Review: Pokémon Red and Blue (3DS / GB)

Twenty years ahead of their time

When these games were released back in the late nineties, the air around younger Game Boy owners was one of excitement and rivalry. Nintendo is clearly trying to capitalise on the nostalgia factor for all of us who were within the target age group (and some who weren't) when these titles were originally released, that much is clear, but how do they stand up in a world of Mega Evolutions and EV Training?

Pokémon Red and Blue are both Pokémon distilled down to their rawest form; you catch, raise, and battle Pokémon with a total party of six creatures to do your benevolent bidding. As your Pokémon grow they learn new moves, become stronger, and your skill in using them should improve accordingly. As you explore different regions you must challenge and defeat powerful Gym Leaders to earn their respective badge and make your way onwards to battle the Elite Four and become the Kanto Pokémon Champion.

On the whole everything's aged surprisingly well. The visuals are hugely dated of course, but the mechanics and gameplay are just as engrossing as they were two decades ago. It's true that the various new elements found in later Pokémon titles do allow for more precise and repeatable strategies, but the simplicity of this older system matches the hardware it was originally running on, so we found ourselves very quickly adapting to this more archaic way of playing. One major drawback however is the lack of description for any of the in-game moves, meaning the only real way to find out what they do is through trial and error. This isn't going to be any kind of an issue for the more experienced players, but those without prior Pokémon knowledge will likely find this unnecessarily frustrating.

Thankfully this is where the shortcomings end for the most part. The original game files are almost completely unaltered, meaning all of the old glitches that circled the playground are still present, allowing you to (perhaps against your better judgement) catch the legendary Missingno in all its various guises, or even grab a Mew before you beat the second gym leader. The games will also become compatible with Pokémon Bank in the future, meaning you'll be able to transfer Pokémon from these games to the upcoming Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon upon their release. How this will work if you try and upload a glitched Pokémon is anyone's guess right now.

The other new feature that has saved these titles from potentially being isolated from their fellow games is the inclusion of trading and battling over the 3DS system's wireless communication. The way it works is essentially using new code as a wrapper, meaning the game believes it's working with a link cable, so the original trading and battling is untouched - for better or for worse. Considering Red and Blue house certain Pokémon that are not available in the other, this means catching them all is still not only possible but remains completely faithful to the original Game Boy experience, and that's a theme that runs rife throughout. Even the standard save state feature of the Virtual Console has been disabled, most likely to prevent Pokéball abuse and keep the element of chance intact.

The actual emulation of the titles does result in a softer upscale than you might expect, but to be honest you'll forget it's even there after a short time. If it really does get on your goat you can always sacrifice resolution for pixel perfection by holding Start as you boot the game, adding a Game Boy console border around the image to fill some of the blank space, but you'll end up having to squint more than is probably healthy, especially if you're playing on a standard-sized 3DS.

Conclusion

Pokémon Red & Blue are a superb addition to the 3DS Virtual Console, and whilst these are both twenty year old games with the occasional wrinkle, they're still extremely engaging and involving titles in which to drown your free time. The gameplay is simpler by modern standards, but there's still a wealth of intricacies and complexity to be explored if you want to train a team to pixel-powered perfection. If you were to drag everything about the game and dump it in a nice, shiny, new 3D engine like X & Y you'd be forgiven for thinking these were brand new games, and you can't say that about many twenty year old titles.