Pokemon 101: Which game to play?

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After the release of X/Y this past October, I was having a video game party with friends and the person next to me confessed that they needed my help because they had never played Pokemon before. As a huge fan, I thought this was mind-blowing. Much more common are people who loved Yellow version when it came out (am I dating myself here?) but haven’t played since and would like to know where to start. This article is for you guys: it’s a survey for those who may or may not be familiar with the Pokemon franchise, and who want to delve into the more recent set of games. Nothing about the basics of the game has changed: you are a young teenager, adventuring around a fictional world, catching and battling Pokemon to become the Pokemon Master. There’s gyms, and rivals (though we can no longer rename them “asshole”), professors, and the same staticky-sounding Pokemon cries (seriously). However, each game still manages to have a unique feel and new features, and I’ve briefly reviewed them each here so you can pick the game that sounds the best for you and begin a new Pokemon journey!

X/Y
GRAPHICS QUALITY: 10/10 Frankly, I turn the 3D off for the most part because it doesn’t look right unless your head is exactly in the right position. However, it’s a huge step up from the fifth generation, and the cut scenes are gorgeous.
STORYLINE: 8/10 Despite my fears, the storyline didn’t suffer from all the new additions and graphics technology. While there isn’t much happening throughout the game, once you get to the Legendary, all hell breaks loose. The plot and characters are complex, and it plays a mini-movie that actually made me, an adult man, weep. However, I didn’t care for having a group of companions, because it felt really extraneous and unnecessary.
CHALLENGE LEVEL: 2/10 This game is ridiculously easy. Experience points add up quicker, and the trainers are never much higher in level than you, so by the time you get to the Elite Four, you are ridiculously overpowered. This seriously irritated me, in part because it makes the Elite Four almost totally useless for post-game grinding. It definitely feels like a game for children, which may feel insulting for old fans like me.
POKEMON AFFECTION: 10/10 Nothing so far in the series can match up to Pokemon Amie if you’re the kind of person that wants to snuggle your Pokemon. You can pet them, feed them treats, and play mini-games with them. I know a person who hasn’t finished the game yet because all they want to do is pet their Pokemon! 
STARTERS: 6/10 Having a system of checks-and-balances with the dual-typed starters was a pretty cool concept, but in the end Froakie (the water type) ended up way better than the other two. His evolution, Greninja, is the only one of the three used competitively, and it wrecks because of its Protean ability that allows it to change type.
AWESOMENESS OF LEGENDARIES: 8/10 I loved Xerneas from the moment it was leaked, and it proved to be just as awesome in the games. It was cool to have a Legendary in a totally new type, especially one that kicks Dragons’ butt.
BEST FEATURE: There are so many Pokemon to catch, including old favorites! Most games require a lot of trading-up to complete the Pokedex, but in the sixth generation, almost everything can be caught in-game. There is a large variety throughout the game (Pikachu being one of the first Pokemon available) and the friend Safari allows you to personally catch a bunch of Pokemon you can’t during the adventure. A close second-best feature is the Poke-Bank, which allows you to store Pokemon so you can restart your game. And of course, there’s WonderTrade, where you can trade with other people for a random Pokemon, enabling nice surprises and cool challenges.
WORST FEATURE: Many people have the money for either a new game or a new system, and didn’t find the 3DS a good enough upgrade to warrant its price. Also, in my personal opinion, mega-evolution is kind of silly, though I must admit that searching for stones does add a new dimension to the post-adventure game.

BLACK/WHITE
GRAPHICS QUALITY: 2/10 I know we don’t expect mind-blowing graphics from handheld games, but these were seriously pathetic. Going back to it after playing Soul Silver (an earlier game) everything was blurry to the point that I couldn’t tell what was going on. They also tried to do cool perspective tricks and totally failed. STORYLINE: 7/10 The antagonist is pretty interesting, especially because early on you can’t tell exactly who it is. Also, there is a bunch of stuff to do after you beat the main quest, which is lacking in quite a few other games. CHALLENGE LEVEL: 6/10 AFFECTION: 5/10 STARTERS: 5/10 We have yet another Fire/Fighting. AWESOMENESS OF LEGENDARIES: 7/10 BEST FEATURE: No earlier-generation Pokemon are available to catch until the end of the game. This may not sound awesome to people who already have an established favorite, but it may be a good place for beginners to start if they’re concerned about being overwhelmed with the huge number of Pokemon. WORST FEATURE: The game that you have to play to trade up Pokemon is seriously annoying. I am not against mini-games, but when you’re trying to migrate boxes and boxes of Pokemon from generation 4, it gets really tiring.

DIAMOND/PEARL

GRAPHICS QUALITY: 5/10 STORYLINE: 6/10 This game stands out the least to me. While they are all formulaic, this one feels cookie-cutter. I personally found your rival extremely irritating, which didn’t help. CHALLENGE LEVEL: 6/10 AFFECTION: 5/10 STARTERS: 4/10 Personally, I hated the starters of this generation. We have another Fire/Fighting and Torterra is a copy of Bulbasaur. AWESOMENESS OF LEGENDARIES: 7/10 I feel neutral about all the Legendaries of this generation except Darkrai. BEST FEATURE: A lot of the Pokemon from this generation have become favorites. WORST FEATURE: The underground area is supposed to be awesome, but just like secret bases, falls flat.


SAPPHIRE/RUBY


GRAPHICS QUALITY: 6/10 Nothing spectacular, but I have to mention that that the way water reflects in these games is pretty cool.
STORYLINE: 4/10 Something about this generation just did not appeal to me, and to this day I haven’t played it all the way through. Maybe it was that the antagonists were ridiculous. Causing widespread destruction because you’re a landlubber? Please. 
CHALLENGE LEVEL: 6/10 
AFFECTION: 6/10 If you like side-activities, Beauty Contests are exclusive to this generation, and raising a show-Pokemon sort of feels like bonding. 
STARTERS: 8/10 This was the last generation where all the starters were cool. At the time, Blaziken’s Fire/Fighting type was a great, unique combination. Sceptile and Swampert are equally useful, especially in terms of HMs. 
AWESOMENESS OF LEGENDARIES: 5/10 I think that part of the reason that I never finished these games was that I wasn’t motivated to go and catch the Legendaries. Latias and Latios feel especially like a cop-out on the part of the designers because they look almost exactly the same. Others, of course, disagree, and this generation produced favorites like Rayquaza
BEST FEATURE: The Dive HM was pretty cool, and didn’t feel like a gimmick because the entire world was an archipelago.
WORST FEATURE: There are barely any fire Pokemon! Once again, this is a bias because I love Fire Pokemon, but all the same it’s unfair to have an entire type be almost unavailable throughout the game. Secondly, secret bases would have been really cool if they were at all put to good use.

HEART GOLD/SOUL SILVER 

GRAPHICS QUALITY: 6/10 
STORYLINE: 8/10 Team Rocket returns, and we get to see what has happened to the Pokemon world within a generation. Since we can explore Kanto, and earn a total of 16 badges, there’s a bunch of stuff to do in this game. 
CHALLENGE LEVEL: 9/10 Part of the challenge of this game is that it takes a good amount of time to level anything up, which makes your Pokemon stronger in the end, but could be irritating if you’re frustrated by grinding.
AFFECTION: 8/10 In these games, the first Pokemon in your party follows you around, and you can talk to it just like Pikachu in Yellow! It’s very satisfying to see badass magical fighting creatures calmly following you around your hometown.
LEGENDARIES: 8/10 I am biased, but I love Ho-oh. The process of just getting to the Legendaries (no spoilers!) is pretty interesting. The Kimono Girls are a perfect challenge. 
BEST FEATURE: The very last battle of the game, with the best Pokemon trainer in the series! Also, the PokeWalker was awesome if you can get ahold of one.
WORST FEATURE: The wild Pokemon levels are never quite right. Things tend to hover around 20-40 in both regions, leaving very little opportunity to level up between trainers. You spend most of your time walking around one-shotting Meowths. 

FIRE RED/LEAF GREEN 

GRAPHICS QUALITY: 5/10
STORYLINE: 8/10 You have to love classic Team Rocket. I think that they’re the most believable antagonists of the series, because they’re motivated by plain old greed. Also, this game has some new areas for you to explore, which weren’t in the original. It doesn’t interfere too much with what you may know and love, but it’s fresh and worth checking out.
CHALLENGE LEVEL: 7/10 This generation didn’t coddle you, and the remake stays pretty true to that. Trainers, mazes, and puzzles are all hard enough to be fun, but not impossible. There is a pretty cool addition to the map, as well, that makes these games fresh even if you played the original generation one. However, there are pretty much only the first 150 Pokemon to catch, so if you’re set on completing the Pokedex, it’s almost too easy.
AFFECTION: 5/10 
STARTERS: 8/10 Charizard is one of the coolest pokemon there is, and having a starter that can learn Fly is really important if you don’t want to be bogged down with a lame ol’ Pidgey. AWESOMENESS OF LEGENDARIES: 8/10 Mewtwo is, to this day, one of the most powerful Pokemon.
BEST FEATURE: Pressing L/R buttons takes you to a helpful menu. Most people shouldn’t need it, as the controls are easy enough, but it’s great in case you forget type match-ups. It’s also a good way to effectively pause when you’re playing on an older system that doesn’t just snap shut.
WORST FEATURE: Nothing much to do after the main quest except catch Mewtwo. 

 If you have any questions, please feel free to ask! We all love the Pokemon games for different reasons, so if I didn’t cover something you’re curious about, please let me know.

Jace Harr is a queer, twenty-something writer, blogger, and theatre professional based in Rochester, New York. His credits include poetry journals, plays, and being Mr. Spock for Halloween in fourth grade. Check out his blog, Internet Diderot, for TILs in history, linguistics, and literature.

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