About a month ago, I decided on a whim to dig out all of my old Pokémon 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 reunited with my old friends. They were like miniature time capsules filled with artifacts that transported me to a particular time and place in my life.
Pokémon Emerald, 2005, a period when I was just out of college and fully invested in the competitive scene. 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 letdown at the time but as the last game to feature every single Pokémon now feels like the last vestige of the classic experience.
I found myself reflecting again on that 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 something of a meme since its original announcement in 2019). If there’s anything that can remove the bad taste left by Scarlet and Violet’s technical issues, it’s a link to the original games, which retain a powerful hold on the popular imagination.
Links to Pokémon’s Past
This was especially apparent 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 huge deal since the original Game Boy games had been severed from the mainline releases starting with Ruby and Sapphire.
Prior to their 2016 re-release on Nintendo 3DS, I had viewed the original Game Boy games as nostalgic but vestigial remnants of the original continuity owing to their absence from the chain linking each generation. One of Pokémon’s many quirks is that it has secretly been something like a live-service game from the very start, with each successive generation being akin to an expansion in Destiny or World of Warcraft. My Sword and Shield team included a Hydreigon I caught in Pokémon Black and a Sceptile I had raised from Pokémon Emerald, infusing it with a unique sense of continuity that transcends individual entries. It’s one reason that “Dexit” was such a disruptive moment for the community – it shattered that cherished sense of continuity that had defined the series for so long.
The original games have increasingly felt like an anchor for a series that otherwise feels unmoored
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 taunting was charming after so many wholesome but bland rivals (though I will always stan Sword and Shield’s Hop, who tries so hard and just never quite gets there). And when it was all done, the monsters I had caught were able to live on in other games.
As time has passed, 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.
The 10 Best Pokemon Video Games
In just a few weeks, though, it will no longer be possible to buy games from the Nintendo 3DS eShop. When it goes offline, two-thirds of all Pokémon games released in the U.S. will be commercially unavailable, making a large chunk of the Pokémon ecosystem difficult if not impossible to access. When that happens, it will take a large portion of Pokémon’s culture and history with it.
Preserving a Rich Legacy
Hence, it’s incumbent on Pokémon’s various developers to preserve the franchise’s rich history on Nintendo Switch Online, ideally with continued support for Pokémon Home. NSO’s newly-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.
Would that include support for Game Boy Connectivity on Pokémon Stadium 1? It seems unlikely, but the recent removal of a disclaimer noting that players can’t transfer Pokémon to Stadium has spurred speculation among fans. A girl can dream, right?
The wholesome ecosystem underpinning so much of Pokémon’s success is in danger of being largely inaccessible.
One way or another, 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 Pokémon’s world is truly alive, and that feeling is owed to the sense of continuity that Game Freak has cultivated since the days of the Game Boy.
With the impending closure of the eShop, the wholesome ecosystem underpinning so much of Pokémon’s success is in danger of being largely inaccessible. But more to the point, the first three generations of Pokemon are wonderful, distinct experiences all their own. Now is a great time for a whole new generation to discover for themselves why these games are such classics.
Kat Bailey is a Director, News at IGN as well as co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Have a tip? Send her a DM at @the_katbot.