.
When I was a little kid, that wasn’t a problem. But in today’s world, with everybody split up and my Pokémon friends all over the country, it’s a shame that I won’t be able to battle and trade with friends that aren’t in the same location as me. It very well could be a limitation of the game’s — we are talking about 20-year-old code here — but it seems that if they add in wireless local trading, they should be able to get that new functionality working online as well.
The other bad news? You can’t trade any of the Pokémon you catch in these to newer games; trading only works between the Virtual Console release of Red, Blue, and Yellow. This at least makes more sense: Given the changes to the IV and EV stats systems since, there would be no way for these versions to stay original without having some massive updates for those creatures to work in the modern games. I’m excited for the chance to actually complete the Pokédex again — something I haven’t done since the original release of Red and Blue — but not being able to bring them into my larger Pokémon collection is still a shame.
I learned a few other little tidbits as well. The Game Boy Printer menus? Still intact. Surfing Pikachu — the rare version of Pikachu that knew surf and unlocked the Pikachu’s Beach minigame — that was only available as a contest giveaway? Yup, that’s still there too, though Nintendo is unsure at the time how or if it will still be made available for distribution somehow. Obviously, there’s no way for a 3DS to hook up to a Game Boy Printer, but that stuff is still all there, either way.
Everything else seems to remain unchanged. And that’s good. That’s how it should be. The OG generation already got Game Boy Advance remakes, but for this specific hit of nostalgia, I want them as unchanged as possible. I want them to be exactly as I remember them from when I was a little 6 year old playing them on my Game Boy Color with my worm light.
In fact, I really hope that the Pokémon Company can resist fixing some things that, by today’s standards, would be considered broken. MissingNo. and the associated glitches and bugs were such a big part of Pokémon for me, it just wouldn’t feel right without them around in these releases. The Nintendo rep at the event said he didn’t know if the glitches were going to still be there, but that a lot of people had been asking about it. At least that’s not a flat-out denial … yet.
But as much as I want them to keep most everything the same, there’s one change I’ll champion: Maybe they’ll actually put Mew underneath the damn truck this time, making the 20-year old myth — and my childhood dreams — finally come true.