Gaming Flashback: Pokémon Generation 1

Posted in Kulturecade by - September 27, 2015
Gaming Flashback: Pokémon Generation 1

Hello friends and welcome to Gaming Flashback, a new series here on Kulture Shocked in which we will look back at a game, or series of games, to examine at their history. In this inaugural edition of Gaming in Retrospect, I will be looking back at a series that is very important to me, which is the Pokemon franchise. While we won’t be looking at the series as a whole, we’ll instead be looking over just the original group of games released on the original GameBoy, dubbed Generation 1, or the Color Generation.

It’s strange to think that we’ve been trying to “Catch ’em All!” for nearly twenty years now, but this multimedia franchise saw it’s first games released in 1996 in Japan, with Pokemon Red and Green. While this was where the franchise really took off, it’s development started much early than this, and the original concept for the game predates even the Game Boy itself. The series’ creator, Satoshi Tajiri, was initially inspired by his childhood hobby of collecting bugs, but until the GameBoy and its Link Cable was released, there was no real way to trade the creatures back and forth in a video game in order to complete a collection. While Nintendo was skeptical of the concept at first, they still gave Tajiri and his idea a chance, and Tajiri, along with Pokemon designer and illustrator, Ken Sugimori, started working on the first games in the series at their company, Game Freak.

Pokémon Green, Red, Blue, and Yellow

The first entries in the Pokémon franchise were released on February 27, 1996 as Pocket Monsters Red and Green were released upon the Japanese public. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the Pokémon titles, the game revolves around Red, a ten year old Pokémon trainer who is just about to receive his first Pokémon from the world’s most renowned Pokémon researcher. Upon receiving your first Pokémon you set out on a journey to become a Pokémon Master by obtaining the eight gym badges from the eight Pokémon Gym Leaders, Pokémon specialists who are meant to test trainers on their journeys. A secondary goal of the game is to capture all 150 Pokémon that are available in the game, however the goal is unobtainable without a friend with the opposite version of the game, as a select few Pokémon will only be available in Red or Green and not both.

During your journey, you are able to capture Pokémon and create your own team of six. This will allow each player to customize a team to their liking, unlike most Japanese RPGs where the player must used either a pre-determined party, or one with only a handful of options to customize your team. The game’s battle system runs on a random encounter system with the top Pokémon on your team facing off against a wild Pokémon or a Pokémon belonging to another trainer. Once you are able to obtain your final gym badge, you earn the ability to travel Victory Road and face off against the Elite Four at the Pokémon League. Once you have beaten the Elite Four, you will open up a new post game dungeon that will allow you to capture the 150th, and most powerful Pokémon, Mewtwo. Once the game is finished though, there is really no post game, you can complete the Pokédex, battle the Elite Four again, or battle your friends, there is no post game content, which limits game play unless you have friends to play the game with.

In the fall of 1996, Japan received an updated version of Pokémon Red and Green in the form of Pokémon Blue. While Pokémon Blue was largely the same game, this new version received brand new sprites for all 150 Pokémon, new wild Pokémon locations, some redesigned over world sprites, and a few other aspects like in-game trades. This release was used as the base for the international versions of the game, but with Red and Green‘s wild Pokémon data, as this game’s code was much cleaner than the original releases of Red and Green. The international versions began seeing releases in 1998 and 1999, to critical and commercial success.

The final main series game in the first generation was Pokémon Yellow version, which was called the Special Pikachu Edition outside of Japan, and was released in September 1998 in Japan and in 1999 and 2000 internationally. This final version of the game saw the sprites updated once again, this time to match closer to each of the Pokémon’s appearance in the Pokémon anime. Beyond this the available Pokémon and some Pokémon move sets were updated, and you have to begin your journey with a Pikachu that will follow along behind you on the over world, much like Ash’s Pikachu in the Pokémon anime. Aside from these few changes, and the inclusion of the anime version of Team Rocket, the story and goals are the identical to the previous three versions of the game.

The Spinoffs

When a franchise explodes in popularity the way that Pokemon did when it was introduced in the late 90s, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the game would receive a a number of spin offs. The franchise saw its first two spin offs in 1998 with the release of the first Pokemon Stadium and a GameBoy Color adaption of the Pokemon Trading Card Game. The Stadium series would see two games that were tied to the first generation games, with the first one never seeing international release. The first Stadium only allowed for the use of around 30 Pokemon out of the 151 total Pokemon in the main series, and only had a free battle and tournament mode. The initial Pokemon release seemed like it was a tech demo or beta release when compared to its sequel. The second Pokemon Stadium was release in Japan in 1999 and internationally in 2000, it used the same game engine and graphics from the first Pokemon Stadium, but built on that by allowing all first generation to be used and added game modes such as the Gym Leader Castle, mini-games, and various new tournament modes. Aside from battling on a TV, the biggest draw of Pokemon Stadium was likely the ability to transfer Pokemon between gamepaks without the need for a Link Cable or a second GameBoy and the ability to play your games on the TV and with an increased game speed.

The previously mentioned Pokemon Trading Card Game was a GameBoy Color version of the physical Pokemon Trading Card game that Nintendo had released in Japan. The card game was localized by Wizards of the Coast, who distributed the physical card game for Nintendo in the West. Once again Nintendo saw an opportunity to cash in on their newest lucrative franchise and set out to making a digital version of the game. The GameBoy color release had the first three expansions from the TCG Base Set, Jungle, and Fossil in their entirety as well as the Japan only Starter Set and a handful of GB cards which used effects that either weren’t possible or weren’t fair in the real card game. The game revolved around a young boy or girl, making it the first in the franchise with a playable female lead, who wanted to be a Pokemon Card Master. Much like in the main series games, a card player would travel to various clubs to obtain medals before they were allowed to face the Grand Masters. Upon defeating the Grand Masters, a card player would be awarded four unique cards, the Legendary Pokemon Cards. Not unlike the main series games, the absence of a post game really hurts this once in the long run, as outside of collecting all of the cards, there isn’t much to do beyond collecting all of the cards or battling your friends. The game did receive a sequel in Japan, Pokemon Trading Card Game GB2: Here Comes Team Great Rocket!, but the game was never released outside of Japan. It features all of the cards from the first game along with the physical card game’s fourth expansion, Team Rocket, and a host of other exclusive GB cards and various promos from the real game.

The final spin off game of the first generation was Pokemon Pinball, which saw release in Japan and North America in 1999 and the rest of the world in 2000. The game featured Pokemon themed pinball tables where a player could catch any of the 151 Pokemon in order to fill up an in game Pokedex. That’s about all there is to the game really, you just play pinball and fill up the Dex. The only notable thing that I can think of from the game is that it does feature Pokedex entries that are different from those found in the other GameBoy titles. It is also the only Pokémon products released outside of Japan to feature the first opening song from the Japanese version of the Pokémon television series, Mezase Pokémon Master. While the game is enjoyable in small bursts, it doesn’t offer the kind of longevity offered by either Pokémon Stadium or the main series Pokémon titles.

Pokémon has come a long way since its beginnings in 1996, from a small 8-bit sprite based RPG featuring 151 monsters to the media power house it is today, featuring full 3D game worlds and more than 700 creatures. Thanks to continued support by Game Freak, Nintendo, and The Pokémon Company, the franchise continues to see success even nineteen years after its first entry. With the most recent Pokémon spin offs announced for mobile phones, Nintendo hinting at a Pokémon Z and the upcoming 20th anniversary, this powerhouse franchise shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

This post was written by
He is a senior editor at Kulture Shocked. A seasoned gamer, Zach has been playing video games since the early 90s and have owned everything from the NES to the Xbox One. Aside from video games, Zach is a nerd of all trades and dabbles in everything from collectible card games to Gunpla.
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