If someone were to ask me what Pokémon games you should play the most, I would not immediately snap to the most modern games. In all honesty, I think the past two generations of games have been ugly and not really worth playing; the formula has gotten to the point where it is boring.
“Now what game would I recommend?” I hear you ask.
Gold and Silver, the first set of sequels in the Pokémon series.
“But they came out 12 years ago, how can they be the best in the series?”
Well I am going to tell you.
Gold and Silver were released in 2001 on the Gameboy Colour, and in spite of the limitations of the system, it is one of the prettiest Pokémon games. It might lack the beauty and detail of Ruby and Emerald, but the simplicity is the beauty. Looking back at the first generation of Pokémon games, they were ugly as shit. The monster designs were pixelated and horrible, and overall the game just needed a massive graphical overhall. Enter Gold and Silver.
Monsters were given some nice pastel details, and the world itself was full of luscious simple colours. Green grass and trees went a long way to making you feel you were in this world. In retrospect, I never felt as connected to the first games as I did to Gold just because they were so monochrome and ugly. That said, like I said in my post on cutscenes, a lot of the epicness of the original games was through your imagination, which is something that that Gold and Silver retain.
Honestly, I don’t like how the series has gone graphically; since Diamond and Pearl there has been a design choice to make the worlds 3D and I don’t think that is the way to go. This is something I will tackle in a later post, but game designers need to be more pragmatic in their approach, rather than trying to add every new thing into a game. You only need to look at Rayman Origins to see that a simple, 2D design can be far more effective than doing 3D just because you can.
But I digress.
Gold and Silver did just enough to look beautiful. Details such as footprints in the sand do not make an appearance, but even playing it now, it looks amazing.
Enough cannot be said about how much Gold and Silver added to the mix. The day and night cycle, something that would not return until Diamond and Pearl, skipping a generation, was a great addition that changed what Pokémon could be caught when, and also, what events were happening. This gave an extra attachment to the game, as it changed along with you. The downside of this was that if you can only play it in the evening, as I can at the moment, you are limited to what you can catch. Of course, you can just change the internal clock, so that problem solves itself. How this feature skipped two generations, I do not know.
This was also the Pokémon game to introduce holding items. Without even knowing it, your starter Pokémon is carrying a Berry at the start. In the first section, just as you think you are about to lose a battle as your Pokémon runs out of health, it heals itself. Playing it now, I utterly forgot about this feature, but it adds an extra tactical approach to battling. Another feature introduced here was the PokéGear, known as the PokéNav, Pokétch and the C-Gear in Ruby and Sapphire, Diamond and Pearl and Black and White respectively. This allowed you to rematch trainers, as well as get tips from Oak and your Mum as the game goes on. Brilliant feature, adds another level of re playability to the game.
Also, the inclusion of an XP bar in the battle screen, or organisation of items in your bag went a long way to streamlining and refining what made the first game so great.
I was infuriated when I saw the marketing campaign for Black and White 2 where it advertised itself as the first game where you could revisit areas from an older game (Black and White). Seriously, how can you not know the history of your own franchise, Nintendo? The credits roll after you defeat the eight gym leaders of Johto, and the Elite Four, you you find you can revisit the world of Red and Blue: Kanto. Honestly, this is one of the biggest surprises I have ever found in a video game; it was totally un-advertised, so when it happened you were taken aback. Forget Resident Evil 6′s marketing where they advertised the big unlockable campaign (playing as Ada Wong) before, this is how you do it.
Sure, they didn’t do much with Kanto, there wasn’t that much to do, but it was nice to revisit and replay the gym leaders of the first game, as well as see what had happened in the three years that had passed since Red and Blue. It also gave the game an extra few hours of playablitiy, and gives you the chance to challenge Red, the protagonist of the first generation, and beat him. All this might sound like little things, but they really did go a long way to give the Pokémon franchise a bigger scope. You felt like you were part of a bigger world, and that each game wasn’t an enclosed and episodic entity.
This is one of my biggest issues with the Pokémon series; it seems afraid to create a long narrative. This might be that the development team are more focused on creating new monsters over actually letting the games and worlds evolve themselves, and something the series has lacked since. Every generation feels like its own thing, not part of a larger series.
Interesting New Monsters
This was probably the bit most people were interested in before the game came out. New monsters were subtly introduced in the anime, such as Togepi and Marill, and this just upped the excitement. What was fantastic about the new monsters in this game was that they felt like part of a larger ecosystem. There were evolutions, or prevolutions, of the original 150 Pokémon. I don’t really care what hack reason they use to explain why these were not present in the first games, it was just a blast to see them.
Gold and Silver were also the first games to have the Legendary Pokémon as part of the areas mythology. Hell, even language came from Pokémon in the form of Unown. These Pokémon are in the form of letters, and there is challenge to capture all 26.
The monsters in this game feel nature, where most of the original 151 felt like experiments of mutations. This might be down to Johto being a more rural area than the built up Kanto, but the just felt right. There were no mechanical abominations like Blastoise or Polygon.
This was the sequel the original needed. It did enough to change the formula, making it better, without tweaking it too much. Now the series has, in some ways, changed too much, I feel, and Gold and Silver were miles ahead of its time with some features, that inexplicable do not return until much later in the series.