2. Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow (Generation One)
You might be shocked or offended at finding Red and Blue close to, but not at the top of the list. Before you do anything drastic like smash the device you are reading this on, or send me stuffed Pikachus with their heads cut off, please read on. As I mentioned early on, this list is in consideration of the game when it was released, and without nostalgia taken in to consideration. This hurts the first generation’s case, as nostalgia is its best friend, and for good reason! While more recent generations have certainly surpassed Red, Blue, and Yellow graphically and introduced stellar new features that make it hard to go back, the first generation introduces us to a winning formula that would go on to last twenty years and counting! And twenty years later (eighteen everywhere outside of Japan), the game holds up just as well as it did then, provides just as much fun, and leaves the player wishing for more. Introduced on the Game Boy, Nintendo’s first portable console, the first generation of Pokémon first appeared in three colorful cartridges. Despite the game’s visuals having no color at all (well, maybe a singular hue), the game is creative, addictive, and enormously colorful in the other sense of the word. The game is captivating from the opening monologue welcoming us to the world of Pokémon, a world full of magical creatures imbued with the powers of fifteen different elements or types that the player is tasked with catching and training in the attempt to be the best Pokémon trainer that ever was. Somewhere in this setup is the magic recipe that has made Pokémon such a lasting franchise.
The original generation’s controls and game mechanics have remained basically the same from the beginning. Starting with either Charmander, Bulbasaur, or Squirtle, a partner with which to progress through the game, the player can build a team of up to six Pokémon. With 150 Pokémon throughout the game’s region, Kanto, there’s a lot of variety and options for teams, while also providing a deep level of strategy, allowing the player to discern what Pokémon type will be most effective. Battling them gains your Pokémon experience, which in turn makes them stronger, and in many instances provokes transformation in the form of Pokémon evolution. Seeing Pokémon grow and evolve is still as immensely gratifying and exciting as it was back then, and its hard to forget the first time one of your favorites reaches the next level. There’s a reason Charizard and Blastoise are so loved. The game’s battle mechanics are also rich, rewarding, and engaging. Some moves hit opponents with seemingly nuclear force, like using your Charizard to Fire Blast a wild Oddish. It’s super effective! Others induce effects on opponents’ Pokémon, like sleep or confusion. Some moves are weak, but guaranteed to hit first, while others are brutishly strong but less accurate. For every six Pokémon in a player’s Party there are up to four moves for endless combinations for optimum devastation to opponents. Or there is the game of patience and calculation that is catching wild Pokémon. Weakening a wild Pokémon makes it easier to catch, but with too much force it will be knocked out and the opportunity is lost. Each and every new Pokémon caught offers a new friend and ally or a new piece to a collection. Both are viable reasons to catch a Pokémon and reasons to play. Mechanically speaking, Pokémon preys upon some of humankind’s most primitive instincts and desires: desires to grow and be strong, desires to collect, desires for friendship, and the pursuit of simple enjoyment. The reason Pokémon is such an enduring franchise is an issue for another article, but it ultimately boils down to a deeply enjoyable game of competition and exploration, wrapped in strategy and personalization, and filled with monsters that, despite their simpler sprites from the time, the player gets deeply attached to.
And with the largest singular generation of new Pokémon with some of the most memorable designs, it’s not hard to imagine why most of these Pokémon are still so loved. The games opening cutscene features a dark, round, shadowy ghost fighting either a cute balloon Pokémon or a…bunny…dinosaur…rhino…yeah, let’s go with that – a bunny-dinosaur-rhino – before leading in to a world complete with a fire-breathing lizard, a water-shooting turtle, a bulb-sprouting frog, an electric rodent, a spooky ball of gas, more than one bipedal plant, a fiery fox, a terrifying sea serpent with unlikely origins, a rocky rhino, a genetically enhanced clone of a powerful, mythical, psychic cat hell-bent on destroying you, and so much more! These include household names like Pikachu, names recognized worldwide by people who have never even touched the game! With all of its beautifully designed creatures on top of its fittingly simple story, some of the best musical themes from any video game and the most memorable from the entire franchise, its charming dialogue and quaint, imaginative, and exceptionally inviting world, Pokemon is the perfect portable title, and undoubtedly a classic, timeless video game. It’s easy making a case for the first generation as one of the best, if not the best, generation of Pokémon, if not on its own merit, then for giving rise to one of the best game franchises of all time. Perhaps the only Pokémon games above Red and Blue are the immediate sequels.