Title: Pokemon Red, Blue, Yellow
Developer: Game Freak, Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Type: Virtual Console
NA Availability: Digital
EU Availability: Digital
Block Usage: 80
This past week was the anticipated 20h anniversary of the Pokemon franchise. 20 years ago last Friday, Pokemon was first introduced to the world in Japan, and soon later in Europe and North America. It’s been a long 20 years, spanning 6 generations of Pokemon games, with the 7th announced for late this year. Endless improvements and changes have been made, yet some still love the old, classic feel of the original Game Boy games, even over the GBA remakes (Fire Red and Leaf Green).
As of Friday, Nintendo 3DS owners can experience or re-experience the charm of those old, original games. After years of claiming they didn’t wish to do it, Nintendo has finally re-released Pokemon Red Version, Blue Version, and Yellow Version on the 3DS Virtual Console. I’ve had plenty of time to re-live old memories as well as crafting a unique retro review for you.
So, here is my official review of the VC releases of Pokemon Blue Version, Red Version, and Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition!
The story of the original Pokemon games take place in the Kanto region, where a young boy ventures out to become a great Pokemon trainer after receiving a Starter Pokemon from a local professor as well as constantly in competition with the professor’s son. In his ventures, he learns of different towns of the region as well as thwarting the crimes of the local trouble-making organization known as Team Rocket.
The story is something that varies between versions. Red and Blue have the same story, but it is slightly altered in Yellow. Since the Special Pikachu Edition was made to be more based around the anime TV series, there are a few story changes to accommodate for this. First of all, you gain all three starter Pokemon with NPC dialogue that references their introductions in the anime, such as a bad trainer giving you Charmander (referencing the Charmander that got abandoned in the rain) or a troublesome Squirtle (referencing The Squirtle Squad).
The other notable story addition is the inclusion of some extra fights with Team Rocket, against the iconic Jesse and James from the TV series. To add onto this, Yellow version made their Pokemon unavailable to further give the notion that those are “evil” Pokemon.
The story of the game, like any Pokemon game, isn’t the focus. It’s there and you get some bits here and there in each town. But, as Pokemon still is, the story isn’t the main focus.
Pokemon RBY are monster-catching and taming RPGs with adventure elements thrown into the mix. You will be traveling around the world map to go through each town and environment on your quest to collect Gym Badges to be able to challenge the Elite Four, the toughest trainers in the region. All in all, though, the genre hasn’t really changed since these games.
Before talking about the game, let’s talk about the difference between the three versions. You have Red and Blue that released on the original Game Boy, and then Yellow version that released later on. The main differences are Pokemon exclusive to specific games. There are some you can only get in Red and some you can only get in Blue. This encourages trading (which is made possible with local wireless multiplayer in these re-releases). You also have Yellow, which is the only of the versions where you can acquire all three starter Pokemon without trading with others. There are also some balancing changes with the Gym Leaders in Yellow.
The progression style will be heading from town to town to challenge gyms and on the way, you’ll be challenged by other trainers, encountering random encounters with Pokemon you can fight and/or capture and recruit, and solving puzzles to be able to open up new paths. For example, you won’t be able to access the central areas of the region without first traveling down to a southern town to get a unique skill used to take out trees and plants that are blocking your path. A lot of the game’s later areas are hidden and sealed off until you find these skills and navigate back with a Pokemon with that skill.
Fighting and capturing will be your main task, as Pokemon strives on an elemental strength and weakness system. Each Gym is themed, and you’ll need Pokemon with abilities that are strong against that type. It is typically good to have a variety of Pokemon in your party . So, your task will be to recruiting Pokemon as you go, and that’s where capturing comes in. Each Pokemon you come across in a random fight you can fight and also capture with spheres called Pokeballs (with Great, Ultra, and Master variations that affect the capture rate).
To capture a Pokemon, you fight with them for awhile and throw a Pokeball at them. When it hits them, there is a certain % chance of them being caught. To increase the chance, you attack them until their health is low, and you can further increase this by using stronger Pokeball variations and inflicting status ailments, like Paralyze and Sleep. Once captured, they are yours to put into your party and fight with.
Managing this and having variety is important, as the original Pokemon games are not easy games. Each Gym can and will challenge you unless you know and utilize weaknesses and are able to level-grind to be able to get to a point where you can fight them off. Occasional Rival fights will give you a reminder of about how strong you should be, and you certainly won’t stay that way if you have a 6-member party and never stop to train.
Finally, let’s get to the question that everyone here has. Are all of the infamous glitches present in these original releases still here in the Virtual Console release? The answer is yes. Every single glitch from the original Red, Blue, and Yellow are here in this release. The Mew glitches? I’ve done them. Missingno? Done them. Item Duplication? Done them. Every awesome glitch is still here. So if you want to get a Mew as soon as you hit Cerulean City, you can.
As far as length is concerned, you can easily log a good 20-30 hours in the main story and a few more hours in the story-based post-game. If you want to go out of the way to capture and evolve every one of the 151 Pokemon, you’ll have a much, much higher play time. Do note that if you’re a nostalgic gamer and know exactly what to do and rush, it could be more like a 10-15 hour trek.
Controls in the game are light, as you’d expect. The Game Boy and Game Boy Color only had 5 or 6 buttons on it, and not a lot is extended to other buttons on the Nintendo 3DS. First off, none of the New 3DS buttons do anything in the Virtual Console release. Neither do the L and R triggers.
The D-Pad and Circle Pad are used for moving around. The A button interacts with NPCs and B button will back out of an option and a menu. The same they did back on the Game Boy. The Start button pulls up the menu, and so does the X button, bringing a very PlayStation RPG feel with Triangle having been used to open that menu on many of its games. The 3DS also does this in some RPGs.
And that’s it, aside from the touch screen being able to pause the game.
Visually, the games are just as they were back in the day. First thing to know is that Pokemon Red and Blue are locked to the original Game Boy color scheme. That means it is in grayscale (or Green if you hit L+R+Y), while Yellow is in full color, being given a Game Boy Color scheme. If you recall, Red and Blue could be used on a GBC with full color. You cannot do that in Red and Blue on Virtual Console.
The rest we look at is performance. The VC releases play exactly the way the originals did, which is both good and bad. The good thing is that there isn’t any further performance drops because of the emulator the 3DS uses. The bad thing is that all of the hiccups, frame drops, glitches, freezes, and lag are still here. Granted, it is assumed that one wouldn’t fix this sort of thing in a strictly emulated release, but it’s there and it can be quite the annoyance if you don’t save often.
Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow are just as difficult and nostalgic as they were back in the 1990s. It’s a huge trip down memory lane, and for others, a way to see how the famed franchise first began. What brings the games down is the lack of a color option in Red and Blue, technical hiccups with jumping and freezing, and the trading and battling options added in being limited to local wireless and not online.