The Best & Worst of Pokémon: Generation I

Games
Pokémon Blue Version
Pokémon Red Version
Pokemon Yellow Version

Platform
Game Boy

Region
Kanto

New Pokemon
151
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+6. Straight lines, good times

You won’t catch many people pretending any iteration of the original Game Boy was a powerful piece of hardware, even for its time. And yet walking around the world of Kanto in Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow still set off a generation of kids’ imaginations. Sure, part of this was due to having the anime as a point of reference, but even playing the game nowadays, it doesn’t look all that ugly (at least outside of the battles – see below). And that’s because its art direction is on point. Everything that can follow the natural pixel lines of the screen, does – and all those right angles and all that charming sprite art adds up. Not exactly pretty, per se, but not distracting either. Just a canvas for building a world inside the player’s mind.

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+5. Not all sunshine and rainbows

While no Pokémon generations are all-positive, all-happy all the time (and Gen V is particularly morose), the original Pokémon games just stand out that little bit more for their sharp turns in mood and dark moments. Perhaps the minimalist art style I just talked about is partially responsible, allowing players to add their own fears and senses of unease to the creepy Team Rocket base under the Game Corner, for example, or the super depressing Pokémon Tower, or the confusing depths of Mt Moon, or the soul-crushingly sterile Silph Co. You never felt totally at ease while exploring Kanto, and between every moment of triumph or breezy fun there was something dangerous, scary or kinda messed up waiting for you. It really felt like a perilous adventure. Speaking of which…
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+4. A challenge!

Before Game Freak thought they had everything balanced correctly for their target audience, there was a phase when they didn’t have any issues kicking your proverbial teeth in, and that phase was Gen I. Much like their contemporaries in the mid-1990s, the first Pokémon games could get difficult, particularly if you didn’t have the playground lowdown on which starter to pick. Most Charmander fans hit a stone wall very early on, and if you were playing Pokémon Yellow and didn’t visit the out-of-the-way Route 22 on your way to your first badge, well, a real slog awaited. Not to mention the end-of-game Elite Four boasted some punishingly high levels and belligerent AI, ensuring you really earned your Champion status. Depending on who you talk to, you might hear that this kind of tough attitude has been sorely missing from latter Pokémon games.
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+3. Monsters? More like coolest things ever

For some reason, this is one of the most sensitive topics among Pokémon fans on the internet. The argument over whether the original 151 Pokémon are better-designed than the collective offerings of any other generation is well-worn and ultimately too subjective to matter in the grand scheme of things. Arguments about simplicity and originality are neither here nor there. Yet you won’t see too many people seriously arguing that Gen I doesn’t have a strong roster of Pokemon designs. A great deal of my personal favourites come from the first batch – most notably Vaporeon, Dragonair and the entire ‘Nido’ family. While I wouldn’t say the original group is necessarily the best, it is filled to the brim with household names that still look awesome today.
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+2. Those tunes tho

There can hardly be much argument that the first batch of Pokémon games has one of the most influential soundtracks in the history of gaming. Just about every track has been remixed and rearranged hundreds upon hundreds of times over the ensuing years, and for damn good reason. Those tracks are just so catchy, so well-written, so iconic. And while other generations of Pokemon games have their fair share of great – even incredible – tunes, only one or two of them can match it with Gen I’s audio brilliance. From Pallet Town through Viridian Forest, past Lavender Town to the Champion Battle, there is a reason the early music of the Pokemon games has stood the test of time, and it isn’t just nostalgia.
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+1. What can I say?

Other than the most glaringly obvious thing I can say – Generation I started it all! Without Junichi Masuda’s eccentric ideas and the support of the right kind of people, Pokémon would not have happened, my favourite videogame series would be something else, and I wouldn’t be writing this series of articles. This is one hell of a cop-out choice for Number 1, but hey, it had to be done.
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-4. Basic as

Aaaaand now for the flipside. This is hardly Gen I’s fault, but by virtue of its trailblazing status, the first games lack a lot of the refining, iterative and even revolutionary improvements that their descendants would bring to the table. Going back to play them is good fun for the nostalgically inclined – and hey, I still go back to Yellow once every few years – but such incursions rarely last all that long in my experience, because beyond the admittedly addictive basics, the depth and substance of later entries just isn’t there to keep me playing.
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-3. Eugh, what’s that?

Oh my goodness, there were some ugly-ass sprites in the first few Pokemon games. As already discussed, the overworld look of Gen I’s games is still actually rather appealing, but in battle, things hold up, uhhh, less well. To say that some of the in-game representations of our favourite Pokemon didn’t match up with what the anime showed us as kids is a bit of an understatement, and while Pokemon Yellow cleaned up the front-facing problems, nothing was done about those awful, messy back sprites. Just – what even are some of those? When did I get a cabbage? Is that a meatball? Did a bug lay eggs on my screen? Yuck.
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-2. uhofw687yhg%#*

I’m sure this is remembered as a positive by some, but the first generation of Pokémon – particularly Red and Blue – was pretty broken. The infamous Missingno glitch is just one of many far-too-easy-to-activate instances of destructive sequence breaking that you can still activate on a Red or Blue save file – the usual result being the corruption of said save file. The majority of these were fixed in time for Pokemon Yellow, but by then the vulnerable nature of the game’s code had crossed over into cultural phenomenon status. That’s generally not a good thing to be attached to your game’s legacy.
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-1. Psychic OP, please nerf

Allow me one moment to get on the “competitive Pokémon” high horse I admittedly have not visited in a long while to say one thing – the player-vs-player side of the first Pokémon games lacked quite a bit of variety and excitement.  Using a half-decent psychic Pokémon was the closest thing to an instant win button that competitive Pokémon has ever seen (pre-Mega Rayquaza, at least), mostly due to the all-powerful combined “Special” stat and the Psychic type’s near-complete lack of practical weaknesses. Beyond that, you can count the list of viable monsters on one hand, and I won’t even go into all the total BS move mechanics and combinations that were nigh-impossible to counter. There’s a reason the Gen I competitive metagame doesn’t get much focus today.
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-‘> A WORD ON THE REMAKES <‘-

Basically, cut out all four of my negative points and you get Pokémon Fire Red/Leaf Green, which may have a case for being my favourite games in the entire series. Not only did the GBA titles bring most of Gen III’s advancements to the bare-bones structure of Kanto’s adventures, but they also added a fresh, minimalist art style to every locale, menu and animation that has not been revisited in any game since. Not to mention some of the best in-game musical remixes in the series. Exemplary stuff.

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