Pokemon Red and Blue released in the U.S. in 1998, and my 7-year old self was….horribly confused. I had seen a complete Pokedex in a magazine, and the character sprites looked nothing like the artwork I had seen. Was this a mix-up? Turns out it wasn't - it was just the limits of hand-held video game tech at that time.

Once that misunderstanding was cleared up, I saved up all my allowance money until I had the $29.99 MSRP, plus tax, to afford Pokemon Red. (Because of course I was picking the fire breathing dragon over the weird cannon turtle.) I went home, turned on my GameBoy, and played...and played...and played. By the time I had defeated the Elite Four for what must have been the hundredth time, I had logged over 75 hours in the game. My father was not amused.

The years passed, and more Pokemon games came out, but I reached a point where I felt 'too cool' for such childish games. ...Then a few more years passed, and I started to miss the good old days of playing Pokemon on a GameBoy. Fortunately, so did some other people. Enter...emulators!

And now, I invite you to join me as I venture back to 1998 and set out on an adventure to be the very best...like no one ever was…

The Beginning

After tracking down a stable emulator that I could run on my Mac - I cannot in good conscience tell you which emulator I used, but I can tell you it's a very easy Google search - I loaded up the game. There's nothing quite like watching Nidorino and Gengar sort of flail ineffectually at each other in 8-bit. Then Professor Oak starts his familiar spiel about the world of Pokemon. Most people would name their character after themselves (and name their rival something mean), but to make this a bit easier for everyone, we'll stick with "Red" and "Blue" respectively.

Now comes the most important choice in a 90s child's life: who to pick as a starter? Again, I don't want this to be an adventure all about ME, so I decided that I would make the most logical choice possible: roll a dice and let fate decide. A result of "1" would choose Bulbasaur, "2", Charmander, and "3", Squirtle. (A "4" is a reroll.)

...At this time, I would like to retract my previous statement about Blastoise being a "weird cannon turtle", because he's my new best friend. I'll refrain from nicknaming my team, but feel free to come up with your own names for everyone. Naturally, our rival picks Bulbasaur (stupid jerk, trying to meta game a 7 year old), and we commence our first battle! Always use tackle/scratch in this fight, never anything else. After Blue kindly buzzes off, we can get on the road...to VIRIDIAN CITY!!!

On the Road

So I think we all know this song and dance by now: we leave Pallet Town, head to Viridian's PokeMart, get the package for Oak, and then ACTUALLY start the adventure. I'm the type of trainer who will battle everything we encounter, so Squirtle gained a few levels along the way!

Once the obligatory chore was done, I returned to the city, stocked up on Pokeballs, and went out to find some new friends! Our initial team shaped up to be Squirtle, Pidgy, Rattata, and Nidoran (male). I was particularly happy to get that last one, as it put me in a great position to get Nidoking in the early game. After about 30 - 40 minutes of grinding everyone, it was time to face Blue again.

Since Blue has a whopping 2 whole Pokemon that are both at lower levels then ours… yeah, this was kind of a joke of a battle. Honestly, I almost felt bad, but grinding late game is just the worst and I would rather start strong and have it all kind of balance out later, rather then get my butt handed to me over and over. So with Blue resoundingly humiliated again, it was time to move on to Viridian Forest.

In the Forest

According to the Pokemon Strategy guide, we have only a 5% chance of catching a Pikachu, but we NEED one for the Misty battle. I'll stick this out until we have one, however long it --

Huh...that was easy. This is literally the first encounter, and we caught it. Welcome to the team, Pikachu! In the interest of filling out the team, we also caught a Weedle. It will basically never see the light of day -- I just don't see it being that helpful to us, with Nidoking around to cover Poison. I'll see if there's a Caterpie around to help...

Really? Every time I've needed a Pikachu, and NOW you give me two? We're gonna let this one go, in order to build a diverse team and not just an army of Pikachus. These Bug Catchers are great practice for Pikachu and Pidgey -- Squirtle will do fine against Brock, and we can Swap Train Nidoran -- so with this all done, let's get our first badge!

Squirtle Vs The World

Okay, it's not really the world but Squirtle will single-handedly demolish this entire city...I hope. After a brief rest at the PokeCenter, it's off to the gym...which is locked...why is it locked? It took about 5 minutes for me to remember that you have to try to leave the city in order to get into the gym. My question of "why?" still remains. I get having the guy there in case I try to leave, but don't lock the gym on me if I want to go, jeez. Here's the team as it stands now:

Squirtle absolutely pummeled the "Light Year" trainer (thank you, Localization team), and Nidoran got some XP thanks to us letting him start and then swapping him out. Now it's on to Brock.

Yeah, this battle was over before it started. Squirtle wasn't here for this, wasn't here for Brock. Unfortunately, this will be Squirtle's only big gym participation for a while.They don't bring much to the table when it comes to Misty, and they will be completely annihilated by Surge and Erika. We'll keep working with them to keep pace with the rest of the team -- Squirtle's great for certain types of trainer battles -- but for now, they'll have to surrender the title of Party Leader. We got the Boulder Badge (and a TM I will never use), and we're out of here!

Under Mount Moon

Heading into Mount Moon, we have two major goals (level up Pikachu to between 16 and 18, and get a Nidoking) and one minor goal (evolve Squirtle). Luckily, we'll have a TON of chances to let Pikachu fight IN the caves, since it's Zubat hell in there. So for now, let's work on Nidoran. The trainers outside of Mount Moon are all decently leveled, and most of them are perfectly fine for Nidoran to fight. We had a few Pidgeys and Spearows which we could let Pikachu tackle, but beyond that, Nidoran is our champion right now.

Given the volume and level of the trainers, getting Nidoran experience was not hard. We had just enough battles to get him up to level 16 and get us our first evolution of the game: Nidorino! This is perfect, because there are two moonstones in Mount Moon, so we're guaranteed a Nidoking (well, as long as we find the moonstones).

Mount Moon was always an interesting location to me as a kid. It felt MASSIVE but, in reality, it's pretty small. It's the Zubats that make it feel like it takes forever to get through, since you really can't take more than 5 steps before being interrupted by a battle. This is normally a nightmare to deal with and results in a ton of time spent running away from a battle. But, since we're training an Electric type and Zubat is a Flying type in addition to being a Poison type, this means that we're in great shape, since each encounter is just a chance to grind Pikachu to a high level while we move through the cave. The odd Geodude we encounter and the Hiker that we meet further into the cave were great experiences for Squirtle, and we finally hit level 16: we got Wartortle!

We collected all of the items that were around the cave, and we did get the first of 2 moonstones, so we also got ourselves a Nidoking!

The trainer battles are a bit more intense in the cave, and we were able to get our main 4 party members plenty of experience. (Sorry to fans of Rattata and Weedle -- those guys are going to get swapped out as soon as we have good replacements.) At long last, we find ourselves facing our second major choice: the dome fossil or the helix fossil. Again, as I don't want this to just be a journey for ME, I decided to flip a coin for this one; Kabuto is heads, Omanyte is tails.

Kabuto it is! We take our Dome Fossil (don't forget the hidden moonstone that's down the path before the Super Nerd) and finally ascend the ladder to freedom!

Nugget Bridge and Meeting Bill

After we heal up our tired team, it's time to tackle the Nugget Bridge! Unfortunately, before we can do that, we have an unexpected (by which I mean "totally expected") reunion with Blue! This is perfect because we have a fairly solid counter to every member of his team so far. Even Pidgey gets a lot out of this battle, because it can take out Abra without issue. As ever, Blue departs with a kind word, and we can resume our adventure!

Nugget Bridge is one of my favorite battle spots because it's so easy to battle someone and then get back to the PokeCenter to heal up. When the Vs Seeker is an option, until I'm about level 25, this area will be my go-to training ground. Since we don't have that though, we have to make the most of our one round per trainer. At this point, I am determined to get Pidgeotto, but anything that Pidgey can't handle will go to Pikachu, because it's going to do most of the leg work against Misty (unless we get some help up ahead). The Nugget Bridge serves us well though, and Pidgey has finally evolved into Pidgeotto! (Sorry guys, I missed that screenshot.)

A quick detour into the grass to the left of the bridge yields us two new friends: Oddish and Abra. I've been avoiding making this playthrough all about my personal preferences, but I LOVE Abra, so that will absolutely make the team, and Oddish will be a great assist against Misty (and not half bad against Lt. Surge either!). So after saying goodbye to Rattata and Weedle, our core 6 are set! We'll use the trainers above to help get Oddish some extra moves, but I have every confidence in our ability to take out Misty's team.

We finally reached Bill, and after helping this poor guy get out of his weird experiment (oh, Bill…) we got the S.S. Anne ticket. It's time to head back to Cerulean and take on Misty! (As a side note, I do know about the Mew glitch, but we will not be attempting it on the Emulator. It's challenging to do on Game Boy, so I imagine using an Emulator will be worse, if not impossible).

The Cerulean Gym

Alright, time to get our second badge! We're going to swap train Abra a bit through this gym, and hopefully we'll get it to level 14 before we're done here. (With 2 Rare Candy, that will get us to Kadabara.) The Swimmer and Junior Trainer are easily dropped by Oddish, with Abra hitting level 12 during these battles. We pop into the PokeCenter and then, at last, it's time to face Misty! I don't think that this will be a challenge for us, even swapping into an attack to help get Abra some levels.

Staryu was wiped out by Pikachu with ease. It did land a critical Tackle on us, so we'll lean more heavily on Oddish. We swap back into Abra to start the battle against Starmie, then swap right on out for Oddish. Misty used X-Defend on Starmie, so Oddish didn't have to take a free hit (phew). We poison Starmie to start, and then fall into Absorb spam. Starmie is doing more damage than we're recovering, but that's okay -- with the poison damage, we should be able to outlast in this fight. Sure enough, Starmie drops and a wounded Oddish reigns victorious! Abra did reach level 14, and we got the Cascade Badge! The last thing I'll do today is evolve Abra and give it Thunder Wave so it has some utility for us.

Shoehorning in The Card Game

So far it's been a ton of fun diving back into this world that I haven't visited since I was a kid. But what does this have to do with the card game? Well, we decided to give ourselves a second challenge: use the old Pokemon cards to make ourselves a deck for our team! But why stop there? We also made decks that reflect Red, Blue, Brock, and Misty, as they would appear in Pokemon Red! These aren't tournament winning decks by any means -- but they ARE a very fun chance to break out the Pokemon cards that have been gathering dust in my attic, and build decks that reflect the journey we've taken.

Brock's Deck - 60 Cards

Pokemon: 19

4 Geodude

3 Graveler

4 Onix

4 Sandshrew

4 Diglett

Trainers: 25

4 Professor Oak

4 Bill

4 Computer Search

1 Item Finder

2 Gust of Wind

2 Switch

2 Scoop Up

2 Super Potion

2 Energy Removal

2 Lass

Energy: 16

16 Fighting Energy

Graveler's really the heavy-hitter here, since Rock Throw is Brock's only big damage move. His lineup is tanky, but it grinds over time and defends more than making big attacks. You'll keep your Pokemon in the game longer than most AND deny your opponent prizes with Switch, Scoop Up and Super Potion.

Diglett's convenient here because it has 0 retreat cost, so it can shield a more important Pokemon for a turn - and if it survives, you can swap it out for free, without paying energy or using a Trainer card to get it out of the way.

By comparison, Onix is a tank that can sop up way more damage with its 90 HP, but its high retreat cost - 3 energy - means you'll definitely have to Switch or Scoop Up to remove it. Scoop Up is particularly good because Onix is a Basic Pokemon, and you probably won't play energy on it anyways, so you won't lose anything by returning it to your hand.

Lass is a bit of a toss up here, since keeping your opponent off of Trainers can be great, but Pokemon like Onix and Graveler are best managed with your Trainers instead of paying for their high retreat costs. But since this is Brock we're talking about, it fits. Girls are always getting him into trouble.

 

Misty's Deck - 60 Cards

Pokemon: 21
4 Goldeen
3 Seaking
4 Staryu
3 Starmie
4 Horsea
3 Shellder

Trainers: 22
4 Professor Oak
4 Bill
4 Computer Search
2 Gust of Wind
4 Switch
2 Super Potion
2 Energy Removal

Energy: 17
15 Water Energy
2 Double Colorless Energy

 

Shellder and Horsea are coin flip tanks, each becoming difficult to attack if their coin flip falls your way. Shellder's pretty tiny at 30 HP - Misty doesn't have Cloyster at this point in the game yet - but Horsea's a bit bigger at 40 HP, and combined with its free retreat cost, it gets the rub with four copies over Shellder's three.

Seaking offers some solid attack power with Waterfall, plus a 70 HP body, while Starmie is your big attacker. Starmie dishes out 20 damage, and Paralyzes on a coin flip; that attack costs three energy, but two of them are Colorless, so Double Colorless Energy gets you attacking for just two Energy cards total.

This deck dishes out a lot of Special Conditions and effects, but if your opponent's playing the same sort of strategy, note the four copies of Switch. Returning a Pokemon to the bench lets them shake off a Special Condition, and from there they can hunker down or jump back into the fight. Horsea's free retreat is really useful - since you get one "normal" retreat per turn, you can Switch in Horsea to get a Special Condition off your active Pokemon, then retreat Horsea to put that Pokemon right back into the battle.

Blue's Deck - 60 Cards

Pokemon: 20
4 Rattata
4 Pidgey
4 Pidgeotto
4 Bulbasaur
4 Abra

Trainers: 22
4 Professor Oak
4 Bill
4 Computer Search
2 Switch
2 Scoop Up
2 Super Potion
2 PlusPower
2 Defender

Energy: 18
4 Double Colorless Energy
6 Psychic Energy
8 Grass Energy

Blue's sort of our terrible doppelganger, and this deck list reflects that. We both have the strong Pidgey and Pidgeotto line, but his mix of mons means he can't leverage Double Colorless Energy nearly as well. His Rattata's actually not bad energy economy at 20 damage for one energy with free retreat, but at this point in his lineup it goes nowhere. He hasn't evolved his Bulbasaur yet, so that's a wash, and Abra can stall on a coin flip...or just get wrecked.

In his Trainer lineup, Red has some big standards like everybody else, but he's missing a couple great cards and instead is overly focused on battle with stuff like Plus Power and Defender. Blue doesn't make long term plans. Heck, he barely makes any plans period at this point in his Pokemon Trainer career, and this deck adequately reflects his tragic struggle. What a chump.

Red's Deck - 60 Cards

Pokemon: 22

4 Nidoran

3 Nidorino

1 Nidoking

1 Oddish

4 Pidgey

3 Pidgeotto

4 Squirtle

2 Wartortle

Trainers: 23

4 Professor Oak

4 Bill

4 Computer Search

4 Gust of Wind

3 Switch

4 Energy Removal

Energy: 15

8 Grass Energy

3 Water Energy

4 Double Colorless Energy

Nidorino, Pidgey, Pidgeotto, AND Wartortle can all use Double Colorless Energy, so we're running four copies and playing it to the hilt. We're not pulling any punches here, so search it out with your four Computer Search and feel free to reuse it with Item Finder if that's the right move.

Nidoran and Nidorino are really the main focus. Nidoran's Horn Hazard is great economy if it hits, at 30 damage per for one Grass Energy while you get going. Nidorino's pretty fantastic too, using Double Kick for up to 60 damage off a single Grass and a Double Colorless Energy, or a reliable 50 damage with Horn Drill if you set up with three or four energy cards.

If you really get going, Nidoking's Thrash is a solid attack for as few as two Energy Cards with Double Colorless, and Toxic adds up fast, forcing a retreat. Toxic takes a whopping three Grass Energy - tough to maintain in a deck with only eight Grass - but its main asset is its 90 HP. You'll typically prefer Nidorino for its spread of damage, but evolving will often save it from an impending KO. One copy is the cherry on top of this deck.

Oddish is hanging out. He's cool like that. In the game it really helped me tank Misty, but its Water resistance didn't carry over to the TCG, so it's kind of just a mascot. That said, Stun Spore can be a decent stall in a pinch.

Pidgey and Pidgeotto are stars in their own right, with Whirlwind relentlessly pulling mons off your opponent's bench so you can beat them around. Add to that four copies of GUST OF WIN(!) and you have superior board control to constantly leverage your opponent's weaknesses.

Squirtle and Wartortle are solid stall, and Bite's a solid move on a 70 HP body for two energy cards with a Water and a Double Colorless.

We're using four Energy Removal because we grinded to have a level advantage for all of these encounters and we deserve it.

I hope you all enjoyed the start of our trip down memory lane! Next week, we'll cover everything through Celadon City and the Rainbow badge, and update our deck to match our existing team. Can we come out of this with a good team AND a good deck? Only time will tell...