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I spent Friday night playing the Pokemon Game Boy game.
Matt - 09/16/00

In case anyone was wondering where I was yesterday, here's your answer:

Yes, I was sucked into the surprisingly addictive and remarkably asinine world of Pokemon Red for Game Boy Color. You've really gotta curse the internet for making things like this so easily accessible. I was much happier living my life under the pretense that I didn't need a Game Boy and had no desire, whatsoever, to ever try playing this game.

For a full year straight I had watched my sister's kids conquer the absolutely amazing ability of living a full live while never removing their line of sight from the Game Boy screen. I swear to you, it was truly phenomenal. My niece would come up to the house in my sister's car, and literally be able to get out of the car, come in the front door, get up the stairs, and eat raviolis all without taking a single second's glance away from this stupid game. And unfortunately, now I know why.

It's no big secret that I like Pokemon. I really don't know how you can't like Pokemon...the show features a yellow mouse who can only say it's name (or half his name) while occassionally screaming it's name while electricuting everything in sight. If you don't think that's the best slapstick entertainment since that episode of Night Court where the giant 8-ball is chasing Bull around the building, there's something seriously wrong with you.

Actually, let's go offtrack for a minute here and talk about the cartoon. If you're one of the millions of people out there who think Pokemon is just another subpar shitty kids show all about cutesy animals who give each other lessons in moral virtue, you're wrong. Take a look at these pictures. I'm not going to explain what's going on. Just look at the fucking pictures!

Now you're telling me that doesn't look like a riotous good time? I've seen that particular episode at least 50 times now and I still can't make sense of it, but I do know that it's crazy enough to warrant forcing friends to watch when they're drunk.

But that's the show, we're here to talk about the Game Boy game. Most of you know this already, but it's actually credited with saving the Game Boy's 'career'. It was that popular. It didn't make a difference how many other companies could create better systems in true color with faster all came down to who hosted the Pokemon game. Nintendo wins.

Seeing as how I was playing this for free, and quite illegally, I had my pick from all the versions. I opted not to go for the obvious yellow version of the game, only because at that point I wasn't sure if picking the yellow meant I'd have to hear Pikachu say his name whenever I accomplished anything from defeating my enemies to walking into a tree. So, considering how I'm no stranger to the Char, I went for the red version.

The only real difference between the red and blue versions is that some of the little Pokemon creatures you kick the shit out of and collect are different. Other than that, it's pretty much the same. The yellow version makes you take Pikachu as your first 'adoptee', and follows the cartoon a little better. Remember, these are all important things to consider when you run out to the local video game retailer to pick up your copy after reading this review.

The thing that really grabbed me about this game, even from the beginning, was the kind of RPG-ish feel it had. You definitely have a set mission, but it's really up to you to see all the stuff that's in the adventure. This really isn't a good game for those of the indecisive persuasion, as you're going to have a lot of choices. Which Pokemon to train heavily, which to dump, what powers are best for 'em, and yes, even your name. If you're thinking of being cute with that choice, please reconsider. It might seem like the perfect crime to get your Game Boy to spell out 'Fuckface' for you, but understand that if you decide to do that, the game is going to call you Fuckface at least 500 times within your first two hours of playing.

Professor Oak is your mentor, and the guy who gives you your very first Pokemon. He also talks way too much for a game that makes sentences stretch two words per line. In any event, his grandson Gary is your main rival. He's not really a bad guy, but you should do your best to waste his Pokemon whenever you get the chance. The really cool thing about Gary is his theme music. During the course of your adventure, occassionally Gary'll drop in unexpectedly. And whenever he does, he's accompanied by music usually reserved for the post-coin-insert at the local peep show facility.

Of course, probably the most important decision of the entire game is making the choice of which of the three Pokemon to take with you from the start. After laboring on the issue for a good ten minutes, I finally decided to go with the obvious choice: X-E's favorite plant/frog/thing, Bulbasaur.

Immediately following that, Gary challenges you. Looking back, had I had known that I'd be looking at what resembles a pile of cat droppings more than Bulbasaur for the rest of the game, I might've picked Squirtle. Nevertheless, and this is an important rule in the game of Pokemon: all decisions are final.

The battles themselves do get complicated, but in a cool way. It's not just a randomized push of the button. Each particular Pokemon has specific skills, and are of a different element. There's fire Pokemon, water Pokemon, even ghost Pokemon. You can hold up to six different creatures at a time, and the trick is to keep them as diverse as possible, so your opponents cowar before your almighty grace as the only true Pokemon master.

As your Pokemon win battles, both against wild Pokemon and other trainers, they gain experience and learn new skills. I can't begin to tell you how surprised I was when I noticed that, aside from 'tackle', my Bulbasaur could now kick the shit out of Squirtle using a mysterious power known only as 'leech seed'. And what's even more exciting - once your Pokemon hit a certain experience level, they'll evolve. It took me awhile to get Bulba to morph into Ivy, but the wait was well worth it. He only slightly resembled a pile of shit after that.

Another neat element of the game -- some of the Pokemon are so rare or hard-to-catch, that you'll either have to find them hidden or trade with quirky characters to get 'em. The cartoon is insane, and I guess that did carry over into this game a little, because at one point I traded one of my Pokemon for a duck named Farfetch'd who wielded a green onion. Yep, you guessed it: what the fuck? Also, there's one part where you enter the Game Freak headquarters to acquire a super-rare Pokemon. Get it? Game Freak is the name of the company who made the game. Pretty cute how they got themselves in here, no? No, seriously. Isn't that cute?

Of course, no game is perfect. I spent around twelve full hours playing this game yesterday. And as in life, anytime you spend that long doing something, chances are you're really just doing the same thing over, and over, and over again. Case in point, the lovely young Pokemon-training vixen named Lass pictured above at right. Now, I've got no qualms about unleashing Bulbasaur's power on her sorry ass Pokemon. I did have a problem doing it six thousand times though. There's about a dozen towns in this little Pokeworld, and every one of them has about thirty girls named Lass. That's where this game lost it's grip on reality for me. If this was real life, you'd have to think that by the sixth or seventh time I ran into Lass, we'd be on such a first-name basis that we'd probably want to go hit up the Pokebar rather than make our pets shoot fire at each other.

It's not just Lass though, there's a ton of characters who seem to suffer from the same complex all those dead people in The Sixth Sense do. Somebody needs to explain to them...when I kill your Pokemon, you're dead. Another frisky character who goes by the name of 'Bug Catcher' also appears no less than 100 times in the game. The first time I played it, he was the reason I turned it off. Listen, I've played Tetris, I can appreciate stagnation in my gaming...but you've gotta draw the line when some kid named 'Bug Catcher' keeps popping up on your screen every twenty seconds wearing a safari hat.

Repeating characters aren't the only unnerving part of the quest. You'll also be privy to some of the strangest dialogue ever. Now I'll be honest about this, I forgot to save the game and I lost thirteen hours of my life on this, but I'm not going to go play the whole thing again just to show you how idiotic it was. However, I will fill you in on some of my faves: you'll encounter gypsies who tell you that they 'need blood' before making their Pokemon attack, not the mention the occassional trainer who will literally only say 'ke ke ke ke ke'. You mean, we get all this action and it's a phonics teaching tool too? Kickass.

The picture shown above is from the early stages of the game, and it really sets the tone. You're walking along, and out of nowhere there's a dead guy in the middle of the road. His grandaughter's only explanation to this heinous scene is that he 'hasn't had his coffee'. Also, in keeping with the idea that this game was really meant for small children, there's an entire tower full of people later in the game crying about their dead Pokemon.

Even with those minor infractions, it's an absolutely great game. Now I know that making the transition between staring at the computer screen and staring at the Game Boy screen for thirteen hours might be tough for some of you, but believe me, give this game a chance and it'll be worth it.

It's very Zelda-esque, actually. But the cool part is, unlike how in Zelda, Link was the one getting hit by all the firebombs and swords, here it's just your worthless, blindly obedient Pokemon. Even if you lose, you don't really lose. Pokemon that get hit by a car aren't that hard to replace.

As for your ultimate goal, you've got to collect as many of the 150 Pokemon as you can, while putting a stop to the evil plans of bad Pokemon trainers and criminals extraordinaire, Team Rocket. It's a long game...even the most devout couch potato would have a problem trying to finish it in one sitting. And that's a good sign.

So that's how I spent Friday. I spent the entire day trying to teach Wartortle how to shoot a fucking ice beam. It's not exactly one for the memoirs, but I definitely had fun with it. Course, now that I put thirteen hours in and lost the game without saving in, I'm disgusted enough to make a solemn vow never to play the game again. But that's just me. All of you should try to get your hands on it. I pretty much lost my interest in gaming a long time ago, but this one really kept me hooked. Do it for it for yourselves...but most importantly, do it to hear Gary's wild theme music.

PS, go all the way back to the picture at top. Notice how I had a copy of the walkthrough handy at all times? I'm sure most of you were too busy holding your noses over the fact that I'm an honest-to-goodness AOL'er, but I thought the whole walkthrough thing was pretty lame too.

- Matt