Can you remember the first game you stayed up all night playing a video game? A game that you were so entrenched in that you chose to forgo sleep and risked punishment because you just couldn’t stop playing?
I do: Pokemon Blue.
Early in the year 2000, I was in my early teens. Pokemon wasn’t a huge deal among my circle of friends at the time; the anime was probably on TV but no one I knew was into it. I’d had my birthday and was itching to spend my birthday money on a new video game. I shared a PlayStation with my brother and knew that if I wanted to get a game that would be mine, and only mine dammit, I’d need to find one for my Game Boy.
My mum took me to the local Blockbuster store (Blockbusters…that’s a blast from the past, but for another time) in the hope that I’d finally stop dragging her from toy store to toy store and hopefully part ways with my cash. I remember picking up the case to Pokemon Blue with no knowledge of the Pokemon franchise whatsoever and looking the case over. Blastoise looked awesome on the cover and the back promised an adventure unlike any I’d experienced before. I glanced up and saw the Pokemon Red cover but knew it wasn’t of interest; blue is my favourite colour, after all.
Pokemon Blue was an impulse purchase, no doubt. I’d never watched Pokemon or played an RPG before, but I quickly got addicted to catching and training those little monsters called Pokemon. I remember trying to show the game to my friends and having it dismissed in place of whatever else was the big thing at the time. Then, out of nowhere, the TV show took over my school, the trading cards became popular, and suddenly everyone was on board.
I’d spend every free second I had playing Pokemon Blue; before school with breakfast, on lunch break sitting in my classroom (most of us would hang around inside in high school), after school while mindlessly shovelling dinner into my face, then well into the night – and even all night, on occasion.
To modern gamers, playing a video game well into the night may not seem like such a feat. These days it isn’t, but given that the only way to play Pokemon Blue back in the day was on the original Game Boy – you know, the huge grey brick with no backlight that ate through batteries like a fat kid and cake (I should know, I was one) – it was a challenge that required planning. I had to go to extreme lengths to get my late-night gaming sessions.
I’d wait until my brother on the top bunk had fallen asleep and my parents had disappeared downstairs. When the coast was clear, I’d sneak across my room and get my desk lamp. I’d take the desk lamp under my bed covers, plug it in and continue my Poke-adventure. Oh, I was such a daredevil – they’ll write books about me someday!
Yes, the lamp and lightbulb were roasting hot. Yes, I was sweating like a beast. Yes, I was basically an idiotic, selfish fire hazard. But, did I care? No. I was playing Pokemon until the sun came up and no one knew. Sweet!
I fully immersed myself in the Pokemon universe because of Pokemon Blue. I knew everything there was to know about the game and all 151 Pokemon included within. I even got suckered into trying to find Mew under a truck (and consequently learned that the internet is full of lies).
My love for the Pokemon franchise may have started with the game, but it eventually transcended it. I watched the TV show religiously, eventually finding websites with every episode that I would binge-watch shows decades before Netflix got me doing the same thing. I collected Pokemon cards but never battled still (I still to this day have never been in a Pokemon card battle) and would spend my lunch breaks trading my shiny cards and amassing a formidable collection – a collection I still have today, somewhere.
I dreamt about being a Pokemon trainer and hung onto the notion that I’d make a living entering the real-life Pokemon tournaments I’d read about in my magazines. Life goals.
Those were great times. Every so often I try to dive back into the world of Pokemon, but the magic I felt in my youth just isn’t there any more. While the visuals have been improved and the number of Pokemon has been increased to a ridiculous degree, the formula is basically identical to the original releases. From a nostalgic perspective that’s great, but after a few hours, I can’t help but long for something deeper and more developed – a Pokemon game that has grown up like I have – and ultimately lose interest.
I’d love a Pokemon game with a more engaging story, branching side quests that are actually rewarding, some new gameplay mechanics and a truly interesting world to explore. Too many Pokemon games feel like reskinned re-releases of previous games, with the changes being another 10,000 Pokemon to catch, a fresh quirky Pokemon Professor to bestow the first Pokemon, and a newly named enemy team to bring down.
As much as I pine for a Pokemon experience that will bring me back to that feeling of awe and excitement, I know that I’m chasing an elusive dream. I’m no longer Nintendo’s target market for the Pokemon franchise; there is another generation of youngers who have loving Pokemon Sword and Shield every bit as much as I loved my blue Game Boy cartridge. And, that’s okay. I would never begrudge them; I know how magical their time with the Pokemon franchise is going to be and I envy them.
I still love Pokemon for all of the joy that they gave me. Any time I see one of the original 151 Pokemon (plus the 100 in Pokemon Gold and Silver), I get a warm feeling. I’ll likely never be able to recapture the excitement of playing my first ever Pokemon game, but at least I can look back fondly on the memories that Pokemon Blue gave me.