On Christmas morning, we all gathered around the tree and exchanged gifts.
When it was my turn, I eagerly ripped open the paper. I hadn’t made a list this year, so each present unearthed a new surprise. What did I find? The one thing I spent my life pretending not to need. The source of my shoulder shrugs and secret envy: a Game Boy Color. It was atomic purple and see-through in a way that shouted 90’s. It was love at first sight, and sure… I got it after the other kids, but I was excited nonetheless.
Granted, this was Christmas of 2014. But the phrase “better late than never” has always colored my gaming experience. My relationship with my Game Boy Color was pretty casual, considering all the modern games I was already neglecting. Still, I worked my way through Super Mario Land 2 and rage quit Donkey Kong Land—as one does. But what I wanted more than anything was Pokémon.
Finally, I got my hands on Pokémon Red, and it was amazing. At first.
There’s nothing quite like selecting your starter (from the originals), experiencing a forced rivalry with Professor Oak’s grandson, fighting team rocket, and—of course—trying to be the very best, like no one ever was.
But after seeing hundreds of Rattatas, staring at bikes you can’t afford, getting lost in caves with all the Dugtrios and Zubats the land has to offer, and spending hours in one patch of grass because you’re just not strong enough, the magic begins to wear off. But who among us dares to push aside a classic like Pokémon red? “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” (F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby). These words rang in my ears; I believe all retro gamers have been guilty of this act. But nostalgia can only tint our glasses so much.
I bought Alpha Sapphire for the 3DS, and my brother warned me I’d never finish replaying Pokémon red. He was right. For those of you who have fantasized about going 18 years into the future: I can tell you it’s a wonder, a shock, and a sigh of relief.
The starters were all Pokémon I’d never seen before, but my proclivity for selecting the cutest and my water preference led me to Mudkip. Comparatively, the graphics were stunning. It was inspiring to see how all the main components were the same (traveling through grass/caves, the local hospital/shop, in battle animation, etc.), but they’d all been enhanced so drastically. I think that’s why so much love for the originals exists: all the core ideas were already in place, and that’s incredible.
As far as what’s “new,” I rejoiced over each addition. XP share makes leveling up your team significantly easier. Being able to see if you’ve caught all the Pokémon in the area eliminates a lot of the guesswork. False swipe, a move that allows you to leave your opponent with at least 1 HP, has prevented the accidental killings that can occur while trying to catch ’em all. And these are just a few things that have made my Pokémon experience a lot more enjoyable.
Gen 1ers are often characterized as those who think the new Pokémon, a.k.a anything outside the original 151, are ridiculous and lack creativity. They think the new games are contrived at best and failed attempts at innovation at worst. But there’s another type of Gen 1er. Those who got Pokémon-ed out. Those who played like crazy as a kid—in between the trading card madness, TV show binges, and movie marathons. Those of us who put down our Game Boys and just never got back to it.
Well, now I’m back, after all these years. But to those of you who aren’t, with so much available on the 3DS and with Pokémon GO coming out and Pokémon Sun and Moon set to release this holiday season, now is the perfect time to return. You may think it’s been too long, that too much has changed… but like riding an overpriced bike through Viridian City, you never forget.
You’ll pick it up just fine, and you’ll be glad you did.