How one game managed to go beyond the expectations of one dedicated Pokemon trainer.
The Best Game Ever is a new series that takes a look at what makes games special to the individuals who love them. The look, the feel, the little moments that make a game the undisputed champion in one’s own mind. We start with Underwaterlad, a game enthusiast from Australia with a love of pocket monsters. More specially Pokémon Gold for the Game Boy Color, the second coming for many children in the early ‘00s.
There will be a few times I interject with questions or thoughts of my own, but the spotlight here is focused on Underwaterlad. Though I will start things off with the most important question.
GBD: Why not Silver?
Underwaterlad: When I was a child, where I lived, no parent had enough cashola to purchase both versions for their kid. You kinda had to get lumped with whichever one they got you for your birthday, if you were gifted one at all. Which meant sort of convincing yourself that the one you had was better than the other one. There was no way I could have ever owned Silver, because my parents had bought me Gold.
The idea that Silver was in any way better than Gold was something I couldn’t bear to think and it’s something I don’t think any of the other kids (whether they received Gold or Silver) could bear to think either. It’s not that Gold is in some way objectively better, it’s just the game I got.
A Masterpiece of Iterative Design
Underwaterlad: When Pokémon Red and Blue came out they were already excellent. Gold and Silver added things that we didn’t even realize we wanted. Held items, the day/night cycle, the phone, colors - all sorts of improvements. It was the same thing, but just a little better - which was exactly what was required. I don’t think iterative design has been done better since then, especially nowadays, when people tend to want way more content. Certainly at least more than what Pokémon Gold offered compared to Red and Blue, which by today’s standards probably isn’t that much.
GBD: Do you think Pokémon has overdone the features now?
Underwaterlad: Not at all. I think the Pokémon games have done everything they’ve ever need to do, at least in terms of the vision they started with. Make a game where I can catch, trade, and battle Pokémon. Now things are a little more experimental, but they’re still good. Game Freak could have just Nickelbacked it and made the same thing every year.
If the size of the jump between the series going forward was the same as the size of the jump between generation one and two I think today we might be lumping the franchise in with games like Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty as far a content is concerned.
The Kanto Comeback
Underwaterlad: Finishing Gold and thinking that you’ve finished the whole game only to be asked, “Wanna go back to Kanto now?” was mind blowing. I don’t think a game has ever surprised me so much or made me so happy. I thought I had finished the game, and I was totally satisfied with the ending. Gold had been longer than Red and Blue, and apparently I still had stuff to do in Kanto.
GBD: Wasn’t it Iwata who managed to fit all of Kanto in Gold and Silver?
Underwaterlad: If I recall correctly. He bent over backwards to fit it on the cartridge (I assume that’s why some of the Kanto areas aren’t there). But when you’ve just finished a meat-lover’s pizza and someone hands you a surprise second meat-lover’s pizza, you can’t complain. Who cares if it has the extra bacon, you know? It made me happy, and if a game isn’t doing that, then it’s doing something wrong. Or I’m doing something wrong...
It’s the generosity factor. Generosity is not something we generally expect from big developers nowadays. The phrase “extra” is only synonymous with Shane McMahon’s entrance music. But in retrospect it’s seems crazy that they would even bother to do that. Compare the Kanto reveal to, say, Omega Ruby’s endgame. You’re just bombarded with old-gen starters and legendary Pokémon. Which don’t get me wrong, is totally great, but it’s nothing compared to being handed the keys to (almost) the entire previous game. It’s just a really really nice thing that they did, that they didn’t at all have to do.
If they had just left things at Johto, I don’t think Gold would have ended up being my favorite game ever, but it certainly would have remained my favorite Pokémon game.
Return of the Master
Underwaterlad: No matter how much some folks like to get ticked off at this statement - The mainline Pokemon series is made for children. It has always been made with children in mind. Maybe this is a little more blatant than it used to be, sure, but the point stands. One of the goals of anyone making a game for kids is to make sure that the game sends some kind of positive message, or teaches the player something useful.
Gold did try to teach kids something. It taught them the same thing that every Pokémon game attempts to teach kids: It doesn’t really matter what everyone else is doing. It doesn’t matter what kind of obstacles are in front of you. The only true obstacle in life is yourself, and if you improve upon yourself then anything is possible.
Apart from maybe catching Deoxys without a Master Ball... that s**t is impossible.
So we have Red, the final boss of Gold version. If one had played Pokémon Red then they know that you finish the game by becoming a Pokémon master. The champion of the region, the best Pokémon trainer-
GBD: The elitest of the four!
Underwaterlad: The champest of the champions! And this guy is literally you from the previous game. All his achievements are your achievements. He is there because you put him there and now here you are. All you gotta do is beat him. Sure, maybe this metaphor is as lame and shallow and melodramatic as they come, but that doesn’t matter, because the whole thing is totally sincere. Beating him made me feel a sense of achievement more than any final boss ever could.
Underwaterlad can be found on TAY and Kotaku. He is looking forward to Pokemon Sun and Moon. GiantBoyDetective (Ben Bertoli) has been around TAY and Kotaku for far too many years. You can yell at him on Twitter @SuperBentendo.
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