Pokemon Red & Blue – Retrospective

Name a bigger title than Pokemon? I prompt you to even try. You cannot. Pokemon Red & Blue released almost thirty years ago in 1996, prompting the biggest frenzy amongst children across the globe that has carried on to this very day. Pokemon Red & Blue shockingly are still the best selling Pokemon games to date, despite dozens of entries to the series since its inception. In this piece, I will be starting off my first review of all the generations of Pokemon games by reviewing where it all started, Pokemon Red & Blue Version.

Story –

Despite not being the most deep element of the games, Pokemon always requires the player to get through a story on their adventure, usually following the lines of stopping an evil team. In Red & Blue this is where this concept began, as the trainer (you) is required to obtain all eight gym badges and defeat Team Rocket on your way to becoming the Champion of the Kanto region.

Given that this is the first game that held this concept of an evil team, I think that Red & Blue did well with what it had. Team Rocket to this day still have a simple and direct motive, and make an excellent and easy-to-understand evil team for a Pokemon game.

Characters –

The characters of Red & Blue were probably the weakest the series has ever been. Obviously due to this being a new concept and Pokemon just being born, characters and story was not the focus, rather, the Pokemon themselves were supposed to be seen as the characters. Possibly the only consistently mentioned character throughout Red & Blue would be your rival, Blue (Gary), who is still one of the best rivals for me. Arrogance combined with a realisation in the end that arrogance gets you nowhere. Exactly what a Pokemon rival should be.

Gameplay & Balancing

Obviously, this is an area that Pokemon Red & Blue fall away in comparison to the modern games. But, once again, context is important. The idea of having 151 different and unique characters to choose from in an RPG in the 90s was something revolutionary, and despite how much the repetitive button mashing nature of Red & Blue has aged, that original premise and innovation can never be taken away from it.

However, there is clear balancing issues in Red & Blue. There is little options when it comes to a variety of moves, which means for every battle you’ll most likely be mashing the same move over and over again. Balancing is also an issue when it comes to Pokemon typing. In Generation 1, Psychic Pokemon are literally gods. Due to the only common ghost move being lick, to which is absolutely useless. Along with all of the bug Pokemon being useless with no worthwhile moves also, this leaves almost all Psychic Pokemon completely invincible. Obviously this was a major oversight and was not something intentional, but it is rather game breaking nonetheless.

Other moves such as bind and wrap can create gameplay loops in which you cannot attack for up to five turns, this combined with status effects can lead to many battles where you are wiped out without even having a say in the battle. It is safe to say that the change to being able to attack whilst being wrapped or bound was a good change.

Difficulty –

The difficulty of Red & Blue does seem somewhat artificial. If you do enough grinding, any element of the game can feel a breeze. I rarely found myself in a situation where tactics or strategy needed to be used, with the majority of issues requiring a simple conclusion of simply needing to go off and grind on wild encounters a bit more. Although nowhere near as easy as the modern games, Red & Blue is far from a difficult challenge.

Visuals and Graphics –

Okay, I’ll keep this one swift. For a game on a handheld in 1996, Red & Blue are a product of their time that technically should avoid criticism as a result. Holding them to modern standards, they are certainly a product of their time, and the Pokemon sprites are definitely something that have not aged the best, with many sprites being ridiculously odd looking.

Music –

This is something that seems to never age in the Pokemon world. Red & Blue despite their age, have some of the most iconic sounds in the franchise, with the themes of routes, Pallet Town and gym battles for example, are all still themes that sound great in the modern day. This is an area that Pokemon excels regardless of the quality of the game the songs are within.

The Pokemon –

Rather controversially, especially for gen wunners, Kanto produces some of the most bland and boring Pokemon in the history of all eight generations. Of course, they are the most iconic, but that is more due to them being the first of their kind rather than their unique and creatively thought-out designs. There may be many, but when it comes to stand-options that I just HAVE to have in my team, they are few and far between in comparison to the generations of Pokemon that followed.

However, one of the most famous things about the sets of original Pokemon was their legacy. They encouraged interaction with real-life people. You’d go into school and discover that your friend found a Pokemon you didn’t even know existed. Sometimes they even made up Pokemon that didn’t even exist factually, but you’d believe him anyway out of the sheer wonder of the game. This interaction has become somewhat obsolete in modern times with the internet, however this genius level of interaction that was encouraged in the original games was something that blew Pokemon to heights like never seen before.

Being the First –

Of course, despite all the judgements I have said, it is important to recognise that Red & Blue were the first of their kind. They remain the highest selling games to-date, which is quite the odd achievement, so obviously that is all for a reason. Red & Blue may have been the first of a long dynasty of success, however their age is still there for all to see in almost every capacity. I think for anybody who has joined Pokemon in the modern-age, they will definitely struggle to get through Red & Blue if they decide to try the ancestor of the franchise.

Conclusion –

Red & Blue birthed a juggernaut. Pokemon is what it is because of these games, with many of the elements in the modern Pokemon games being the same as Red & Blue or being only slightly tweaked, whether this is for the better or the worse is a different argument, however, it does show the influence and power Red & Blue has upon the circumstances and history of the franchise and its future titles. Despite this, it would be wrong to pretend Red & Blue’s age isn’t obviously shown, with the games being a product of their time in almost every capacity. Despite the slog that they are though, the fact that they were once innovative and unique will have to be taken into account when concluding their final rating.

Final Rating – 5/10

(P.S. Apologies for screenshots being sporadic and random, it is impossible for me to screen-capture my screen when playing these games, so all images are taken from different pictures online)

Published by

Nathan Brennan

I am a 20-year-old student currently studying Arts & Humanities. I use this blog to write opinion pieces, reviews and just general pieces that I have written in my spare time.

2 thoughts on “Pokemon Red & Blue – Retrospective”

  1. This is the first, and oddly enough only, main series pokemon game I’ve played. I’ve always been a fan, but I haven’t really kept up. I found replaying this on the gameboy so tough because you know there has had to have been 100 QOL upgrades since this game from the late 90s. However, I feel like it’s still good. Who doesn’t like finding new pokemon and seeing what their abilities are and training up a team? It’s crazy what they were able to do on the ancient gameboy.


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