In the late 90s, Nintendo struck gold. Fuzzy, yellow, electricity-producing gold, to be precise. In the shape of that accursed Pikachu and his other revolting little friends, Nintendo received the lifesaver it was looking for. Struggling with its ridiculously outclassed N64 games and shoddy Game Boy titles, many thought that Nintendo was done for. However, when the Pokemon craze hit the U.S. of A., the game versions caught on like wildfire and the company enjoyed having its two Gameboy titles Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue at the top of the charts. Then, after taking advantage of the impressionable youth and hoping to squeeze every ounce of moo-juice out of this humongous cash cow, the company came out with multiple sequels, the first of which was Pokemon Yellow. Here is my review.
In the small city of Palette Town, there lived a young boy by the name of Ash. This youth was a determined young lad, and all his life he had dreamed of one thing - Pokemon. You see, in this land, wild beasts named Pokemon roamed the countryside. There were large Pokemon and small Pokemon, cute Pokemon and ugly Pokemon, pleasantly scented Pokemon and disturbingly rank Pokemon. These creatures could be captured with ease if you knew what you were doing, and then it was easy enough to domesticate them as pets, or, if you preferred, creatures of mass destruction. Those who deal with Pokemon are known as Pokemon trainers, and to be one was Ash's one desire in life.
One day, he finally reached the legal age to head out on his own. His first stop was the home of Professor Oak, Pokemon professor extraordinaire. Once there, he was given the chance to take a single Pokemon, a feisty yellow rodent with a shocking affinity for electrical attacks. And so, from these humble beginnings he set out into the land to find the world's eight greatest Pokemon trainers and challenge them in order to be called the hallowed title of Pokemon master, but the road would be long and difficult, especially after discovering that his arch-rival would be attempting the very same thing.
I am not sure exactly why some people get so obsessed over this game. All I do know is that it successfully hooked me. The gameplay seems to be nothing special at first. As you travel along through the various towns and wildernesses of the world, you must do battle against other trainers and wild Pokemon, collecting money, experience, and new Pokemon via capturing wild ones. You can carry up to six Pokemon at once, while all extras must be placed in a storage compartment.
Combat is turn based, and each side chooses on Pokemon to battle with. They then decide whether to Fight, Defend, Run, or use an Item. It's pretty obvious what each one does, except for Fight. Each Pokemon can know up to four moves, and each move can be used so many times. For instance, you could have a Squirtle that knows how to tackle 25 times, squirt bubbles 20 times, and can withdraw into its shell 15 times. Once you've used up all of the uses of that move, it becomes unavailable until you recharge the Pokemon at a Pokecenter (yes, everything has the word Poke in front of it in this game). Not all attacks are offensive. Some raise stats, some inflict status effects, and some cause various odd things to happen like gaining extra money at the end of battle.
As the battle wages on, each side loses Pokemon. After your Pokemon is gone, you can send in a new one to fight, or you can switch at any point in battle. When fighting trainers, they can have anywhere from one to six Pokemon. Wild ones are always found alone.
However, rather than simply killing the unruly beasts outright, you can try to capture them. This basically means that you have to beat on it until its life is almost completely gone and then you must use a Pokeball item on it. Once used, the enemy will basically try to break out of the ball and escape, but if you've weakened it to the point of near-extinction and perhaps even paralyzed it, you shouldn't have too much trouble getting it on your side. Once there though, you must train it.
Training is a long, arduous process. Only those Pokemon that were involved in the battle get points, so if you want to improve your pocket monsters, you must use them, even if it's just for a single turn. Leveling up provides the creature with better stats, new moves, and in some circumstances, an evolved form. You see, the game contains roughly 150 different Pokemon types. Each one has its own strengths, weaknesses, and elements, but more importantly, each one has its own entry in your Pokedex. Unless you manage to get all the Pokemon forms into it, you can't say you've mastered the game. Some require various tricks to get to evolve, so be creative.
Now, here is the thing about the game that angered many a parent. No copy of the game contains all of the Pokemon. Instead, each one contains only about 2/3 of the total Pokemon population. The only way to completely master your collection is to either buy all the versions of the game or trade with a friend using a Link Cable. It's all a clever and effective marketing idea (scam is such a dirty word), as the game is so revoltingly addictive that any player of it has no choice but to "catch 'em all" as the now-infamous saying goes.
Even more insulting is that each of the games, up to Pokemon Yellow, contained almost no differences except for a few different Pokemon. Admittedly, Yellow lets you start with a different Pokemon than the others did and focused more on Ash's Pikachu than any other character, but that and a few extra bosses just doesn't cut it for most people. And yet they buy the game. They want the game. They NEED the game. It is their meaning in life… that and all the other sequels.
As far as RPGs go, the game seems a bit lacking. There is only a small bit of strategy required when picking which Pokemon type to fight with (basically, you just pit opposing elements against each other. Water beats Fire, Psychic beats Physical, Bug beats Plant, etc.), and the game doesn't contain any noticeable challenge other than the endless training, but it still manages to keep you playing. There is also a 2 Player battle mode available, in which you can pit one team of Pokemon against another in deadly combat, as well as a few mildly interesting mini-games. Although it might seem that only those who can bear hours upon hours of training could ever enjoy this game, you're wrong. Not even they enjoy it. It's a drug I tell you, just like Everquest and the like.
Despite its narcotic-like qualities, the game is kind of cute. Each of the Pokemon has its own portrait in combat, granting a visual aid to the otherwise bleak battle screens. Although Pikachu and his buddies activate a gag reflex for me, I suppose they aren't all that terrible. The small and hardly-detailed sprites on the world map aren't bad in any sort of way; just bland. Of course, when using a Game Boy Color, you can play in a few extra shades of bland. Battle effects are impressive for the system, including flashes and electric blasts and so on. It might not seem very good to most, but once you consider that this is for the Gameboy, you'll understand why the graphics are good.
The same goes for music. The Gameboy is not a very audio-based device. Almost every song the system has ever played has been tinny, short, and rarely worth listening to. Despite these handicaps, Pokemon Yellow did manage to do nicely, with tinny-yet-catchy songs playing at all times. Still, be prepared to turn the volume down at some point.
As for sounds, there are almost none outside of battle. In a stroke of sheer brilliance, each Pokemon was given its own battle cry. All that the system would allow was a meager shriek akin to the noise an old dial-up modem makes when you pick up the phone. The sounds for attacks were much better though, and while they weren't incredible by most standards, you can listen to them for hours on end without screaming.
For a Gameboy game, that's saying a lot.
Now, what really makes the game's popularity seem questionable is the story. Basically, you must simply search the world for the eight mighty Gym trainers, battle them for their badges, and then visit the grand high Pokemon council to face the most elite trainers in the world. There are a few brief side quests to do like stopping the evil (and annoying) Team Rocket, finding a safari keeper's teeth, and visiting some extra areas for Pokemon, but none of these are anything special. If you are looking for plot, look elsewhere.
Last but only second least, we have controls. In combat and most of the game, these aren't bad really, but item management is terrible. You can only carry so many items. The rest must be placed in a container that can be accessed from any Pokecenter. Sorting through all of these takes time and is truly annoying.
The Pokemon management is much worse though. Whenever you catch a Pokemon and have no space on your person for him, he gets transferred to the container. However, each section of the container can only hold 15 Pokemon. After that, you have to switch to another section of the container. Doing this often forces you to search through one box after another, hunting down that one Pokemon you need to evolve. Don't even try to sort out the boxes. I almost used up a whole set of batteries doing it.
Please be careful if considering buying a Pokemon game. I have friends who bought it, thinking it was but an innocent little title. I haven't seen them since. In fact, I myself almost got caught up in the hype, but was saved thanks to my Gameboy dying on me. If you have 70 or so hours to spare, plus an entire drawer filled with batteries, go right ahead and get Pokemon Whatever (the newer ones are better, but they're all pretty much the same). Otherwise, spend your money on something decent and keep your distance from any electro-rat infested Gameboys.