The Pokémon franchise has been going strong for over twenty years now, with countless mainline video game entries and spin-offs, along with an impressive array of content in other mediums, such as the eternally running Pokémon anime.
After all this time and content, it can be easy to forget that this all started with two Game Boy games and a team that harbored a devoted passion for an idea about collecting and trading pocket monsters.
By some standards, the original Game Boy games are simplistic, quaint and heavily flawed entries in a series that would exponentially refine itself from entry to entry to the point where the older titles are practically obsolete. On the other hand, others would say that something magical was lost during the constant iteration and evolution (tee-hee) of the series, and that the Red and Blue Versions (or Green, if you’re Japanese) should be re-examined to see where things went wrong down the line.
No matter what side of this debate you’re on, today’s list is for you, as we’ll be dealing with Pokémon: 12 Things Red And Blue Do Better Than The Sequels (And 10 Ways They're Worse.)
22 Better: The Thrill of Side-by-Side Competition
We’ve long had to accept that local multiplayer has been overtaken by the internet (which certainly has its benefits), but nothing will ever compare to the heart-pounding thrill of side-by-side competition, whether it was Street Fighter II in the local arcade or, in this case, two Game Boys, two games, one Link Cable and a vicious schoolyard opponent.
The very act of hooking the two Game Boys together, in all its quaint complexity, is enough to make one’s blood rush, and the ensuing battle between well-trained Pokémon Masters just isn’t the same without the clunkiness of the original set-up.
21 Better: The Training Is Straightforward
Starting with Generation II, Pokémon training became far more complicated. You had “happiness” to contend with, different times of day, breeding, special held items, an ultra-rare, beneficial virus and more. These concepts were expanded upon even further in later games, and the competitive scene almost exclusively began to focus on IVs, EVs and the rest of the mathematical mumbo jumbo beneath the hood.
While some of that stuff existed in Generation I, namely IVs, the actual act of training was straightforward, fun, and didn’t require spreadsheets or advanced planning.
20 Worse: They're Filled With Glitches
For all the things that Red and Blue did right, they also did a lot wrong. In fact, the very code of the game is filled with errors, which open the door to a slew of bizarre glitches.
The initial Japanese versions, Red and Green, had an enormous amount of issues that were rectified with the Blue Version (which is what the Western Red and Blue were based on), but even then, we still had bugged out encounters with MissingNo. and other trippy events.
While the sequels have their own issues, they’ve never been as bad as this.
19 Better: They Don’t Feel Like “Games”
Something remarkable about Red and Blue is that, despite a heaping helping of very “game-y” concepts, they never really feel like “games.” Raising your Pokémon feels organic, and the battles, despite being stilted, turn-based RPG faire, feel perfect.
It’s hard to pinpoint why or how Red and Blue feel this way, but it’s easy to figure out why later entries in the series do not. Chiefly, there’s an almost obsessive inclusion of new features and functions that scream “VIDEO GAME!”
And, yeah, all of these games are video games, but that doesn’t mean they can’t feel organic.
18 Worse: They're Mercilessly Unforgiving
No Pokémon game is truly “hard.” Sure, there are a multitude of difficult moments, but none ever cross the line into unforgiving territory… except for Red and Blue.
Whether it’s the unbalanced battles (more on that later), devastating status effects or the never-ending onslaught of wild Pokémon in the maze-like caves, there’s always something that can make you lose your mind in frustration or genuine lunacy.
Generation II still has a few of these problems, but basically every other Generation does away with them entirely and, if they didn’t, they’re at least appropriately refined.
17 Better: There’s A Digestible Amount Of Monsters
There are over 800 Pokémon in the current total collection (a number that will certainly go up with the release of Sword and Shield on the Switch.)
That’s a staggering amount of ANYTHING to remember, and it’s made even worse when you consider that you’ll need to be well aware of each creature’s type, move set, and evolutionary line.
Back in Red and Blue, players still needed to learn about 151 critters, but that was a far easier task that nearly a thousand increasingly complicated pocket monsters.
16 Better: There’s An Absence of Hand-Holding
A major complaint with recent Pokémon games is the incessant amount of hand-holding. Many modern games are afflicted by this particular problem, be they first-person shooters or even 2D side-scrollers, and the Pokémon series is, unfortunately, part of this equation.
Why Nintendo is so fixated on keeping players in check for an inordinate amount of time before letting them loose is beyond us, but it’s a major pain.
Thankfully, Red and Blue have minimal hand holding (if any), and instead let players figure out how to progress on their own through experimentation and exploration.
15 Worse: Questionable Sprite Quality
The Pokémon of the anime and the Pokémon of the games were barely recognizable side-by-side. The anime had clean, cute, and refined designs, while Red and Blue had rough, monstrous, and often frightening spritework.
Now, we want to go on record and say we think that the Kaiju-based look of the original Pokémon are absolutely awesome, but there’s no question that the eventual, general unification of the anime artstyle with the games was a good thing.
Still, though… a part of us wants to see a modern take on Nidoking or the haunting Exeggutor.
14 Better: The Creature Designs Are Consistent
Questionable spritework aside, if there’s one thing that can be said about the designs of the original 151 Pokémon, it’s that they are consistent, or perhaps even cohesive.
Largely based on traditional RPG monsters along with various Kaiju from Toho and Tsuburaya, the initial roster of Pokémon all felt like living creatures that were part of the same world, whether they were a rock snake or a psychic egg. Yes, even Mr. Mime.
Later Pokémon designs have deviated from a shared aesthetic, and some don’t even feel like they’re Pokémon at all (such as a living set of keys.)
13 Better: The Plot Is Low-key, Relatable, And Believable
The beauty of Red and Blue’s plot is that it’s almost nonexistent. You’re just a kid setting out on your Pokémon journey. Along the way, you’ll get involved in a battle against a criminal organization and even do some amateur investigating, but you were just one part of a larger machine that ran in the background. This made the experience immersive and believable, especially when compared to later sequels aside from Generation II.
Whether you’re dealing with supernatural gods, apocalyptic cults, or world-ending cataclysms, nothing really compares to leaving home and exploring the world on your own terms.
12 Worse: No Meaty Extra Content
Two areas in which Red and Blue unarguably falter are post-game content and side-content.
When playing through Generation I, you have a great degree of freedom to explore and seek out the Pokémon you want to find, but there are very little major side quests aside from tracking down the Legendary Birds (which is extremely easy) and there’s zero post-game content except for capturing Mewtwo.
Starting with Generation II, every ensuing Pokémon game would add tons of optional and exciting content for the main quest and beyond, and it’s sorely missed in Gen I.
11 Better: There’s A Surprisingly Bleak Undertone
Red and Blue manage to have an underlying sense of dread throughout their quests, and a generally bleak undertone that eventually makes its way to the forefront. Even better is that this is all done with arguably the most low-stakes story in the franchise.
The chilling Pokémon Lab journals, Mewtwo’s tortured existence, the eerie Pokémon graveyard, and the abuses that people like Giovanni inflict on Pokémon and the world at large are all example of a matter-of-fact darkness that no other game has genuinely touched upon, despite their lofty goals.
10 Worse: The Translation Is Spotty
A symptom that ran rampant throughout many games in the 90s (and even slightly beyond), Pokémon Red and Blue suffer from an occasionally awkward, and sometimes downright incorrect, translation.
While most of these errors don’t affect the game or the understanding of important concepts, there’s no arguing that this kind of error has essentially been stomped out of total existence with the franchise, especially the latest entries.
Sure, a few issues slip through here and there, but Red and Blue take the cake in terms of translation faux pas.
9 Better: Superior Music
Without a doubt, Generation I has the best score in the franchise thus far, starting with the rousing main theme. Then there’s the memorable “travelling” compositions, which capture a lighthearted, childlike sense of wonder, but also an underlying sense of grand adventure. The battle themes combine high-stakes excitement with an emotional gut-punch of dramatic hopelessness. The town themes are dreamy pieces that conjure up powerful wanderlust. The supremacy never ends.
8 Worse: The Battles Are Simplistic
While the combat of Generation I Pokémon is certainly exciting and cognitively-engaging in its own right, there’s no denying that it is the most simplistic battle system in the franchise.
Immediately outdone by Generation II’s revolutionary new systems, and only further outpaced by later additions such as two-on-two battles and a far greater assortment of Pokémon moves with a variety of brand new effects, the clunky and straightforward battles of Gen I fail to measure up in terms of strategy, tactics, or fun.
7 Better: Kanto Feels Like A Real Place In A Real World
As kids, we didn’t feel like we going to be playing on a “game” when we turned on the Game Boy… we felt like we were visiting a unique world.
That may seem absurd, but back then, Kanto’s cities, people, and general layout were so believable. The fact that there were places we could see but not go to was just another way the game sold its world to us.
Many of the newer entries feel like over-designed “games,” while Gen I simply didn’t, so maybe that’s the reason why few sequels were able to capture this feeling.
6 Worse: They’re Slow
Whether it’s slogging through the world with your own two feet, bumping around a cave, switching Pokémon in-and-out of the PC, battling, or merely figuring out where to go, the Red and Blue Versions of Pokémon are inordinately slow when compared to just about every last one of their latest brethren.
Of course, there are plenty of great games back then that are unbelievably slow, such as the original Dragon Warrior, and there’s definitely a charm to it, but there’s no way you can get around the fact that it’s more fun to travel at a quicker pace.
5 Better: There's A Powerful Sense of Mystery
Similar to seeing places we couldn’t go, Generation I contained a slew of tantalizing mysteries that further consumed us.
It’s incredibly hard to articulate this, so here’s an odd comparison: Kanto felt like Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule. BOTW’s sense of mystery drove us to explore every nook and cranny while falling in love with the world, and Kanto manages to do the same thing.
There was always something to discover, and always an unexplained mystery (such as MissingNo. or what Mew was.)
This created an overwhelming desire for answers that subsequent entries were unable to rival.
4 Worse: They're Woefully Unbalanced
The anime told us Ghosts would wreck Sabrina’s Psychics. The anime lied.
Our Ghosts ended up destroyed by her Psychic soldiers. In fact, basically everything gets destroyed by Psychics.
It turns out that Generation I is severely unbalanced, with Psychic Pokémon reigning supreme as unstoppable gods of destruction, with nearly-invulnerable Dragon-types being close behind.
While battling with friends is certainly fun, there’re only a few viable strategies for true competition, and it’s all because Gen I is an entirely unbalanced mess.
3 Better: The Bottomless Rumor Mill
We’ve mentioned a natural “sense of mystery” in Generation I, but that really reached its zenith with the overwhelming amount of rumors regarding supposed “secrets.”
The ideas of finding Mew under a (genuinely suspicious) truck or discovering the “PokéGods” in Bill’s “Secret Garden” seem crazy, but the well-known existence of the mind-warping MissingNo. made anything seem possible.
No other sequel has lived up to this, likely thanks to a more mature populace, but even though we know better, the idea that something is still hiding in Red and Blue can still be felt today, and that’s remarkable.
2 Worse: Unintuitive HMs
The clunky and obnoxious elements of HMs have long since been eliminated, but the bane of HMs taking up valuable move slots on your precious team of Pokémon, and the pain of making sure you had the appropriate creature on your team when the HM was actually needed is one of the most utterly frustrating and dull elements to ever exist in a Pokémon game.
For those that are only familiar with later games in the franchise, thank your lucky stars that you don’t have to suffer through this burden like we did.
1 Worse: They’re Straight Up Broken
The biggest technical flaws of Generation I are the slew of glitches and the general imbalance. When those two issues combine, we have the biggest problem of them all: a broken game.
We’ve already mentioned that Psychic Pokémon are unstoppable forces of nature, and we’ve hinted at MissingNo., but by taking advantage of the various, easily-accessible glitches, players can generate infinite Master Balls, money, and items, while also catching glitch Pokémon that WELL exceed the level cap of normal creatures.
Red and Blue are fantastic classics, but that doesn’t mean they are technically sound or reliable.