Gaming Nintendo Retro

Pokemon (Pocket Monsters) Red & Green Celebrate Their 20th Anv. Today!

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Pokémon Red Version and Pokémon Blue Version, originally released in Japan as Pocket Monsters: Red & Green, are role-playing video games developed by Game Freak and published by Nintendo for the Game Boy. They are the first installments of the Pokémon series. They were first released in Japan in 1996 as Red and Green, with Blue (ポケットモンスター青 Poketto Monsutā Ao?) being released later in the year as a special edition. They were later released as Red and Blue in North America, Europe and Australia over the following three years. Pokémon Yellow, a special edition version, was released roughly a year later. Red and Green have subsequently been remade for the Game Boy Advance as Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen, released in 2004.

The player controls the main character from an overhead perspective and navigates him throughout the fictional region of Kanto in a quest to master Pokémon battling. The goal of the games is to become the champion of the Pokémon League by defeating the eight Gym Leaders, then the top four Pokémon trainers in the land, the Elite Four. Another objective is to complete the Pokédex, an in-game encyclopedia, by obtaining the 150 available Pokémon. The nefarious Team Rocket provide an antagonistic force, as does the player’s childhood rival. Red and Blue utilize the Game Link Cable, which connects two games together and allows Pokémon to be traded or battled between games. Both titles are independent of each other but feature the same plot and, while they can be played separately, it is necessary for players to trade among the two in order to obtain all of the first 150 Pokémon. The 151st Pokémon (Mew) is available only through a glitch in the game or an official distribution by Nintendo.

Red and Blue were well-received; critics praised the multiplayer options, especially the concept of trading. They received an aggregated score of 89% on GameRankings and are perennially ranked on top-game lists including at least four years on IGN’s Top 100 Games of All Time. The games’ releases marked the beginning of what would become a multibillion-dollar franchise, jointly selling millions of copies worldwide. In 2009 they appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records under “Best selling RPG on the Game Boy” and “Best selling RPG of all time”. The games were released on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console service on February 27, 2016, as a commemoration of the franchise’s 20th anniversary.

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Gameplay

Red and Blue are in a third-person view, overhead perspective and consist of three basic screens: an overworld, in which the player navigates the main characters a side-view battle screen; and a menu interface, in which the player configures his or her Pokémon, items, or gameplay settings.

The player can use his or her Pokémon to battle other Pokémon. When the player encounters a wild Pokémon or is challenged by a trainer, the screen switches to a turn-based battle screen that displays the engaged Pokémon. During battle, the player may select a maneuver for his or her Pokémon to fight using one of four moves, use an item, switch his or her active Pokémon, or attempt to flee. Pokémon have hit points (HP); when a Pokémon’s HP is reduced to zero, it faints and can no longer battle until it is revived. Once an enemy Pokémon faints, the player’s Pokémon involved in the battle receive a certain number of experience points (EXP). After accumulating enough EXP, a Pokémon will level up. A Pokémon’s level controls its physical properties, such as the battle statistics acquired, and the moves learned. At certain levels, the Pokémon may also evolve. These evolutions affect the statistics and also the levels at which new moves are learnt (higher levels of evolution gain more statistics per level, although they may not learn new moves as early, if at all, compared with the lower levels of evolution).

Catching Pokémon is another essential element of the gameplay. During battle with a wild Pokémon, the player may throw a Poké Ball at it. If the Pokémon is successfully caught, it will come under the ownership of the player. Factors in the success rate of capture include the HP of the target Pokémon and the type of Poké Ball used: the lower the target’s HP and the stronger the Poké Ball, the higher the success rate of capture. The ultimate goal of the games is to complete the entries in the Pokédex, a comprehensive Pokémon encyclopedia, by capturing, evolving, and trading to obtain all 151 creatures.

Pokémon Red and Blue allow players to trade Pokémon between two cartridges via a Game Link Cable. This method of trading must be done to fully complete the Pokédex, since certain Pokémon will only evolve upon being traded and each of the two games have version-exclusive Pokémon. The Link Cable also makes it possible to battle another player’s Pokémon team. When playing Red or Blue on a Game Boy Advance or SP, the standard GBA/SP link cable will not work; players must use the Nintendo Universal Game Link Cable instead. Moreover, the English versions of the games are not compatible with their Japanese counterparts, and such trades will result in corruption of the save files because the games use different languages and therefore character sets.

As well as trading with each other and Pokémon Yellow, Pokémon Red and Blue can trade Pokémon with the second generation of Pokémon games: Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal. However, there are limitations: the games cannot link together if one player’s party contains Pokémon or moves introduced in the second generation games. Also, using the Transfer Pak for the Nintendo 64, data such as Pokémon and items from Pokémon Red and Blue can be used in the Nintendo 64 games Pokémon Stadium and Pokémon Stadium 2. Red and Blue are not compatible with the Pokémon games of the later “Advanced Generation” for the Game Boy Advance or GameCube.

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Story

After venturing alone into deep grass, a voice warns the player to stop, which is revealed to be Professor Oak, a famous Pokémon researcher. Professor Oak explains to the player that wild Pokémon may be living there, and encountering them alone can be very dangerous. He takes the player to his laboratory where the player meets Oak’s grandson, a rival aspiring Pokémon Trainer. The player and the rival are both instructed to select a starter Pokémon for their travels out of Bulbasaur, Squirtle, and Charmander. Oak’s Grandson will always choose the Pokémon which is stronger against the player’s starting Pokémon. He will then challenge the player to a Pokémon battle with their newly obtained Pokémon, and will continue to battle the player at certain points throughout the games.

While visiting the region’s cities, the player will encounter special establishments called Gyms. Inside these buildings are Gym Leaders, each of whom the player must defeat in a Pokémon battle to obtain a total of eight Gym Badges. Once the badges are acquired, the player is given permission to enter the Pokémon League, which consists of the best Pokémon trainers in the region. There the player will battle the Elite Four and finally the new Champion: the player’s rival. Also, throughout the game the player will have to battle against the forces of Team Rocket, a criminal organization that abuses Pokémon. They devise numerous plans for stealing rare Pokémon, which the player must foil.

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Development

The concept of the Pokémon saga stems from the hobby of insect collecting, a popular pastime which game designer Satoshi Tajiri enjoyed as a child. While growing up, however, he observed more urbanization taking place in the town where he lived and as a result, the insect population declined. Tajiri noticed that kids now played in their homes instead of outside and he came up with the idea of a video game, containing creatures that resembled insects, called Pokémon. He thought kids could relate with the Pokémon by individually naming them, and then controlling them to represent fear or anger as a good way of relieving stress. However, Pokémon never bleed or die in battle, only faint – this was a very touchy subject to Tajiri, as he did not want to further fill the gaming world with “pointless violence”.

When the Game Boy was released, Tajiri thought the system was perfect for his idea, especially because of the link cable, which he envisioned would allow players to trade Pokémon with each other. This concept of trading information was new to the video gaming industry, because previously connection cables were only being used for competition. “I imagined a chunk of information being transferred by connecting two Game Boys with special cables, and I went wow, that’s really going to be something!” said Tajiri. Tajiri was also influenced by Square’s Game Boy game The Final Fantasy Legend, noting in an interview that the game gave him the idea that more than just action games could be developed for the handheld.

The main characters were named after Tajiri himself as Satoshi, who is described as Tajiri in his youth, and his long-time friend, role model, mentor, and fellow Nintendo developer; Shigeru Miyamoto as Shigeru. Ken Sugimori, artist and longtime friend of Tajiri, headed the development of drawings and designs of the Pokémon, working with a team of less than ten people who conceived the various designs for all 151 Pokémon. Sugimori in turn finalized each design, drawing the Pokémon from various angles in order to assist Game Freak’s graphics department in properly rendering the creature. Music for the game was composed by Junichi Masuda, who utilized the four sound channels of the Game Boy to create both the melodies and the sound effects and Pokémon “cries” heard upon encountering them. He noted the game’s opening theme, titled “Monster”, was produced with the image of battle scenes in mind, using white noise to sound like marching music and imitate a snare drum.

Originally called Capsule Monsters, the game’s title went through several transitions due to trademark difficulties, becoming CapuMon and KapuMon before eventually settling upon Pocket Monsters. Tajiri always thought that Nintendo would reject his game, as the company did not really understand the concept at first. However, the games turned out to be a complete success, something Tajiri and Nintendo never expected, especially because of the declining popularity of the Game Boy. Upon hearing of the Pokémon concept, Miyamoto suggested creating multiple cartridges with different Pokémon in each, noting it would assist the trading aspect.

In Japan, Pocket Monsters: Red and Green were the first versions released. They sold rapidly, due in part to Nintendo’s idea of producing the two versions of the game instead of a single title, prompting consumers to buy both. Several months later, the Blue version was released in Japan as a mail-order-only special edition, featuring updated in-game artwork and new dialogue. To create more hype and challenge to the games, Tajiri revealed an extra Pokémon called Mew hidden within the games, which he believed “created a lot of rumors and myths about the game” and “kept the interest alive”. The creature was originally added by Shigeki Morimoto as an internal prank and wasn’t supposed to be exposed to consumers. It was not until later that Nintendo decided to distribute Mew through a Nintendo promotional event; however, in 2003 a glitch became widely known, and it could be exploited so anyone could obtain the elusive Pokémon.

During the North American localization of Pokémon, a small team led by Hiro Nakamura went through the individual Pokémon, renaming them for western audiences based on their appearance and characteristics after approval from Nintendo Co. Ltd. In addition, during this process, Nintendo trademarked the 151 Pokémon names in order to ensure they would be unique to the franchise. During the translation process, it became apparent that simply altering the games’ text from Japanese to English was impossible; the games had to be entirely reprogrammed from scratch due to the fragile state of their source code, a side effect of the unusually lengthy development time. Therefore, the games were based on the more-modern Japanese version of Blue; modeling its programming and artwork, but keeping the same distribution of Pokémon found in the Japanese Red and Green cartridges, respectively.

As the finished Red and Blue versions were being prepared for release, Nintendo allegedly spent over 50 million dollars to promote the games, fearing the series would not be appealing to American children. The western localization team warned that the “cute monsters” may not be accepted by American audiences, and instead recommended they be redesigned and “beefed-up”. Then-president of Nintendo Hiroshi Yamauchi refused and instead viewed the games’ possible reception in America as a challenge to face. Despite these setbacks, the reprogrammed Red and Blue versions with their original creature designs were eventually released in North America over two and a half years after Red and Green debuted in Japan. The games were received extremely well by the foreign audiences and Pokémon went on to become a lucrative franchise in America.

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Phil Williams

Founder & President of GameTraders USA.

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