Twenty years since the franchise began and after numerous games, TV episodes, movies, trading cards and plush toys, Nintendo has given Pokémon fans a chance to travel back to where it all began with Virtual Console releases of the first Game Boy titles. 3DS owners can purchase the original Red or Blue versions, or they can pick up Pokémon: Yellow Version, which arrived a little later in the first generation and offered some additional features.
Labelled as a "Special Pikachu Edition" on the box of the original cartridge release, Pokémon Yellow is more or less the same as Red and Blue and sees you engaging in many Pokémon battles. Wild creatures are captured with Poké Balls and then you level them up (some evolve), learning new moves along the way as you travel around the Kanto region taking on the various Gym Leaders. Compared to later games in the series the gameplay is quite stripped down and can be a little fiddly, but for the most part it works well providing a simple fun Pokémon experience that still manages to engross as you put together a formidable team.
Multiplayer on Game Boy games is not something Nintendo has bothered with for the Virtual Console in the past, but for Pokémon it's made an exception. It comes at the very real cost of a price increase, but Pokéfans will welcome the inclusion of wireless communication, allowing trading and battling between friends (with any version of the game). It's also worth remembering that these games are compatible with Pokémon Bank, allowing you to transfer your cuddly battling friends to the upcoming Pokémon Sun and Moon.
Compared to the forthcoming Generation VII games, the opening game of the series looks as old and outdated as you'd expect. Originally released at a time when everyone and their dog were buying PlayStations, old and outdated could actually be said of their original cartridge release too, but they look good by Game Boy standards. There's a clean style, a variety of locations and some simple but effective transitional effects as you enter battle.
One visual upgrade this game offers over the Red and Blue versions is colour. For Red and Blue Nintendo has done their usual thing of not including Super Game Boy enhancements, but Yellow was a Game Boy Color title and thus it is in colour on 3DS. It should be noted that this is not the most impressive colourisation however, with towns, buildings and their occupants displayed in four colours (rising to ten elsewhere in the game), but having different colours for different locations still enhances the visuals, and the various Pokémon benefit too.
There are other differences (including some team changes for Gym Leaders) but the most obvious is your starter Pokémon. Red and Blue gave you three to choose from, Yellow gives you Pikachu. The small electric Pokémon is not a fan of Poké Balls and so walks behind you on your travels; turn and talk to him and you can discover his current mood, accompanied with a sampled "pika!". One other Pikachu addition is a surfing mini-game accessible from a beach house at a certain point in the game. It's a fun diversion and can be quite addictive as you try to improve your score. For the original release of the game you needed access to the Nintendo 64's Pokémon Stadium to unlock it, but this requirement has been removed for this Virtual Console download.
Other additions to Yellow include some additional Battle modes via "Colosseum 2" where each player is limited to three Pokémon, a species can only be used once per team and there are also height/weight restrictions. There are also some additional audio options. By default the game blasts out in mono, but there are three options for those playing with headphones that gives the music and effects a less harsh sounding quality.
Originally the game let you print off certain screens, but down in the Nintendo Life Laboratory for Important Experiments an attempt to weld a Game Boy Printer to a 3DS proved unsuccessful. In the resulting lecture from the stern-looking Fire Safety Officer we were reminded, however, that thanks to Image Share and Miiverse screen capping, it's not something that's really needed.
Unlike typical Virtual Console releases Nintendo has not included restore or suspension points in these Pokémon titles. The game lets you save at any time (outside of battles), so it's not a big problem but you need to be careful as forgetting to save could result in a lot of lost progress.
Whichever version you pick up, the original Pokémon titles remain an enjoyable gaming experience. Simple in appearance and lacking the bells and whistles of later games, they nevertheless engross from start to finish. Wireless link play is a welcome addition and attempting to "catch 'em all" and complete your Pokédex will keep you busy for some time. Compared to the other versions there's a few extras here; the splash of colour works well and the mini game is a lot of fun. Pokémon Yellow was a great game for the Game Boy/Color, and is now a recommended download for the 3DS.