Going back to a game from your childhood is a dangerous adventure to take. Long ago when we were innocent, naive and had yet to discover the joys of sarcasm and cynicism it was easy to enjoy a game.
We didn’t care about graphics or intricate mechanics, we just wanted to kill monsters with oversized swords or by jumping on their head.
Revisiting in your early adulthood usually leads you down two roads. Either you get the chance to rediscover a forgotten gem, or even those rose tinted glasses won’t be able to hide the glares of poor game design that your eight year old self couldn’t have cared less about.
There is, of course, always an exception to the rule, and that is Pokemon. Since the European release of Pokemon Red and Blue in 1999 the series has become the butt of many jokes for spawning a series now in its 6th generation with little change to the core gameplay mechanic.
What this means then is that for those wanting to re-visit the series’ roots, they are left with something both oddly familiar and frustratingly alien.
Booting up Red for the first time in years, one thing instantly becomes clear. This game moves slower than a Snorlax after a heavy lunch. Long before the inclusion of the running shoes, players had a long, long wait before acquiring the bicycle, which meant that initial treks through Viridian Forest and Mt Moon now feel much longer and much more arduous.
Another thing that is easy to forget is just how bare bones the gameplay of the first generation was, such that the actual combat was more complex than your third year physics lecture. But outside of battles the game is pretty much an exercise in walking from encounter to encounter.
People are often quick to complain about gimmicks such as Poffins, super contests, and berries, but looking back on a game where they are absent it seems they really do enhance the gameplay, preventing it from becoming a slow methodical grind.
Perhaps, the judgment passed on Pokemon’s refusal to budge in terms of gameplay innovation is ultimately unfair. Whilst it is true that the series has never had a massive overhaul of its gameplay is it the measured steps forward, the ironing out of the creases and the refinement of the experience that has given the series its longevity.
Many contemporary franchises would do good to take note, particularly with the current trend of yearly updates of established franchises becoming dominant in major developers’ release schedules.