I always assumed that Pokémon Yellow was too similar to Pokémon Red or Blue to be worth discussing. I knew the basics; instead of the regular three starters to choose from, you begin with a Pikachu, and rather than staying in a Pokéball, they follow you around in the overworld, but that was about as far as it went, so I never felt particularly drawn to it. I owned a copy, sure – back in the late 2000s when I had my first job and an eBay account, I immediately wanted to complete my Gameboy collection and picked up Red, Blue and Yellow in a bundle for £17. They’re probably worth much more now! (checks eBay) They are not worth much more now – but I played Pokémon Red shortly after I got it. Then about five Christmases ago, I played Pokémon Blue to ease the stress of having to be in close proximity to my family. Also, I didn’t do it on purpose, but I played through Red with a Blastoise and Blue with a Charizard, which just seems backwards.
So even with the inherent replayability of a Pokémon title, I didn’t feel the need to play what was essentially the same game for a third time. But recently, some of my friends have been talking about a free Pokémon MMO named PokéOne, which I am emphatically not going to try because I am not well-suited to MMORPGs. Any of them. Because I will either not enjoy them, in which case, waste of time, or worse, I will enjoy them, and suddenly I’m calling in sick to work every day, my phone is ringing because nobody has seen me in at least three weeks, my monitor has died but I’m still playing from sound cues alone, and two months later the police find my body propped up over a keyboard, covered in Monster Munch crumbs and cockroaches, and even though I’ve been dead for five days, my fingers are still instinctively typing commands, like SPOILER from Record of Ragnarok.
I don’t do MMORPGs, is what I’m saying.
But all the talk about Pokémon made me want to play something in the series again, and it’s no surprise – Pokémon is exactly the kind of series where if you haven’t played it for three or four years, you’ll be tempted to start it up again – but instead of any of the more modern games I haven’t played yet – Black or Moon or, hell, even the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game on Game Boy Advance – I decided to finish off the holy trinity of the original titles. Maybe I wanted to play a Pokémon game, but not one that required me to learn what any of the new moves are. Maybe I wanted the guarantee of a game where the Legendaries don’t take five hours to catch. Maybe my Game Boy Advance was just closest. But I dug Pokémon Yellow out of my old Game Boy carry-case and got ready to play Pokémon Red/Blue for the third time.
Pokémon Yellow is not Pokémon Red/Blue. Pokémon Yellow is its own beautiful, weird creation, and it deserves discussion, because hopefully, I’m not the only person who didn’t realise that there are a lot of unique design choices in this game, and if you also weren’t aware of some of the differences, then you might be interested to learn them. And we might as well get the obvious one out of the way first. Say it with me now; WHO’S THAT POKÉMON?
I hate that I have this vision in my head of a hypothetical reader of this blog, who saw the brief description on Twitter and thought to themselves “Hey, I’ve never played Pokémon Yellow, I always thought it was just Pokémon Red but with Pikachu. I am interested to see what else there is about this game that I didn’t know about!” and now they’re reading it and the very first thing I’m talking about is Pikachu and they’re all “I knew this already! It was a mistake to give this blog a chance. Also now I’m so angry that I’m going to commit some hate crimes. Thanks a lot… ‘Scrotefishblog’.”
But loathe as I am to admit it, Pikachu’s presence and abilities in this game are not only the most notable change you can initially notice, but they’re also surprisingly extensive. I tend to agree with one James Stephanie Sterling that Pikachu could use a little less focus to let some other characters shine – I for one would have much-preferred a spin-off/movie named ‘Detective Slowpoke’ but that’s a whole other thing – and even back in 1998 when this game first came out, when Pokémon had existed for less than 3 years as a franchise, Pikachu was already the mascot of the series. That was my opinion before I played Pokémon Yellow and that remains my opinion afterwards.
So bear that in mind when I say this; Pikachu in this game is absolutely adorable and I love them.
I could list every single thing that Pikachu does – they follow you around in the overworld, you can check on them to see how they feel and they’ll have different animations for specific events, like right after they’ve learned a new electric attack, or immediately after you’ve successfully caught a Pokémon – but these are fairly minor features, things that you can replicate in later entries in the series with basically any Pokémon of your choosing. What makes Pikachu so special is… well, two things.
First, since Pikachu always follows one tile behind you, you might wonder what happens if the player jumps down from a ledge and doesn’t move any further. Pikachu reacts in the same way that I imagine the designer would react when they realised that this was possible; looking around awkwardly as if searching for a director, who is standing offscreen and frantically flipping through the pages of a clipboard looking for what to do in this situation, and then Pikachu does a little hop up and down as if to say “Oi, I’m still here! Keep moving!!!” It’s great.
For maximum adorability though, you need to head to one of the Team Rocket bases. A few floors down, they introduce mazes based on tiles that, when stepped on, will send the player in a certain direction until they’ve stopped. Here, it’s one of these.
Now, when the player steps on one of these tiles, they travel across the floor until they stop, spinning around in 360 degrees the whole time. And, whether it’s out of obedience, loyalty, a sense of comradery or just pity at how stupid you look, Pikachu follows one step behind. And they also spin around the entire time they are moving across the floor. This. Is. Amazing. It’s such a stupid, simple touch – it probably would have looked weird if they didn’t do this – but it never failed to make me smile in my entire 70+ hour Pokémon Yellow experience. My personal headcanon is that those funny spinny tiles don’t even affect Pokémon, but your Pikachu sees you spinning around, looking like an absolute moron – they can probably hear the Team Rocket grunts laughing as they watch the footage on the security cameras – and to make you feel less stupid, they decide to manually spin around while following you, just to make you feel less awkward. Thanks, Pikachu!
This is just the tip of the Pikaberg though; if you check on Pikachu after fishing, they have a bucket on their head. Inside Lavender Town, like many players, Pikachu gets the chills in such a creepy place. After interacting with the Jigglypuff in Pewter City Pokémon Center, Pikachu will fail to follow you outside, because they’ve fallen asleep. The game is chock-full of interesting and most-often incredibly cute reactions. Before playing Pokémon Yellow, you might be annoyed at the franchise’s overreliance on Pikachu as a series icon, but after playing it, I can certainly see why they are so popular.
Still wouldn’t mind a Pokémon Pink game starring Lickitung though.
It’s the Pokémon anime!
Another minor touch involving Pikachu is that if you want to fill out your entire Pokédex, you will unfortunately have to trade another Pikachu over if you want to evolve one with the Thunder Stone. There are no other Pikachus to be found in the entirety of Kanto, and the Pikachu you start with refuses to take one. Why, I hear you ask? (Not really, that would be weird.) Because they wanted to make Pokémon Yellow more consistent with the anime, and Pikachu in the anime series never evolves. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of nods to the cartoon.
Jessie and James are in this game. The Jessie and James. I believe this is the only Pokémon game to date where they actually appear, and while I have done next to no research, I assume this is correct. Oh. They’re actually in Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee as well, but let’s all just agree to pretend that that game doesn’t exist for the next fifteen minutes. Pokémon Yellow is the only Pokémon game in which Jessie and James from the anime appear, and that’s awesome. They are unfortunately not joined by a talking Meowth, but there is one in their party, along with an anime-accurate Koffing and Ekans that later become Weezing and Arbok.
Speaking of Jessie, her good friend Chansey can be found at every Pokémon Center along with Nurse Joy, using their healing eggy powers for good while simultaneously providing an excuse for why it takes such a long time to get one to appear in the Safari Zone. There’s also an Officer Jenny in Vermilion City who complains about a troublemaking Squirtle wearing sunglasses. No idea what she could be referring to here.
The anime references even extend to the battles themselves; Lt. Surge, who in Pokémon Red/Blue has a Voltorb, Pikachu and Raichu, now only has a Raichu, but its level has been increased by 4 to accommodate for the change in difficulty. The game even goes as far as to alter the distributions and spawn locations of certain Pokémon just to keep things on the same track as the anime; you can’t catch a Weedle in Viridian Forest because Ash was never able to catch one, Muk will rarely show up at the abandoned Power Plant, and Ditto can be found at the Pokémon Mansion on Cinnabar Island; all of these are references to specific episodes of the anime where these Pokémon would pop up in the same location.
On top of that, several trainers and NPCs – actual NPCs, not just what you get called on Twitter if you don’t think COVID-19 was a hoax – have been modified and rejiggered – professional term – to resemble memorable characters from the show. There’s even Melanie from Bulbasaur and the Hidden Village, who nurses a Bulbasaur back to health, and a much nicer version of Damian, the asshat who abandoned his Charmander in Charmander – The Stray Pokémon. And the Officer Jenny with that Squirtle, and… hang on, is this going where I think it’s going?
So, about those starters
If there was one thing keeping me from starting Pokémon Yellow for so long, it was probably just the pre-emptive disappointment that your one and only starter Pokémon is Pikachu. No offense to the cute little guy, but I have grown accustomed to getting to choose a fire, water or grass-type and then seeing them grow up, evolve twice, and grow from a tiny Level 5 critter to a monster that can solo multiple members of the Elite Four. It makes me feel like a proud parent, only prouder because my ‘child’ can breathe fire or shoot solar beams. Much cooler than my pathetic human children.
But maybe this was an opportunity to try something new; I always hamstring myself when it comes to selecting a Pokémon party of six, because I always want to include a Fire, Water and Grass type to maintain a good balance. Plus Electric, because that feels like the unofficially fourth main type, and then a Pidgeot, Swellow or Staraptor that I can teach to Fly. This leave me with one free slot, which I usually fill with a big dumb rock type because I feel sorry for them, being weak against basically everything, and I also want a Pokémon who can learn Earthquake, given that Ground is the only type super-effective against Electric.
So, the entire point of Pokémon games – choosing your own personal team – has always suffered from some self-imposed restrictions in my case. So I took the opportunity from starting with a Pikachu and just ran with it, deciding to fight with the first few types I caught. Butterfree? Welcome aboard? Please to meet you, Mankey. Hey, Jigglypuff, welcome to the party, pal. And this was all going swimmingly, until I bumped into an NPC on Route 25 above Cerulean City who bemoaned that he wasn’t doing a good job training his Pokémon, and just gives you a Level 10 Charmander.
He just… gives you one of the game’s usual starter Pokémon. For free. And unlike the speed-lowering Bug-type move, this shot has no strings attached. This doesn’t lock you out of receiving any other Pokémon, you’re not penalized in any way; you just get access to three more Pokédex entries and eventually one of the best Fire-type Pokémon in the game. And if you head back to Cerulean City, once your friendship value with Pikachu is high enough, you can talk to Melanie and she’ll ask if you want to take care of a certain Bulbasaur. Head to Vermilion City and defeat Lt. Surge, and Officer Jenny will entrust you with that troublesome but stylish Squirtle.
Now… did this ruin my plan to use a more unorthodox team for the first time? Well, yes and no, I had to ditch most of them but since Charizard can learn Fly, I held on to Primeape and Nidoking, who it turns out can learn Earthquake. But more important, after years of playing Red, Blue, Gold, Silver, Sapphire, Fire Red, Platinum, Heart Gold and more, did it blow my tiny mind that for the first time, rather than forcing a most difficult choice upon you within minutes of starting the game, Pokémon Yellow just straight up gives you one of every starter? Hell yes it did!
That’s awesome! It makes you feel like an OC in your own Pokémon fanfiction. I didn’t have a lot of friends to trade Pokémon with when I was younger, so my Pokédex always ended up pretty sparse and unimpressive, and I never got the chance to train more than one starter at a time. And then in barges Pokémon Yellow, making you think that you’re only getting a Pikachu, and then it just gives you every starter you could ask for later down the line. And they’re all at Level 10, just high enough that you should be able to start training them immediately with minimal assistance, but not so high that you miss out on the experience of raising them yourselves.
There’s a lot more I feel I want to say about this, but it’s really just variations on the word ‘awesome’. If popping an old Pokémon game back in your Game Boy doesn’t bring back the nostalgia, getting to run around Kanto with a Venusaur, Charizard and Blastoise should do the trick. The only way this could be more of a childhood wish-fulfilment is if the game ended with you kicking Gary Oak in the Pokéballs and making out with Misty.
More like PALETTE town – wait what do you mean “that’s the joke, stupid”-
I’ve been a bit of a misleading Melvin here because the screenshots above aren’t from Pokémon Yellow at all, they’re from Red and Blue. You can probably tell which is which. Both of these games feature many more colours than their titles suggest, but for the most part, I don’t think graphical variety was the top priority of a team tasked with inventing stats and movesets for 151 unique Pokémon, so it’s far from a flaw. Still, a large chunk of Pokémon Red is, well… red. Roses are red, violets are red, buildings are red – fuck, I think Cinnabar Island is on fire again. And Pokémon Blue can best be described by noted philosopher, Jeffrey Jey of Eiffel 65. “Yo listen up, here’s a story… about a little guy that lives in a blue world…”
So naturally, you would expect Pokémon Yellow to be more yellow than a Coldplay song. Charitably, the colour of bananas. Bluntly, the colour of piss. I’m not sure what the neutral interpretation would be. Old custard? Well anyway, let’s see how they did.
I’m not crying, my eyes are just sweating exuberantly from applauding so hard. Okay, maybe I’m playing up how impressive this is, but I genuinely believe that this is the most appealing a Pokémon game looked before the Game Boy Advance era; possibly even DS if you weren’t a fan of Ruby and Sapphire. The colours change between routes, towns, caves etc, and it isn’t just to keep things fresh, but it sincerely reinforces the mood of these areas. This is simultaneously not a big deal to the point where I wasn’t sure if it was worth including, but you could also write an entire article solely on the palette choices from town to town.
Cerulean City is a deeper blue than anywhere else, fitting for the location of the Water gym. Saffron City is a dull yellow, but it works for such a commercialized setting that is initially lacking in human life, since Team Rocket have taken over Silph Co. again. (I know it’s not ‘again’, but Silph Co. ends with a period, so the correct way to end that sentence would be ‘taken over Silph Co..’ and that looks weird to me.) Lavender Town is a morose, remorseful purple, fitting for the site of a memorial tower for Pokémon who have passed on. Even just little touches like the buildings on Cinnabar Island being a deeper shade of red in order to stand out more against the pale blue coastline is really interesting. The caves are brown, because… the ground is brown. Truly breathtaking creativity on display.
This also has the added bonus of actually teaching you what some of the names of the cities mean; gun to my head, if you asked me what ‘Vermilion’ was, I would say a subpar Slipknot song, but I now know that it means red, solely from Pokémon Yellow. I wouldn’t say that this was an intentional learning experience, but it’s a welcome one nonetheless. Also, I would appreciate if we could all pretend that I knew going into this section that Cerulean means blue and Saffron means yellow, and I didn’t only find it out halfway through the previous paragraph. Thanks.
Ok so maybe it’s mostly the same but that’s still good.
While I heartily maintain that there is a lot new about Pokémon Yellow, at its core, it’s still basically just the same product as Pokémon Red or Blue but with a few minor changes. But consider the following for a moment; Pokémon Red and Blue are, in fact… really good. Checkmate,
Most of my nostalgia for the series will always belong to the Pokémon Gold/Silver era as that was when I first joined, but Red and Blue are still remarkably impressive games that are just as fun to play now as they were back then, although I suppose now I would recommend having a best friend who knows how to put in a replacement save battery and maybe back yours up on a computer too. The graphics have come a long way in 25 years and Alolan Diglett has funny hair, but the original games have aged phenomenally, retaining the appeal that has remained the core attraction of the series for a quarter of a century now.
In fact, because you already know what’s great about the core Pokémon series, I’m just going to gush about my Pokémon Yellow team instead. Ha!
So, I named my Pikachu and Squirtle ‘Sparky’ and ‘Squirty’ because I am lazy and bad at naming things. For my fire starter, I needed a name that would keep making sense for Charmander, Charmeleon and Charizard – I can feel Squirty the Blastoise judging me, like “Oh, for them you needed a name that would keep making sense?” – so I went with Baby Chark, mainly to cause physical pain to you, right now. It’s not a perfect name, but it’ll do (do doo da do da do.) Then there’s Serena the Venusaur, named after the tennis-playing Williams sisters. Then there’s Monkey the Mankey, because I genuinely find that funny, and finally ‘Stubborn’, named so because I caught them when they were just a Level 2 Nidoran, and despite lowering their health to around 10%, they still refused to be caught until I had thrown like 8 Pokéballs at them. So, I had no choice but to put them on my team.
Other than that, it was a pretty standard Pokémon run for me. I was going to use a Fearow, Butterfree and Wigglytuff before I found out that the original trilogy of starters would be making an appearance. For this reason, I possibly wouldn’t recommend Pokémon Yellow to players unless they have sufficient willpower to turn down the opportunity to play with all three starters, but if you do have that willpower, or you don’t see a problem with rolling with a team of Venusaur, Charizard and Blastoise, then by all means go ahead.
Much like Red and Blue, where some Pokémon are only available in one specific title, Yellow also changes up which Pokémon appear and where, and I understand that praising a game based solely on ‘vibes’ isn’t exactly professional, but even with the Weedle evolution line missing and no Raichu, Koffing, Ekans or Meowth (can’t have Ash using Team Rocket’s Pokémon, can we?) then it certainly feels like more Pokémon are available in Yellow. Hang on, let me actually Google this… without trading, you can acquire a maximum of 124 Pokémon in Red/Blue, 126 in Green, and a whopping 128 in Yellow. Primarily due to featuring Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle, but it’s still very neat.
Speaking of trading, while it might be technically an outlier since I didn’t really have a trading partner available when I played through Red and Blue – or maybe I just didn’t care enough to ask – Yellow sets a historical precedent for my experience with the Pokémon franchise. Outside of spin-off titles like Pokémon Snap or the Pokémon Ranger series – which you should really try, all three are available on DS at very reasonable prices – then I have never fulfilled 100% completion of the Pokédex in any core Pokémon game, and understandably so. But that changed for Yellow, and I can proudly say that I caught all 151 Pokémon without cheating. I mean, the friend I traded with had an in-game box full of Mews on Bill’s PC, but that’s on him and not me, so technically, yes, I did not cheat, even though I also sent him a Dragonair to level up with 30 Rare Candies that I’m sure he also acquired legitimately, so that I wouldn’t have to go to all that trouble just to get a Dragonite.
And for those who are curious, when I went back to Celadon City and talked to the game developers who promised me a fantastic reward for completing the Pokédex, here is what I received. Try not to be so thrilled for me that you forget to breathe.
Yes, ever since I played Earthbound, I’ve always named myself Ness when playing a Pokémon game. Anyway, this… thing is your reward. You can apparently print it out too, if you have a Game Boy Printer, which I’m not sure even exists any more. That’s it. Phenomenal reward. Definitely worth the 70 hours I spent on this. “Congrats!”
But joking aside, it says something about how great Pokémon Yellow is that this was the first game I ever took the time to complete entirely, and the fact that Pokémon Yellow isn’t all that different from the original games? That doesn’t take anything away from Yellow, it just highlights that the original games were also amazing. The formula for traditional Pokémon games is as timeless as it is enjoyable, and nothing proves that to me more than the fact that one of the most fun video games I’ve played this year is a Game Boy title released in 1998.
Pokémon Yellow is awesome, and that’s why. Thanks for reading!
P.S. I’m sorry I forgot about the Surfing Pikachu minigame.