About a month ago I decided to dig out all my old Pokemon games and play them one by one to see what I would find.
Spreading a handful of GBA, DS, and 3DS games on a table, I was filled with an invigorating sense of nostalgia as I plugged them in one after the other and was reunited with my old friends. They were like miniature time capsules filled with objects that transported me to a specific time and place in my life.
Pokémon Emerald, 2005, a period when I was just out of college and fully invested in the competitive environment. Pokémon Platinum, 2008, one of the first games I ever covered as a member of the media. Pokémon Ultra Sun, 2017, which felt like a disappointment at the time, but as the last game with every single Pokémon, now feels like the last remnant of the classic experience.
I found myself reflecting again on the pleasant morning after this week’s Pokémon Direct, which fans hoped would include the original Game Boy games, but mostly kept the focus on Scarlet and Violet’s expected expansions (and Pokémon Sleep, which has been some a meme since its original announcement in 2019). If there’s anything to wash away the bad taste of Scarlet and Violet’s technical problems, it’s a link to the original games, which retain a powerful grip on the popular imagination.
Links to Pokémon’s past
This was especially evident the last time the originals were revived, when Game Freak released Pokémon Red and Blue on the Nintendo 3DS in what was a watershed moment for the series. Not only did it make the originals available to a wide audience after being locked on older platforms for years, it connected them to the newer generations through Pokémon Home. This was a big deal since the original Game Boy games had been separated from the main releases starting with Ruby and Sapphire.
Before their 2016 re-release on the Nintendo 3DS, I had viewed the original Game Boy games as nostalgic but rudimentary remnants of the original continuity due to their absence from the chain that connects each generation. One of Pokémon’s many quirks is that it’s secretly been something of a live-service game from the very beginning, with each successive generation being an expansion into Destiny or World of Warcraft. My Sword and Shield team included a Hydreigon I caught in Pokémon Black and a Sceptile I raised from Pokémon Emerald, giving it a unique sense of continuity that transcends individual entries. There’s a reason why “Dexit” was such a disruptive moment for society—it shattered the beloved sense of continuity that had defined the series for so long.
With their links to the mainline series restored, I was able to experience Pokémon’s original generation with fresh eyes. The graphics, which had once seemed so dated, suddenly seemed stylish thanks to Ken Sugimori’s distinctive art. Blue’s caustic taunt was charming after so many wholesome but bland rivals (though I’ll always root for Sword and Shield’s Hop, who tries so hard and just never quite makes it). And when it was all done, the monsters I had caught could live on in other games.
As time has gone on, the original games have increasingly felt like an anchor for a series that otherwise feels unmoored. Dissatisfied with the newer games, many older fans are turning classics like Pokémon Fire Red and Heart Gold into mainstays on Twitch. Randomizers and other alternative methods are more popular than ever. And yet it also feels like a larger ecosystem, with longtime fans expressing their love for the series in their own way.
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In just a few weeks, however, it will no longer be possible to purchase games from the Nintendo 3DS eShop. When it goes offline, two-thirds of all Pokémon games released in the United States will be commercially unavailable, making a large portion of the Pokémon ecosystem difficult if not impossible to access. When that happens, it will take a large part of Pokémon’s culture and history with it.
Preservation of a rich heritage
Therefore, it is incumbent upon Pokémon’s various developers to preserve the franchise’s rich history on Nintendo Switch Online, ideally with continued support for Pokémon Home. NSO’s recently added support for Game Boy Advance games is particularly enticing, as some of the very best Pokémon games were released for that platform, including Pokémon Emerald and its outstanding Battle Frontier. With the Game Boy and GBA games, the Nintendo Switch would be home to six of the nine Pokémon generations.
Will it include support for Game Boy Connectivity in Pokemon Stadium 1? It seems unlikely, but the recent removal of a disclaimer that players cannot transfer Pokémon to Stadium has fueled speculation among fans. A girl can dream, right?
Somehow, Pokémon continues to retain a strong connection to its history—perhaps stronger than any other ongoing series today. From Kanto to Paldea, there’s a sense that the world of Pokémon is truly alive, and that sense is due to the sense of continuity that Game Freak has cultivated since the days of the Game Boy.
With the impending shutdown of the eShop, the healthy ecosystem that underpins so much of Pokémon’s success is in danger of being largely unavailable. But more to the point, the first three generations of Pokemon are wonderful, distinct experiences in their own right. Now is a great time for a whole new generation to discover for themselves why these games are such classics.
Kat Bailey is director, news at IGN, and co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Do you have a tip? Send her a DM at @the_katbot.