With Pokémon celebrating it's 20th anniversary this year, and the digital releases of Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow, I decided to revisit the games that started a global phenomenon. Each step of the way, I took careful notes on what I encountered, particularly keeping an eye for brilliant or interesting game design choices. I wanted to better know what made these first games so good—and they are quite good.
With the path south of LAVENDER TOWN blocked I take the road heading west. Among the tall grass I catch a VULPIX, my first Fire-type Pokémon since getting CHARMANDER from PROF OAK. Following the road, and battling trainers along the way, I find the gate to SAFFRON CITY closed and end up in CELADON CITY. This is the largest city I've seen yet! There's a multi-floor department store here selling all sorts of handy items. There's also a building housing the game's development team; they offer me an EEVEE at the top floor and remind me of my mission to capture all of the region's 150 Pokémon. I take my EEVEE to the DEPT STORE, buy a THUNDERSTONE and evolve it into JOLTEON, its Electric-type evolution. I then briefly visit the GAME CORNER.
Today I challenge CELADON CITY's gym leader ERIKA. With BLAZE, my CHARMELEON on board, I'm not intimidated by her Grass-type team in the slightest. I win with little trouble, surprised only by the effectiveness of PARASECT's LEECH LIFE—which nearly KOs each Pokémon it faces in one attack—and VICTREEBEL's POISON POWER + WRAP combo, which completely shuts down my PARASECT.
I find TEAM ROCKET's hideout back in the GAME CORNER's basement. I trek through all of their
grunts down to the bottom and battle GIOVANNI, there leader. My SANDSLASH easily knocks out his Rock- and Poison-type team. The man taken captive rewards me with a SILPH SCOPE for saving him.
I take my new SILPH SCOPE back to LAVENDER TOWN and am now able to catch a GASTLY and a CUBONE. I decide to add CUBONE to my team, swapping out SANDSLASH. Near the top of POKéMON TOWER the ghost blocking the last staircase is identified as a haunting MAROWAK. I help it to find rest and kick out the TEAM ROCKET grunts hiding at the top. I also do some exploring and training outside of CELADON CITY and catch a DODUO.
I spend time training my new Pokémon team members outside of CELADON CITY, particularly DODUO. I then find my way into SAFFRON CITY, after helping out the gate keeper, and head into SILPH CO. to fight off TEAM ROCKET.
After quite a bit of battling my JOLTEON finally learns THUNDERSHOCK, so I add it to my main team and remove PIKACHU. I also try adding my new GASTLY to my team.
As I continue fighting through SILPH CO. my CUBONE evolves into MAROWAK! Near the top of the building I meet my rival again; I don't understand what he's doing here. I'm discouraged to find my Pokémon quite a bit lower level than his but I still manage to win without much trouble. A nearby company employee gifts me a LAPRAS, my first Water- and Ice-type Pokémon! I press forward and face off against GIOVANNI again—he's no more challenge now than he was before. With their boss beaten, TEAM ROCKET abandons the building. The president of SILPH CO. thanks me and gives me a Master Ball—a new type of Poké Ball that will catch any Pokémon, guaranteed!
With the exception of Pay Day, there is surprisingly a finite amount of money available in Pokémon
Red & Blue. Even accounting for Pay Day, only one Pokémon learns it—Meowth, which is exclusive to Pokémon Blue—or it can be taught by TM, but it grants a very small amount of change. This is interesting because the choice allows for many problems for unskilled or just unsuspecting players. For instance, early in the game, a player could spend all of his or her money on Potions and Antidotes rather than Poké Balls, preventing him or her from catching any Pokémon beyond the starter. The only way to obtain money is to either win battles against other trainers or sell items found. If players lose against any other trainers, they also lose some of their money—50% of it, in fact. This could result in a snowball effect, in which a player doesn't spend early money on Poké Balls, then continues to lose battles, resulting in more money lost and no money gained. The only option, then, is to continue battling wild Pokémon to gain enough levels to eventually overpower any other trainers by brute force. It doesn't create an unsolvable problem, but could certainly result in an unsatisfactory experience.
This limited funding is highlighted most by Celadon City, where there is both a department store and a casino. The department store has plenty of useful items, namely TMs and evolutionary stones unavailable elsewhere in the game; the game corner is effectively a money pit for a few select Pokémon, namely Porygon. With a finite number of dollars available to the player up until this point—and beyond, as far as being able to repeatedly battle the Elite Four—it means there are many options here which cannot be capitalized on until the player enters the post-game. Put simply, players will not be able to "buy" a Dratini and a Porygon before facing the Elite Four, unless they do not use their earned cash on anything else.
Difficulty & Type Availability
The game has been very kind to Squirtle-players up until Erika when there's a sudden difficulty spike. It's not too bad: there are beginning to be enough Pokémon types available to build a balanced team. Flying-types are very easy to come by and a few Fire-types as well. That said, Charmander-players are finally catching a break and having the easiest time here.
Giovanni makes things a little tough for Charmander-players again, but it's Bulbasaur-starters actually have the hardest time over the next few dungeons. Team Rocket grunts use a lot of Poison- and Psychic-types which Ivysaur/Venusaur don't do so well against. Really, it's Psychic-type Pokémon that shine throughout Silph Co.
I'm impressed by the sudden increase in difficulty between Celadon City and Saffron City. The average level among Team Rocket grunts in Silph Co. is 28.35; the average level of your rival's Pokémon is 37. Even Erika's Pokémon aren't over level 30. This can be quite a shock for players and serves as a great opportunity to show how crucial a well-balanced team is. If you've got the right typing, your rival can be a breeze.
As mentioned, there's finally an offering for most Pokémon types, including Water, Fire, and Electric. It's no coincidence that Eevee is given to the player at this phase of the game and right next to all three stone options for evolution. Having a choice of a Vaporeon, Flareon, or Jolteon before taking on Silph Co. can help a team tremendously.
Tune in next week to continue the adventure!
Pokémon Blue was developed by Game Freak and Creatures Inc. and published by Nintendo. For this analysis, I played Virtual Console release on Nintendo 3DS.