This Game was the Very Best

All hyperbole and theme song references aside, Pokemon Blue was my introduction to handheld gaming and set me up for a lifetime of fun. It holds a very special place in my heart and I will always remember standing in my backyard, on the deck my dad had recently built (with the assistance of my uncles) while I powered on my very own copy of the game. I remember seeing the large, turtle-monster with the cannons sticking out of its back and thinking that was the coolest thing ever. I, of course, picked Bulbasaur as my starter Pokemon because a frog-plant monster seemed even cooler. Also, one of my friends said it got this move called solarbeam and, at the time, that was the most badass thing I could think of. Fire blast was pretty standard and hydro pump sounded kinda dull because my dad was a civil engineer and hydro pumps were things that just moved water around, so Bulbasaur was clearly the best option. Thus began my deep and abiding love for the grass type starter. The only Pokemon game since then where I’ve ever picked one of the other options has been Gen II (Silver/Gold/Crystal/HeartGold/SoulSilver) when I picked Cyndaquil because I was watching the anime at the time and Cyndaquil was my favorite of Ash’s Pokemon.

To get the first part of this nostalgia trip under way, I honestly miss the old days. Back before the internet made it possible to nail down the exact appearance percentage of all the Pokemon in every clump of grass, all you had was your friends. You found everyone with a version of the game, red or blue, and compared notes about where you found each Pokemon. Eventually, someone splurged for a walk-through and then everyone passed it around, trying to figure out where to find the best Pokemon. Then someone got a link cable and you all clamored to trade with each other until someone finally captured all 150 Pokemon, earning them the neighborhood crown until someone else revealed the secret to getting Mew. I was never the first to catch them all, for any version or generation of the game, and I’d never gotten a Mew in my life until Pokemon Go came out, but I was one of the best at figuring out where to get all the pokemon or remembering how to use the glitches so you could use Master Balls on Safari Zone Pokemon.

Back in Gen I, and even in Gen II, the games seemed so much simpler and more appealing. There was no meta to care about, no one even knew IVs or EVs existed, and everyone who tried a link battle with their friends inevitably lost to the other person’s team of level 100 Pokemon or their level 100 Mewtwo, specifically in the battles where we agreed no one would us Pokemon trained up using the Rare Candy glitch since they’d always pretend they’d leveled him up honestly and nothing beat a level 100 Mewtwo even with Same Type Attack Bonus boosted moves (Parasect was your best bet, but even that couldn’t hack it with a forty level difference). Back then, the games told a story and we got to watch the world and the people inside it change from one game to the next and even battle our previous player once we beat all of Silver or Gold.

Even setting aside the “crotchety old man” stuff, I miss the wild rumors that would circulate about the games. The wild speculation we all engaged in about Lavender Town and the ghost Pokemon you fought. The first Pokemon games coincided with my friends and I starting to get our first opportunities to access the internet and one of us inevitably came across some of the original “creepypasta” rumors about the first Pokemon game and we’d delightfully terrorize each other with stories about the old man in Lavender town killing all your Pokemon or the horrors of Missingno if you actually capture it. We all learned glitches we could use to duplicate Pokemon and convinced gullible people to do them since they had a tendency to delete all your save data instead.

The thing was, there was a community around the games and it lasted for years. Even as my friends and I get the new games, the feeling just isn’t the same. I’m still the best when it comes to knowing where to find Pokemon and I tend to have the highest Pokedex completion percentage, but the way the games are set up now makes competition pointless because you either cheat, trade your rare Pokemon away, or go to events to get limited legendary Pokemon that aren’t available through normal gameplay. Right now, there’s a “year of legendaries” event going on and my initial plans of taking advantage of it every month quickly fell apart as life intervened. Now I have no way to get those Pokemon unless I trade away something far rarer since everyone who has one knows they can ask for anything they want because it’s easier to restart and replay the entire game than get a specific event Pokemon. Sure, Mew was an event Pokemon and Celebi was as well, so it’s been going on since the beginning, but it’s so incredibly difficult to get them all now that it would take years to get all the event Pokemon and I don’t even want to know how much many in travel expenses.

I definitely enjoy the new games, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like I enjoyed Pokemon as a whole more back when I didn’t know as much and when I had a little less information available to me. When things were simple and I played under the covers of my bed using the plug-in game light I told my parents was for car rides, Pokemon seemed like this amazing world that I would step into and explore. Now, because of the meta, because of Pokemon natures, and because of the ever pressing need to figure out where I need to go each month to get event Pokemon, it’s much less a world for me to explore and much more of a part-time job that doesn’t reimburse your travel expenses. I’ll still play each one as it comes out (though I might take a pass on the “Let’s Go” series coming out soon) because I still get hours and hours of entertainment out of it, not to mention assistance with my insomnia issues, but I miss the days when it felt more real to me.

To once again continue the theme of reflecting on old games, today’s post is about Pokemon! Listen to me wax nostalgic, play the part of a grumpy old main yelling about change, and consider the pitfalls of the more modern games.

Big Red Button

Sally like pressing the button. It didn’t do much, just send a few electrical impulses along to a machine that raised an arm and then lowered it. The arm held a little iron heated by an internal mechanism so that every time the arm was lowered, it pressed the white-hot foundry stamp into a metal ingot. The gears that raised the arm also moved a conveyor belt, so a fresh ingot was waiting as the arm came down.

She only got to press the button when the computer system was down, because the computer handled it without involving the button at all. Sally thought this was unfair, so she used her position as the floater to occasionally cause the computer system to reboot. Then she got to press the button for fifteen minutes so the company wouldn’t lose out on production while the computer restarted all essential tasks first.

No one knew it was her, messing with the computer. They’d set up security cameras because the managers and IT staff were suspicious, but she had plenty of time to study the cameras when she wasn’t pressing the button. When she was pressing the button, though, there was room for nothing but the satisfaction of hearing it thunk and click into place with every press of its bright red surface.

That was why, today, when the computer system failed to restart and the managers had assured everyone that they’d get it working again before the asteroid base ran out of air, Sally went to press the button. As the air thinned and everyone began to panic, she pressed the button. As the managers and administrators took the only shuttle, she pressed the button. The last thing she did before she faded away was to press the button. It was worth it.

Pokemon Through The Ages

I’ve been a fan of the Pokemon games ever since the first one came out. I have dim, partial memories of standing on the deck at my parents house, looking at my brother’s Red Version cartridge, and deciding I wanted blue version because I liked blue more than red. I remember how amazing it was that you could have your Pikachu follow you around in Yellow version. I even still have the game guide and Pokedex my brother got for Yellow Version so he could complete his Pokedex. Back in the days when there was only “Special” instead of “Special Attack” and “Special Defense,” breeding wasn’t possible, IVs were unheard of, and Pokemon abilities weren’t even on the horizon, I built my team in Blue using the Pokemon I thought were the coolest and my Yellow Version team as a match to Ash’s team, since I watched the Pokemon Anime religiously.

As I grew and more games came out, I played at least one of every version up until the Black and White generation. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t want to play new Pokemon games at that point since I was in college and there’s no denying they’re basically all the same game, but the reality of the situation is that I was too broke to buy them. To this day, they remain the only generation I haven’t bought or played. Pokemon games don’t really lose value and they’ve been coming out with new ones at a pretty regular frequency, so I’ve never really been left wanting a new Pokemon game.

I primarily play Pokemon as a way to relax. For me, it is all about having something easy and calm to do that I can use to deal with stress or anxiety. If I’m playing Pokemon, I’m too busy to be stressed or anxious, but not so busy that I can’t quietly work through stuff in the back of my mind. The games can be kind of boring at times, if you’re going for Pokedex completion, but it can also be rewarding to come up with plans, look at models for the appearance frequency of various Pokemon, and to calculate which Pokemon will make for the best addition to my team.

Unlike some of my friends, I’m not into the competitive scene. I have no interesting in fighting Pokemon battles against real people via online competitions. I’m not super interested in the strongest Pokemon and maximizing their stats,  but I definitely enjoy Pokedex completion more than they do. I’m the only one of my main group of friends who actually takes the time to collect or works on creating a full Pokedex using the “Pokemon Bank” service, something that allows me to store Pokemon from the more recent games on a server somewhere. This allows me to transfer them between games whenever I so desire and is not limited by in-game storage capacity.

Due to my penchant for starting the games over multiple times (mostly so I’ve got actual objectives beyond just catching Pokemon, because that can get kind of boring at times), I’ve now got enough evolutions of the Pokemon in the recent games, Sun/Moon and Ultra Sun/Moon, to complete my Pokedex simple by moving Pokemon from the Pokemon Bank to my game. I’m still working on getting ALL of the 800+ Pokemon now, since a lot of the rare ones are event-specific and I suck at going to the events or even turning my game on at the right time to get them.

I would say my favorite generation was Gen 2, the Silver/Gold/Crystal generation and their remakes, HeartGold and SoulSilver. I prefer the remakes since your lead Pokemon follows behind you and I’ve always enjoyed that. Generation 2, especially the remakes, had the most story elements in them, though the recent ones probably have the largest story (though it is a lot more straight forward and less complex). I also really enjoyed being able to get more than 8 badges and was really sad when Gen 3 didn’t continue that trend.

I can understand that a lot of people aren’t always enthusiastic about each new Pokemon game and I’ll admit that I rarely play the older ones now, but I can’t deny that they hold a special place in my heart. They were the first video game franchise I ever bought into and my longest-running. Half of my handheld games, if we exclude the Switch, are Pokemon games. I’m constantly on the lookout for cheap copies of the games so I can complete my collection. My love for the games also instantly provides common ground between myself and other people as most people my age have played at least one of them.

Aside from the easy identifiers such as apparel and knickknacks, Pokemon fans are usually easy to identify. All you have to do is drop the name of a less-popular Pokemon. If you get a look of confusion, you know to avoid Pokemon. If they recognize the name, the conversation will usually take at least a momentary aside to talk about Pokemon. With the advent of Pokemon Go and its continued popularity, the game is reaching more and more people. I’ve got a coworker in his early 50s who likes to talk about Pokemon as a result of the app, even though he never has and never will play any of the console/handheld Pokemon games.

I can’t even criticize the games for being money grabs because I’m happy to give the studio and Nintendo my money so they can keep making more of these games and other wonderful stuff in the future. The games bring people together, they help me relax when I’m stressed or can’t sleep, and they’ve been a part of my almost as long as I can remember. What more can you ask of a game franchise? I really hope they’re still making these when I’m 80 and enjoying my retirement in a space-station retirement hold. Don’t have to worry about breaking your hip or falling if there’s no gravity!