Pokémon Yellow: A Shocking Start to a Juggernaut

Like most people my age, I have a lot of Game Boy games sitting in my room. And, like most people my age, I haven’t touched many of them in quite a long time. Some of them are games which I bought because they were based on movies that I had liked at the time, like the Harry Potter series (strangely enough, the Sorcerer’s Stone game has two editions, one for the Color and one for the Advance, and they’re so different from each other that they can basically be considered two different games). Others were based on new technologies, like Kirby Tilt ‘n Tumble, which had an accelerometer built into the PCB in order for the input controls to be based on the user tilting the Game Boy like a maniac. It was fun, but I’ll be damned if I’ve seen an accelerometer-based portable game since. Others I’ve played only a few times, and there are some for which I’ve never even removed the shrink-wrap and I’m left wondering why/when/how I bought them in the first place.

There’s only one series that I play regularly nowadays, and that’s Pokémon.

Time for a break.


Whenever I think about the Game Boy, Pokémon inevitably has to be included in the discussion. To a lot of people, including me, Pokémon was to the Game Boy Color what Tetris was to the original Game Boy. Pokémon Yellow was the first Pokémon game designed to take advantage of the Color’s capabilities, technology that was perfected in Pokémon Gold/Silver/Crystal, which were released shortly after. These games put Pokémon on the map for good, and it probably wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they made Nintendo’s handheld division what it is today (I mean, what is a 3DS but a Game Boy with two screens, a better processor, wireless internet, a touch screen, and parallax 3D technology? The original DS could even play Game Boy Advance games).

Trading before the internet.

Pokémon was so influential that today, Nintendo is re-releasing the original generation of games for the 3DS Virtual Console. People who weren’t even born when the games were originally released will now get to experience the joy of the original games and all they have to offer, and they probably won’t notice too much of a difference from X and Y. With the exception of no effort values, only being able to play as a male (although a female main character was planned, and eventually became Leaf in FireRed and LeafGreen), only 151 Pokemon, and early type quirks, at least one of which was unintended and basically broke the game. Americans can buy a special New 3DS with both Red and Blue pre-loaded onto the device, while Europe and Japan are getting special 2DS’s in red, blue, green, and yellow with download codes for the version that matches the device’s color included in the box. In honor of this, I will take a look back on the game that (for me) started it all, Pokémon Yellow.

As far as the gameplay goes, it’s a very straightforward game. There are no weather conditions that affect moves, and there are no abilities–for example, all ground-type Pokémon are weak to water moves, and the ability Dry Skin, which actually restores a Pokémon’s health if it is hit by a water-type attack, doesn’t exist, so attacking a ground-type with a water-type is pretty much a sure win. There are no natures, which boost a certain stat at the expense of another. The Gym Leaders don’t really have too many tricks up their sleeves, although those that watched the anime first and expected the game to follow along with the show exactly may be surprised when Pikachu’s electric attacks do absolutely nothing to Brock’s Pokémon. This makes it rather easy to plan for gym battles: show up to the Vermillion Gym with ground-type Pokémon (or, even better, rock/ground to resist the normal-type moves) and you’ll sweep.

It’s also quite easy to take advantage of the stat-based training system. Instead of gaining effort values, which prevent a Pokémon from maxing out all of their stats (thereby making each Pokémon among trainers somewhat unique), Pokémon gain stat values equal to the stats of the Pokémon they defeat. With a lot of grinding and a little bit of planning, it is possible to have all of your Pokémon have maximum stats. This is made even easier if the player owns a copy of Gold, Silver, or Crystal and has Pokémon with Pokérus in that game (like I currently do), since Pokérus doubles the stat values a Pokémon gains from each battle. Certain Pokémon even learn moves earlier in Gold/Silver/Crystal than they do in Yellow, leading to certain advantages earlier in the game.

Cubone does not learn Bonemerang in Yellow until level 43, but it learns the move at level 25 in Gold.

Of far more interest, however, are the many bugs present in the game. The first Pokémon games weren’t exactly rushed to stores, but they were far from fleshed out, and people were able to take advantage of the primitive coding of the time (even without using cheat devices like Gamesharks) to alter some of the gameplay elements. The Mew glitch in particular allows players to encounter and catch the mythical Pokémon Mew in the wild (in fact, there is more than one available if the player knows where to look) or to encounter the glitch Pokémon Missingno., which in Yellow can permanently corrupt your save file or can give you a nearly infinite supply of Master Balls when only one is supposed to exist in the game. The psychic-type in particular is extremely overpowered due to the fact that it is only weak to bug-type moves, of which there are only a handful, and the fact that an error caused it to be immune to ghost-type moves instead of weak to them. It also happens that any Pokémon that can learn a move that is or should be super-effective against the psychic-type is also partly poison-type, and thus weak to psychic moves. This made Sabrina in particular very difficult to beat–since psychic-types resist psychic moves, I generally try to use psychic-types that also know moves of other types.

The Mew glitch in action. It doesn’t even have to be just for Mew…
…or does it?

The one thing about this game is, I’ve never actually finished it.

I remember the first time I played through it, I got to Cinnabar Island, but the door to the Gym was locked and I had no idea what to do. After floundering around for a while, not realizing that I actually had to go inside the Pokemon Mansion to find the key, I gave up and never came back.

And then the battery died. All my hard work, gone.

I’ve spent the money to get a new battery in the cartridge, and I’m playing it as much as my schoolwork, Pokémon Gold/Sapphire/LeafGreen/Alpha Sapphire/Y, and Slime Rancher will let me. There are methods that allow me to copy the save file from the cartridge so that when the battery dies again, in 10-15 years, I can either replace it and reload the save, or I can replace the memory chip with a non-volatile memory chip (similar to flash memory) to avoid this problem ever again. But I’ve bought all three Virtual Console versions as well. Besides the fact that I’ve never owned Red or Blue, it’s a matter of convenience–instead of having to lug both my 3DS and my Game Boy around, and worrying about when my batteries are going to run out or whether I’ll have an outlet in which to plug in my adapter, both Yellow and Y (and whatever other Pokémon games that play on the 3DS I’ll have) will be there right with me. I plan to play the Virtual Console version legitimately–no Mew glitch to get any Pokémon, etc. But there will always be the charm of playing the original cartridge on the original hardware, so I do see myself returning to the Game Boy Color quite often.

For me, playing Yellow is less of a trip down memory lane than a journey to rectify the great injustice I’ve done to this game by abandoning it. It’s pretty slow going, though–I like overkill and OHKOs, and I’m doing all of my grinding in Gold to take advantage of the Pokérus. But I’ll get there eventually. And hopefully, this time, I’ll be rewarded by having my Pokémon in the Hall of Fame–twice.

Game: Pokemon Yellow
Developer: Nintendo
Cost: $10 on 3DS Virtual Console, around $50 for Game Boy Color cartridge
Rating: 5/5


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