C’mon, tell me that Pokemon Blue, or indeed any Pokemon product, wasn’t your first obsession. What is it about Pokemon that drives the American public insane with the bone-deep need to collect them all? Game Freak and Nintendo have the keys to the kingdom anytime a new innovation hits the series, and this is where it all started.
For me, I believe I was a year or so late to the release of the Red/Blue/Yellow generation, but it luckily lasted much longer than anyone ever thought it would. I had the cards, friend battles, favorites (Scyther visually, Mewtwo in battles), and the urge to buy all three versions to gather my monsters in one spot. It was bad. Like, batteries in the fridge between play sessions to keep their power high bad.
Years later, the green screen has beckoned me back with Pokemon Blue still holding an unseemly claw in my obsession center.
All three start off relatively the same way with you selecting a caged animal to beat down upon their wild brethren until they bend the knee as well. It’s dark in a funny way, for sure, but Game Freak were sure to always use more neutral language. You never kill them, just make them faint. There are no disputes over victories, just a handful of money and a nod of respect. Let it just be said and agreed upon that this is the most innocent of all possible realities here.
So, of course, Pokemon Blue leads you down a legendary path of capturing these animals, training them, and overcoming the forces of evil and neutral alike. Ironically, I picked up Blue specifically for the huge turtle on the cover, but ended up loving Charmander the most and choosing him more times than not. On the game’s built-in scale (that is to say the order of the gyms) Charmander is hard mode for sure. In fact, fire itself seems to be the least effective of the elements with psychic seeming the strongest. Thus all the Mewtwo love.
The battles are in their uncut Colombian purebred form here without doubles or held items. Despite this being, at the core, a Vegas version of rock, papers, scissors, there is an undeniable thrill to the fights. Landing a standard attack feels as good as seeing a monster slip into a poisoned bout of unconsciousness, and either is a viable strategy. What really ticks my box is the TM/HM system that allows for creatures of different elements to learn powerful attacks. Swift and Fissure are two of the strongest that you can teach to just about anyone you’d like to create one-hit haymaker combinations.
The journey itself really accomplishes the look and feel of a young man living the life of a devoted beast wrangler. You’ll be able to track your own progress through a map that gives you a psychological construct for just how far you’ve gone since the beginning, not to mention your Pokemons’ jumping levels. By the time you enter a gym, you feel ready and tested and by time the Final Four come around, you should be feeling the chest-pounding anticipation of taking hold of your deepest dreams.
Being among the first wave, Pokemon Blue is certainly missing some quality of life advantages. The most glaring one is that those that don’t battle (read: see the field) hardly receive any experience. There is a Pokemon daycare to drop your unwanted children at for some simple XP, but it accumulates far too slowly. Your other option to have everyone leveling evenly is a fancy EXP Share, which suffers from the same problem. This is more of a completionist’s problem than of the core gameplay loop as there are no gates for you to pass with specific Pokemon. If you want, it can be your favorites from beginning to end.
The multiplier to that problem is with the post-game where there are absolutely no areas capable of leveling your Pokemon at a reasonable rate. This remains a glaring issue that ran a lot of players I knew to cheating with MissingNo and Rare Candies, including me, because the grind seemed insane. Once you’re around level 70, you won’t get but one level with two run throughs of the Final Four – easily an hour of gametime including unskippable credits. To battle friends, you wanted your team at max but had a choice between 300 hours of whet stone grinding or a 5 minute cheat.
Also, it really is a jackass move to hold a handful of Pokemon to ransom between games. Worse still, if you were a friendless loner or just couldn’t afford a connection cable with your allowance – both my hands up! – you would never, ever see Gengar or Machamp. Again, not without serious cheats. It sucks that their slogan lures you in, but all of these physical items keep you from actually completing your collection of friendly monsters.
Pokemon Blue is one of many Pokemon games with these issues, but that doesn’t give it a pass. The inclusion of a straightforward, low-stakes story done well on top of the core mechanic, which is about as timeless as it gets, is what keeps this generation feeling so memorable. So, despite my grumblings, there’s only so many grievances you can hold against one of the more memorable games of all time.
Pokemon Blue Score: