Who would have guessed that a childhood hobby of collecting insects would one day manifest itself as a multi-billion dollar franchise? Satoshi Tajiri, creator of Pokémon, probably did not expect that either - but twenty years on from releasing his first game heavily inspired by that same childhood hobby, here we are.
In Tajiri's signature game, you play as a trainer who, at the tender age of ten, leaves home to venture out into the world filled with monsters. Your first goal is to capture monsters, train them by beating other monsters up, eventually becoming the best trainer of them all. Your other main goal is to capture all 151 of the creatures inhabiting the world. You capture monsters in balls (Poké Balls) that you can store in your pocket, hence the name Pocket Monsters, conveniently shortened to Pokémon. You can only carry six Poké Balls with you, so the other 145 monsters are stored in boxes on a computer. Oh, and while you're at it you must also save the world from a criminal organisation. That may sound like a lot of work and responsibility for a mere ten year old, but in the world of Pokémon it's perfectly acceptable.
Describing the game like that may sound rather strange, hence Nintendo not fully grasping the concept of Pokémon when Satoshi Tajiri first presented it to them. Luckily for us, Nintendo was impressed enough with Tajiri's game design to give him a chance to publish Pokémon. Six years of development and near-bankruptcy later, the seemingly strange concept became a worldwide phenomenon and one of Nintendo's best known titles.
Throughout the years, fans all over the world have been spoiled with a plethora of Pokémon games, as well as several anime series, manga, and spin-off games. Celebrating their 20th anniversary, The Pokémon Company re-released the titles that started the Poké-madness: Pokémon Blue, Red and Yellow once again stormed the market exactly twenty years after their first release in 1996.
Except for trading, nothing has been changed in the re-release of these now retro titles. This allows players to (re)visit Kanto in all its original glory - from the simplistic sprites to the highly addictive gameplay.
Despite being spoiled with the beautiful crisp graphics in Pokémon X and Y, the lack of pixels in Blue, Red and Yellow is surprisingly easy to get used to (again). With Pokémon Yellow as a personal favourite, within no time we found ourselves loving the chubby blob depicting a Pikachu more than any other Pokémon ever owned.
The gameplay proves to be just as fun as twenty years ago, and not just for veteran players with fond childhood memories. The goal in all Pokémon games has been unaltered since its original release: Be The Very Best, and Gotta Catch Em All (you now have that song stuck in your head - you're welcome).
Each of the Pokémon games from 1996 up until now starts the same: after specifying your name (and in some cases your gender) to that region's local Pokémon Professor (and sometimes awkwardly having to remind him of the name of his own grandson), you'll get given your first Pokémon. Apart from Pokémon Yellow where you get a Pikachu whether you like it or not, you'll get to choose between three Starter Pokémon. All Pokémon belong to a certain type, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, like rock-paper-scissors. Besides the electric-type Pikachu, all Starter Pokémon contain a grass-type, fire-type, and water-type to choose from. You'll also get tasked with filling up a Pokédex - a nifty little device that is best described as an electronic Pokémon encyclopaedia that will add data for every Pokémon you'll catch and evolve.
Once you've picked your very first companion, it's time to start your adventure. By travelling around the world, capturing, training and evolving Pokémon, you will increase the strength and size of your Pokémon collection. Battles with wild Pokémon and Pokémon trainers are turn-based. When engaged in battle, the screen changes to a battle screen showing both you and your opponent's Pokémon and their HP. At each turn you may use an attack, an item, or even try to run away from the battle. Whichever Pokémon gets the HP of their opponent to 0 first, wins the battle and earns XP. When a Pokémon earns enough XP, they undergo a metamorphosis and transform in a stronger version of themselves, otherwise known as evolving.
Some cities you travel to have Pokémon Gyms, defeating the Gym Leader will earn you a badge. Apparently Pokémon value these little medals a lot, because some will not obey you any more unless you earn a specific badge. When you've collected eight badges, you can challenge a team of four elite trainers (innovatively named the Elite Four), and defeating them will finally earn you the coveted title of Pokémon Master, winning the game. Afterwards the game remains open-ended, allowing you to fill up your Pokédex.
Each game also contains rare one-of-a-kind Pokémon, otherwise known as Mythical Pokémon. In Blue, Red, and Yellow we find the elusive Mew, a strong addition to any team.
A major subplot in all Pokémon games is to also defeat a criminal organisation. Though named differently throughout the games, the goal of these criminal organisations is always the same: misusing Pokémon to take over the world.
Even when you have never played the first Pokémon games, a lot of the generation one critters will look familiar, as they have popped up in newer releases as well. Seeing them in their original state where it all once started is a nice trip down memory lane, and at times even quite hilarious. Since 1996, Pikachu has definitely been on a diet, Charizard has been lifting, and we still haven't figured out what Porygon is exactly.
A huge perk about the first games, is that catching them all is a significantly easier goal in Red, Blue and Yellow. With Pokémon X and Y bumping the total amount of Pocket Monsters up to a whopping 700+, collecting a mere 151 of them feels like a walk in the park.
The re-releases of Red, Blue and Yellow kept their original 8-bit music. Though definitely befitting the time, the music gets a bit monotone after a while. Luckily we can vouch for the games being just as fun with the volume turned off.
Besides Pokémon, Nintendo's handheld devices have been through a good few evolutions as well. With the 3DS' ability to connect to the Internet, trading Pokémon has been upgraded to a smooth experience. For those of you who remember scoping out your home town hoping to find fellow players for a trade (and then messing around with cables), this will come as a very welcome upgrade.
The highly successful signature grind of Pokémon has proven to be both fun and challenging enough to remain unchanged for twenty years. Pokémon Blue, Red and Yellow have definitely stood the test of time - whether you're a veteran player looking for a pleasant trip down memory lane or an entirely new (aspiring) Pokémon Master, these games will provide you with hours of fun. Although some people might think the price of £8.99 is too much (via Nintendo's Eshop), there are still plenty of reasons to (re)visit the Kanto region!