Ah, the middle leg of Pokémon Red! This is where grinding starts to become REALLY time consuming, but also where we begin to reap the rewards in second form evolutions for a lot of our Pokémon.

Our young hero, Red, is ready to continue his journey and push southward to battle the Poison Ninja Master, Koga. Without further ado, let's jump back in!

The Curse of Lavender Town

Remember in part 2, when I said that we were going to talk about Lavender Town? Well, guess what time it is!

So, Pokémon is an adventure game for children where you set off with your magical pet into a world of wonder and mystery, trying to stop evil and become the best trainer in the world. Then, right in the middle of this magical world, there's an entire town dedicated to all of your DEAD MAGICAL PETS. Not only that, but there are GHOST versions of these magical creatures, which begs the question: "Were ghost types something else before they died?"

On top of that, the music is creepy compared to the whimsy of the rest of the game. It's really messed up. "Hey, kid! Having fun on your magic adventure? Did you know that those companions you love so much will DIE????"

...Okay, now that that's out of my system, let's return to the game. With the Rainbow Badge and Silph Scope in hand, it's time to get back into the action--which means we're headed to Lavender Town. But before we get there, I think it's high time we add a new friend to our team! We swing through Celedon's Department Store for a bottle of water, swap out Vileplume for Wartortle again, and visit the guardhouse between Celedon and Saffron City. Guard takes our drink, and we can now get through Saffron...which is less of a hassle now that we have Fly, but hey, progress is good! We're not fighting Sabrina yet, though--instead, we're hitting up the Fighting gym next door, because we want a Fighting-type!

Kadabra and Pidgeotto will breeze through this--OH MY GOD, WHY DOES MACHOKE LOOK LIKE THAT?

That is absolutely awful. The facial expression alone... Holy cow, I am so uncomfortable with that.

Oh, and they're all ranging from mid to high 30's...which is more than we are, so it's a bit of a struggle to get through this gym (since Kadabra drops in one hit if they don't get the kill first), but we manage to stick it out and take out its leader.

Now we get to choose between Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan. Normally, I would flip a coin here, but we need to have a real talk for a minute: Hitmonchan is bad in this version of the game.

"But he (all Hitmonchan and Hitmonlee are male) has thunder punch and ice punch and fire punch, so he's super versatile!", I hear you say.

I agree that he is...except that in this version those are all SPECIAL attacks, not physical--yeah, makes no sense to me either--and Hitmonchan's Special stat is...sub-par. All of Hitmonlee's attacks are physical though, and he's a physical powerhouse. This being the case, I'm just gonna go ahead and pick Hitmonlee.

With our new friend safely tucked away, we continue onward to Lavender Town. We ascend the steps of Pokémon Tower, and Blue is waiting for us! I actually kind of forgot he was here. He mocks us, squares up, and sends out a level 24 Pidgeotto. We're just about in our 30's, so this won't be fun for him. Sure enough, the fight is over in record time. Blue bids us a good day before peacing out to heal up his team.


Lavender Tower is a great chance for Kadabra to get even more XP before the next gym--they're kind of our team leader at this point--and we're able to boost Dratini's XP, too! I had actually forgotten that there was a healing spot right in the tower, so that makes our lives much easier.

That said, at this point I'm starting to think we might have done a few things out of order, because everyone is CONSIDERABLY weaker than us. We take advantage of this to catch a few new friends, and finally we're ready to take on the ghost blocking our way to the top of the tower. Of course, we all know this sad story by now: Team Rocket killed Cubone's mother, and now she haunts the tower.

After putting her soul to rest, we can continue up the stairs to save Mr. Fuji from Team Rocket. Mr. Fuji, ever thankful, rewards us with the Poke Flute so that we can continue our quest to reach Fuschia city.

Waking the Beast

Alright, time for us to snag our next party member. I say "party member" instead of "friend" because this champ is for sure joining the team! Snorlax is a beautiful beast and being a Normal-type, they will have a TON of utility. I have BIG plans for this Pokémon. After a quick stop at the PokeCenter, we pick up Hitmonlee - gotta have a Fighting-type on hand so that we can do super effective damage to Snorlax - and then head south to meet our destiny!

Snorlax is sprawled out right where we knew they would be...but after waking them up, they proceed to rage out and come after our team! Vileplume is actually in the party right now because we want to get a few statuses locked in early before Snorlax uses Rest and recovers everything. Unfortunately, this clever plan completely fails. Snorlax wakes up after 1 turn and then Rests...so we gained nothing.

Hitmonlee proceeds to put in work against Snorlax, and a lot of heavy kicks bring the beast into catch range. Snorlax is asleep and wounded, and at this point, we've been in this battle for about 15 minutes. One more low kick aaaaaaand it's a critical. Snorlax faints...awesome. While I could just cheat and load up a save state, I really want this adventure to be genuine, so I'm not going to do that.

After pausing for a 5 minute cry session, I decide to try for the other Snorlax. This time we succeed! Welcome to the team, Snorlax! Sadly, with Snorlax covering Normal-type, and Dragonite covering Flying, the logical choice for who to bench is Pidgeotto. With a heavy heart, I rotate the lineup.

Since we can't Fly to Fuchsia yet, we'll take the cycling road to reach the city. (Might as well, since we're here anyway.) The trainers aren't too much of a challenge--we're still starting out with Dratini but then swapping in Kadabra--and we reach Fuchsia in no time at all.

Pokémon Safari

Remember last time, when I said that I would replace Snorlax with Kangaskhan in a hot second, if given the chance? Well it's time to make good on that! Our first stop is the PokeCenter, but then it's straight on to the Safari Zone!

I LOVE the Safari Zone...but I hate the capture mechanic here. Seriously, there are so many great Pokémon, and I can't just have a normal battle with them to determine if we get them. No, we have to play a random chance game and HOPE.

As luck would have it though, we caught a TON of Pokémon. I won't bore you with a list of new friends like I usually would, but a few highlights include Ryhorn, Nidoran (female), Exeggecute, and Scyther.

Alas, I searched high and low for Kangaskhan, but there were none to be found. With a heavy heart, we'll grab the Golden Teeth (I'm sure that's hygienic), pick up Surf, and put this part of our adventure behind us. I could always drag us back into the Safari Zone 10 more times or so, in the foolish hope that we find a Kangaskhan...but that would be ridiculous and take up a ton of time--about 2 hours to be exact--so I'll pass.

Having taken the Cycling Road down to Fuschia, we'll Fly back to Lavender Town and take the sea route for our return trip, grinding against the myriad of trainers we bump into along the way. Our efforts are rewarded and at long last, for our little Dratini is now a big ol' Dragonair!

Beyond that, though, we had another secret goal that we've finally achieved. Wartortle hit level 36 while we were grinding. It is time...

Blastoise! Wartortle has been pretty quiet since about halfway through part 1, but they've always been there, waiting, growing. Now, at long last, they're ready to take on the world! Let's start with Koga, shall we?

Ninja Master Koga

Ah, the Fuchsia City gym and its stupid invisible walls. Here's the worst part, too: as a 29 year old, I now realize, you can ACTUALLY SEE the walls. They're just little white dashes on the ground - though I will also admit that the emulator clears up the screen a lot. A lot of these jugglers have psychic types...which feels like cheating. Go hang out with Sabrina! They also have some high 30s level Pokémon, and apparently Hypno can headbutt like a freaking truck because they messed up Dragonair.

There are a ton of trainers in this gym. Probably not more then Erika, but at a glance, I'd say there are at least as many. As ever, we battle them all for the experience, and roll on into Koga.

Koga is an interesting enemy, in that all his Pokémon are high leveled and will shoot for status effects (Poison) more than outright damage. He's also the first trainer we've encountered whose Pokémon will break level 40, so I'm expecting a big fight here.

...Too bad we don't get it, because Kadabra learned Psychic, and they are taking out this team with one shot each, even being down by several levels.

Koga graciously hands over the Soul Badge, and it's time for us to depart from Fuchsia City. Before we leave, I'm going to stop in the Safari Zone one more time. (Yes, I really want that freaking Kangaskhan--and no, I didn't catch her.) Ah, well. Off to Saffron!

Silph Co Crisis

At this time I'll take a moment to confess: there was actually a minor break in the action between Fuchsia and now.

"What?", I hear you say, "I thought this was going to be a COMPLETE Pokémon adventure!"

Rest assured, it is. I simply decided to cut out the grinding part of the adventure, because honestly, it would just be me posting screenshots every time I gained a level, and it took like 5 hours of time. Koga was in his 40's, so I'm expecting things to scale accordingly and I would like our team to be able to hold their own. With that out of the way, here's the new team status:

Pretty nice, right? Rather than drag everyone through 5 hours of just me talking about nothing, I figured we'd fast forward a bit. Now, onward to Saffron!

We've already passed through the city before, so we'll let Pidgeotto give us a lift back. (Poor thing. At least they're still seeing use.) Making sure our team is ready, we kick down the door to Silph Co, rush the stairs, charge the first Rocket Grunt at the top...and watch in horror as he sends out a level 25 Raticate.

Remember when I said that the order of game gets a little messed up around this part? Yeah, I believe you can do a few gyms in any order you like, and it seems that we could have come here directly after Erika.

Well this is awkward… The good news: this is a GREAT chance to let Dragonair take point, and they will just rip this place apart. The bad news: this isn't going to be fun until we hit Blue later on. It really is just us stomping people without mercy until we dig up the keycard for the electronic doors, followed by stomping our way up to find Blue.

At long last, though, we do find him waiting for us--and yes, I said waiting for us. Instead of saving this company and taking out the Rocket Grunts, this little turd has just been sitting around, waiting for us to do all the work! It's time to continue this most epic of one-sided rivalries.

As usual, Pidgeot is his opener and it's mercifully at level 37. That makes me feel a LOT better, because I was worried this was going to be another complete blow out. Snorlax isn't ideally suited here, so Raichu will come out instead and zap this problem away for us with ease. Next up is Gyrados...which is actually an even worse choice then Pidgeot with Raichu standing there, waiting to embrace the flying water dragon warmly with their shocky cheeks. Needless to say, Gyrados drops in one shot as well. Maybe we will get the blowout I feared…

Next up is Growlithe, and this one also drops like a rock, this time to Blastoise. I remember this game being much harder as a kid. Alakazam drops next - to which I call shenanigans, because NO ONE would trade with this child, he's awful - and Snorlax headbutts the poor frail Psychic cat into last week. Finally is Venasaur, and we will naturally send out Kadabra. One Psychic and the dino plant goes down. Blue invites us to eat his dust as he sets out for the Pokémon League (good luck beating the Elite Four, he can't even beat us), and departs to let us handle Giovanni 2.0!

Giovanni politely welcomes us to the 11th floor before pointing out what a complete nuisance we are to his plans and sending out his Nidorino to take us down. Dragonair Slams down Kadabra, and a frustrated Giovanni sends out Kangaskhan. Again, Dragonair uses Slam, and though they take a few good hits in return, Kangaskhan ultimately goes down (I'm not crying, you're crying), and Rhyhorn steps up to take her place. We switch over to Blastoise and let our Water type advantage bring us home. Rhyhorn and then Nidoqueen fall, and Giovanni curses us for ruining his plan. He leaves, and we are rewarded with the Master Ball. While we do have everything we would need to make 99 of these via the Missingno cheat, we won't do that. We are honorable trainers and we will keep our 1 Master Ball and save it for Mewtwo.

The Marsh Badge

It's just about time for us to get our next badge, isn't it? If you haven't been able to tell from parts 1 and 2 just how much I love the Abra line of Pokémon, they are my favorite Pokémon, so this is my favorite gym. It does bum me out that we can't get Alakazam, but hey, at least we can have a really strong Kadabra. Sabrina will be a strong contender, but her heavy hitters are the Abra line (all evolved of course) and they have a really glaring weakness: they have almost no physical defense to speak of. We saw this in the Fighting gym when we got Hitmonlee: if Kadabra didn't lock in a kill in one shot, they would go down in one shot themselves. In short, Abra, Kadabra, and Alakazam are the definition of Glass Cannons: they hit hard, but can take no damage in return.

As we open the doors to the gym, we're greeted by a familiar sight: teleport pads. Yeah, THIS was the terrible part about this gym. You just get to hop around until you find Sabrina or the entrance. Heaven forbid we need to heal at any point, because then we need to find the entrance. Let's take stock of our team here for a second:

Sabrina's gym has a weird collection of trainers, but the Mediums in particular stand out to me. Ghost is SUPPOSED to be a great counter to Psychic, but guess what? In Gen 1, the Ghosts (a whole whopping 3 of them: Gastly, Haunter, and Gengar) are all dual types...and the second type is Poison. What's more, Ghost moves in Gen 1 had NO effect on Psychic types, except Nightshade, which causes flat damage. So in reality, Ghost types are useless in this gym.

After about 10 minutes of random teleporter hopping (no, I didn't look at a strategy guide), we arrive in Sabrina's little...space...cell...thingy. (What is this layout?) Sabrina tells us that she hates battling, but she can communicate with her Pokémon via Telekinesis. She accepts our challenge and we're ready to begin!

Sabrina starts out with Kadabra, and we in turn choose to open with our ace for this gym: Snorlax. Snorlax will be a tank against her heavy psychic powers, and our physical attacks will wreak havoc against the Abra line. Snorlax headbutts Kadabra and we're through our first Pokémon! Three to go. Mr. Mime comes next, and man, does the sprite make that particular Pokémon look 'off'. Those legs don't look like they can support that round body.

Mr. Mime starts with Barrier--a problem I had not foreseen. Snorlax no longer can drop this clown in one shot, which opens us up to a counter attack. Luckily it's Double Slap, and Snorlax couldn't care less about being slapped a bit. Another Headbutt sends that clown back to hell and we're ready for the next one!

Venomoth arrives next, and we can swap out Snorlax for Kadabra. This is one part strategic (it's Poison) and two parts pride, but the pride comes into play in a moment. Kadabra Psychics Venomoth and clears the field for Sabrina to bring out her ace: Alakazam. Yes, we're going to have our Kadabra take on Alakazam. I want to prove that we don't need Alakazam to have an awesome Psychic type.

Alakazam opens with Psywave and we return fire...with Dig. Yes, we're going to take advantage of Alakazam's low physical defense to bring it down. It's a much tougher battle then the previous few have been, but after 4 Digs, Kadabra brings down their more evolved sibling. Sabrina admits defeat, and we now have 6 badges! (Oh, and Psywave.)

Red: 60 Cards

Pokémon: 24
4 Squirtle
4 Wartortle
2 Blastoise
4 Dratini
2 Dragonair
4 Snorlax
3 Abra
1 Kadabra

4 Professor Oak
4 Computer Search
3 Bill
2 Gust of Wind
2 Switch
2 Item Finder
1 Energy Retrieval

Energy: 18
12 Water Energy
3 Psychic Energy
3 Double Colorless Energy

With Blastoise and Dragonair on the team, Red's deck is totally different this week! Old schoolers may remember Blastoise's awesome Pokémon Power, Rain Dance, which lets you attach as many Water Energy to Water Pokémon per turn as you like, in addition to your regular energy attachment each turn. Blastoise is our only Water Pokemon on the team so far, but the goal will be to play one Blastoise, load it up, and use its effect to power up Wartortles for backup with their 40 damage Bite attack.

Dragonair and Snorlax are new additions too, and like Wartortle, they can both make use of Double Colorless Energy. The ability to Rain Dance down lots of Water Energy and play a Double Colorless makes this deck really explosive, once you get it set up and running. Abra fills our need for Basic Pokémon, and we're running a few Psychic Energy and a Kadabra in honor of our Alakazam aspirations.

Running a strategy that depends on a high-impact Stage 2 like Blastoise means we need to approach the Trainer lineup a little differently, and with more Pokémon and energy we've got a little less space. You're going to be blowing through the deck digging for the Blastoise line and Water Energy, and that makes effects that return cards from the discard pile a little more important: Item Finder and Energy Retrieval help bring everything together. Blastoise's Hydro Pump deals 10 extra damage for every Water Energy attached to it, so Gust of Wind helps us score prizes while Switch keeps the tanky Blastoise both nimble and safe.

Blue: 60 Cards

Pokémon: 28
4 Bulbasaur
3 Ivysaur
3 Venusaur
4 Pidgey
3 Pidgeotto
2 Pidgeot
4 Rattata
2 Raticate
3 Magikarp

Trainers: 15
4 Professor Oak
4 Computer Search
2 Item Finder

Energy: 17
13 Grass Energy
4 Double Colorless Energy

Just like how Blastoise redefined our Red deck, Blue's evolution to Venusaur changes things up for him, too! The good news is that Venusaur's a beast with 100 HP, a 60 damage attack, and a Pokémon Power that lets you move Grass Energy to and from any of your Pokémon - even Pokémon that aren't Grass types. The bad news is that Venusaur's Solar Beam needs 4 Grass Energy to work - no Colorless - and that makes it really tough to play any other types of Pokemon.

With 4 copies each of Bulbasaur, Pidgey, and Rattata, Blue still needs another Basic Pokémon; without enough Basics, you'll be stuck taking mulligans in way too many games. His latest recruit is Magikarp, and we could justify Gyarados given Blue's place in our playthrough…but the attacks on Base Set Gyarados demand 3 and 4 Water Energy, for Dragon Rage and Bubblebeam respectively. There's no way we can make that work in a deck that's so focused on Grass Energy, so Blue's going to have to make do with Magikarp alone.

That said, Ivysaur, Raticate, and the Pidgey line all make great use of Double Colorless Energy, and now that Blue can evolve to Pidgeot, its free retreat and troubleshooting Hurricane attack are huge assets. Item Finder helps recover evolutions as you play through your deck, and Switch can keep Venusaur safe so you can keep using its Pokémon Power.

Giovanni: 60 Cards

Pokemon: 25
4 Nidoran♀
3 Nidoqueen
4 Nidoran♂
3 Nidorino
3 Nidoking
4 Rhyhorn
4 Kangaskhan

Trainers: 19
4 Professor Oak
3 Bill
4 Computer Search
4 Pokémon Breeder
2 Switch
2 Scoop Up

Energy: 16
4 Double Colorless Energy
4 Rainbow Energy
8 Grass Energy

With Nidoqueen added to his lineup, Giovanni's strategy is suddenly a whole lot cooler. Back in Part 2, his deck was largely based around strong Basic Pokémon that could sop up a lot of damage and leverage Double Colorless Energy. The Stage 1 Nidorino was the deck's most reliable heavy hitter with Double Kick and Horn Drill, but Nidoking was really only a small upgrade, since its Toxic attack for three Grass Energy was pretty tough to use.

Enter the queen! Nidoqueen's Mega Punch deals 50 damage for two Grass and one Double Colorless Energy, a better cost-to-damage ratio than Toxic. And while Nidoking's secondary attack was the coin-flip move Thrash, Nidoqueen has "Boyfriends", an attack that - while awkwardly named - only costs one Grass and one Colorless to deal 20 damage plus 20 more for every Nidoking you have. Suddenly the Nidokings are bench fillers that add more damage to your best attack, easily boosting Nidoqueen to 60 damage for just two energy.

Nidorina's Supersonic attack isn't nearly as good as Nidorino's Horn Drill, so we're skipping Nidorina entirely. Since we've got two target evolution lines with Stage 2s we're borrowing a page out of Erika's book from last week and running Pokémon Breeder. The goal is to evolve as many Nidokings and Nidoqueens as possible, boost those Nidoqueens as your main attackers, and then let Nidorino, Rhyhorn and Kangaskhan back them up.

Switch and Scoop Up again help Giovanni manage his high retreat costs and deny the opponent prizes, and since he basically IS Team Rocket, we'll let Giovanni cheat a little bit and dip into the Team Rocket expansion for four copies of Rainbow Energy. You only need one Fighting Energy to fuel Rhyhorn's Horn Attack, so Rainbow Energy lets you swing for 30 when you need to while still powering the Grass types.

Sabrina: 60 Cards

Pokemon: 25
4 Abra
3 Kadabra
3 Alakazam
4 Drowzee
3 Hypno
4 Mr. Mime
4 Jynx

Trainers: 20
4 Professor Oak
4 Bill
4 Computer Search 
3 PlusPower
3 Gust of Wind
2 Switch

Energy: 15
15 Psychic Energy

Sabrina and Koga are our two spotlight Gym Leaders this time around, and they have a few things in common! In the early days of the Pokemon TCG, Psychic Pokémon largely had three defining characteristics: they needed lots of Psychic Energy, they didn't deal much damage, and they had a big focus on harmful Special Conditions - largely Paralysis and Confusion. Meanwhile Koga's Bugs and Poison Pokémon were represented as Grass types, but unlike "true" Grass Pokémon like Venusaur and Scyther, they had a lot of underpowered attacks that also overvalued conditions. In the case of Bugs, that meant Poison and Paralysis with a dash of Confusion.

Poison deals 10 damage at the end of every turn, and Paralysis stops your Pokémon from attacking or retreating for a turn. Those conditions have been the same for over two decades, and they're alright. But Confusion has actually changed over time. These days, a Confused Pokémon has to make a coin flip when they try to attack: if they make it, the attack works as normal; miss the flip, and the Pokémon gets 3 damage counters. The Pokémon can retreat as normal to escape their Confusion.

But things were different back in the days of Base Set, Jungle, and Fossil. A Confused Pokémon only took 2 damage counters if it missed the attack flip, but you also had to flip when you tried to retreat. And since you had to pay the retreat cost first, you just lost a bunch of energy half the time. It forced you to be more bold about trying for that attack, which often meant losing your turn, your tempo, and often the Pokémon itself.

So anyway, Sabrina's lineup works pretty well with two solid Basics (Mr. Mime and Jynx) and two evolution lines (Hypno and Alakazam). That's great, because everything takes Psychic Energy. Drowzee and Alakazam both dish out Confusion, but the one thing the lineup lacks is raw damage. We'll fix that up with trainer cards, leaning on three copies each of Plus Power and Gust of Wind to make sure your attacks stick. Keep Alakazam's Pokémon Power in mind: you can Damage Swap up to 60 damage to a Jynx and just leave it on the bench, keeping your main attacker around way longer than normal.

Koga: 60 Cards

Pokemon: 25
4 Ekans
2 Arbok
4 Grimer
2 Muk
4 Koffing
2 Weezing
4 Venonat
3 Venomoth

Trainers: 20
4 Professor Oak
4 Bill
4 Computer Search
4 Energy Removal
3 Gust of Wind

Energy: 15
15 Grass Energy

If Sabrina had some issues dealing damage, Koga's got some serious problems: his heaviest hitters are Muk, dishing out 30 damage plus a coin flip for maybe a Poison for a whopping three Grass Energy, and Weezing, which deals 60 damage for three energy cards but blows itself up with Self Destruct in the process. In a vacuum, none of this is good; all of Koga's Pokémon are Stage 1 Evolutions, so you have to work for every worthwhile 'mon you put on the field, and you better get out your wallet because their attacks are bloody expensive.

But there's some good news! Muk's Pokémon Power Toxic Gas just blanks every other Pokémon Power on the field. Handy. And Venomoth's a sleeper hit: its free retreat cost makes it really maneuverable, its Pokémon Power ups the base damage of Venom Powder to 20 against any Pokémon with a weakness, and that combination of Confusion and Poison is huge, even with the coin flip. You'll either force your opponent to risk damaging their own Pokémon with Confusion, plus the poison damage, or you'll force them to retreat and gamble their energy. If they fail that retreat they'll still take the poison damage as well.

That said, Koga still needs some help. Ninjas are tricky, so we're giving him two of the very best trainer cards in this era of the game: Gust of Wind and Energy Removal. At the very least you can slow your opponents down to buy yourself some time, then make sure your attacks are hitting your opponent's most vulnerable Pokemon. With the right tactics, this deck can do some damage.