Note: This review is based on the Virtual Console release of Pokémon: Yellow, played on a New Nintendo 3DS XL console.
Pokémon: Yellow was originally released in 1999 and is the first case in the west of a third entry into a Pokémon generation. With the exponential growth in popularity with the Pokémon anime, Pokémon: Yellow aims to capitalise on this. As a result, Pokémon: Yellow is a hybrid game, taking the gameplay and main game narrative from Pokémon: Red & Blue, however certain story beats follow closer to the adventures of Ash Ketchum from the anime.
The key changes present in Yellow are fairly small in number, however the ways in which the affect and improve the player experience makes Yellow the definitive way to play the first generation of Pokémon.
The first, and key marketing change for Pokémon: Yellow is that, as opposed to Red & Blue, rather than choosing a starter out of: Bulbasaur, Squirtle and Charmander, you are given a Pikachu to begin your adventure.
This change was clearly made to resemble Ash and Pikachu from the anime; the Pikachu even stays out of its pokéball and follows you around.
Furthermore, following suit to its source material the Pikachu you obtain is unable to evolve.
Personally, I really despised this element of Yellow. I absolutely loved the concept of your Pikachu following you; it aided the connection that you, as the player, can form with your starter. This was the first instance of this in any Pokémon game and it is a really endearing feature.
However, without being able to evolve poor little Pikachu, by the time you reach the third gym, its stats will see it fall to the bottom of the team fast. The other members of your team that have evolved and grown stronger overshadow your Pikachu greatly.
Therefore, you may end up finding yourself doing what I did – placing it in a storage box to rot in favour of having a more offensively viable electric type, such as a Jolteon.
I found it a real shame to have to ditch my partner, but it was making my experience more unenjoyable through having to return to a Pokémon Centre every 5 battles to heal.
Despite not being able to choose from the original starter Pokémon of Red & Blue, throughout the game, you are still able to obtain all three of the Kanto Starter Pokémon.
Once again, they are obtained in a very similar way to how Ash encounters them in the anime. Obtaining and using these Pokémon is entirely optional, and dependant on the type of team you want to build, you may end up not using them.
I loved that you could obtain all three starters in Yellow. Not only did it mean that I could add three powerful monsters to my team, but in order to obtain them for your Pokédex you didn’t need to trade for them.
That being said, if you’re out for a full Pokédex you’ll still need to trade to ‘Catch ‘em All’.
Cosmetically, Pokémon: Yellow gave nearly every Pokémon a new front-facing sprite. The purpose of this was to have each Pokémon more closely resemble their appearance in the anime. It’s due to this that many Pokémon design were unified and updated – maintaining their looks from Yellow in every subsequent game after this.
I like the new appearances for each Pokémon, especially when comparing some of the new sprites to the originals in Red & Blue – looking at you Golbat.
Although, the back sprites for every Pokémon remained unchanged, so some Pokémon still retain their nightmare-fuel status.
Outside of these changes, the core gameplay of Pokémon: Yellow remains almost identical to the original Red & Blue. Many of the original faults in the games’ code have also been carried over into Yellow, in which many of the mechanics in the game either work differently to how they were intended, or they simply don’t work at all.
One example in this much longer list, is the type-effectiveness of Ghost-type moves. Ghost-type moves were intended to be super effective against Psychic-type Pokémon, however, due to an error in the design of the game, moves such as Lick are rendered completely ineffective.
Furthermore, due to Ghost being negated by Psychic and Bug not having any strong damaging moves, the Psychic-type was extremely overpowered due to a lack of counters.
There are many more of these coding issues that can truly hinder a player’s strategy or even their enjoyment. However, with a firm understanding of these faulty mechanics, this discrepancy is almost negated. In some instances, you can even use them to your advantage.
The combat of the game is a turn-based RPG, which each side being allowed a single action per turn. This is a great, albeit simple, design for combat. It makes each decision important, especially in particularly difficult encounters and can allow for a deep level of planning and strategy to overcome your opponents.
An issue with the combat system in this game, as well as in Red & Blue is that when a Pokémon is put to sleep, waking up is considered its action for the turn.
This is also the case for when a Pokémon is restricted from movement by moves like Bind and Wrap.
Should a Pokémon be slower than the one inflicting these kinds of moves, when a Pokémon is freed from these statuses, they consume their turns and may potentially become inflicted by them immediately after.
When this happens repeatedly in a single battle, any pacing is immediately halted. It becomes a chore to take down these Pokémon.
Despite the issues with faulty coding and abusable mechanics, the rest of the game is very well balanced to provide a reasonable, yet enjoyable challenge to the player.
As you explore the Kanto region, you’ll find yourself fraught with challenge, be it from Gym Leaders, to the sinister Team Rocket, to just making it through a route or dungeon. Resource management and understanding of the game’s mechanics are what you will be tested against.
Understanding the advantageous type matchups and keeping on top of your Pokémon’s health (HP), or their moves (PP); ensuring that you have enough potions to keep you going to the next Pokémon Centre – this is your challenge as a Trainer in Pokémon: Yellow as you strive to become the Pokémon Champion.
Pokémon: Yellow doesn’t often give you a lot of things for free. As a result, to keep your Pokémons’ levels on par with upcoming challenges and making sure you have the money required to stock up on necessary items is entirely down to you.
To cope against the strongest trainers in the game, you’ll need to fight against every trainer you find. However, the developers have done an incredible job at ensuring you’ll never need to grind levels against weaker wild Pokémon so long as you face every challenge.
As far as game design goes, this is pretty excellent. You’re never really required to do any work outside of what is put in front of you – while you can skip as many trainers as possible, you won’t reap the benefits.
The technical issues can bring the game down, and a few of the design choices in the combat can become cumbersome and tedious. Despite this, however, Pokémon: Yellow is an immensely enjoyable experience. The game doesn’t do much to split itself apart from the previous Red & Blue, but the few tweaks it does make, makes this version, in my opinion, the true generation one Pokémon experience.
Pokémon: Yellow earns a 6/10
Thank you very much for reading my review of Pokémon: Yellow. I figured that I would return to cover this game prior to the release of Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu! & Let’s Go Eevee! so I could compare between the two iterations.
Have you played Pokémon: Yellow? If so, what did you think? If you haven’t, would you consider revisiting it?
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