Some OK memories: Pokemon Red – ‘Just five minutes, Mum! I’m in the middle of a battle!’

Ah Pokemon! The franchise that has a 10 year old kid wander the land without supervision and capture animals so you can satisfy an old man’s OCD collectionist fetish. And then have those creatures fight for sport. I think PETA might have an issue with game series ….. just maybe. I love this franchise to death. These games were a central pillar of my childhood and I spent God knows how many hours playing these games.

The title is a reference to what my mum tells me now about everytime she said it was time to stop playing, I would respond:

‘Just five minutes, Mum! I’m in the middle of a battle!’

Hearing that makes me smile, bringing back happy memories. You see, my first video game was Pokemon Red version, aged 5. I loved the game. I vividly remember playing the game not knowing about the save feature for a week and I ask my dad why I kept restarting everyday. He then opened the menu and found the save option. No longer would I keep doing Route 1! (Remember, I was only five!)

The mechanics were simple. Damage opponents till they got low on health and then throw a Poke Ball to have a chance to capture it. Being 5, I had no strategy. Starter Pokemon carried me forward! I was fortunate I chose Squirtle since there were no issues in the early game as I got used to the game. It was hard at first facing Gym Leaders (Misty *cough cough*) and your rival (Kadabra and Gyarados ugh….).

Capturing creatures, battling, and achieving progress was very addictive. I loved my Pokemon Red version. The soundtrack really helped. It immersed me into the world. Kanto might simple, but for a young mind it didn’t matter. Really precious memories for me was when I first caught my first ever legendary Pokemon Articuno after solving the Seafoam Islands puzzle, which was really difficult for a five year old. And then imagine my excitement when I found Zapdos and Moltres whilst doing some exploring later on in the game. The sense of accomplishment when you defeat your rival who goes out of his way to be unlikable and interrupt your progress when you least expect it is massive. And then, you finally become Champion and defeating your rival’s most powerful team is a defining achievement in this game.

I got Pokemon Blue much later after Gen 2 as well as Pokemon Yellow. Blue’s the same as Red and enjoyed as much as Red. Yellow … sigh …. I’ll get to that later.

I might have adored Pokemon Red, but I’m not a ‘Genwunner’. Why? Because Pokemon Red is clearly unfinished and poorly made. It’s amazing how this series took off when the first games were had poor game design as well as the battle system being unbalanced and broken (Abra is an auto win the game. Psychics too OP!) Kanto itself is too simple of a region for an RPG and if it wasn’t for my hundreds of playthroughs, I probably would struggle to identify the difference between some of the routes in the middle of the games. Lastly, a lot of puzzles are poorly designed. I still don’t know if there is any logic to Lt. Surge’s electric trash can puzzle. (Seriously why random trash cans?)

Sliph Co. has no business being as complicated as it is with little guidance that the games give you. There’s no reason for the actual solution apart from being unnecessarily complicated and having players trapped there to pad out game time. Need I remind you, I was five at the time and I spent hours here getting lost, being ambushed by Team Rocket Grunts. It’s the hardest part of the game! The Game Corner was pushing it a bit, but that was more manageable compared to that monster of a skyscraper. Playing other games only highlighted how poorly designed this part of the game was. Giovanni was not the true boss of Team Rocket, but the teleporter pads they laid down to turn that skyscraper into a labyrinth that Daedalus would find infuriating. There’s no challenge here, just poor dungeon design.

One memory that will always stick with me is how much I hate the S.S Anne. Not because of the ship itself, but because the poor game design that locks you out of making progress and causing a dead game that happened to me at this point of the game. When I first boarded the ship, I didn’t know there was a heal point on the ship. So, when I got low on health, I went to the Pokemon Centre leaving the ship before getting the HM01 Cut, without anything warning me that the SHIP WOULD LEAVE AND NEVER COME BACK IF I DID SO! Had I been older, I would have never picked up the game again. Thankfully, I didn’t and I continue to be an idiot fanboy that buys every game religiously.

I never experienced any of the glitches that Gen I games are infamous for. Now, I view Pokemon Yellow as an inferior version to Red and Blue. I know that’s controversial, but having only starter Pokemon severely limits replayability and the game, quite frankly, isn’t designed for Pikachu to start the game. Brock is an unnecessary early-game spike in difficulty that requires a lot of grinding to overcome. Putting Mankey earlier in the game doesn’t circumvent the amount of grinding you have to do. Why not have more Grass or Water types available to mitigate the handicap of having your starter Pokemon completely useless against the first boss? Yellow doesn’t fix any the issues I had with Red and Blue, but adds them with some obnoxiously difficult Gym Leaders (Sabrina has a Level 50 Alakazam, Koga has a Level 50 Venomoth with Double Team. You wanted a good, fair level curve? Denied!) Not to mention, Lance’s Dragonite elemental attack spamming seemingly one-shotting you whilst always tanking 4x effective Ice Beams made want to crack my Game Boy in two! Sure, the sprites are better and Pikachu follows you around. But what’s a slight presentation improvement have in value when the game is more frustrating than the original Red and Blue.

The foundation for a good game was there in all three Gen I games and that potential was realised with Generation 2 – Gold, Silver and Crystal and in Generation 3 – Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, FireRed and LeafGreen. I identify as a ‘Gentwoer’ and ‘Genthreer’ (Are these terms used by the fanbase or not?) because those games are fantastic and some of the best games I’ve ever played.

I owe a lot to the Pokemon Franchise and Pokemon Red is one of my most cherished games. It has produced precious memories, but much like growing up, you improve with age and look back at the person you used to be and realise the lessons you’ve learnt. Pokemon improved after this game and whilst recent celebrations have rekindled childhood memories, it also made me appreciate how far this franchise has come.


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