Pokémon Fire Red & Leaf Green GBA
Developed by Nintendo
Release Date: Out Now
Price : £29.99 each
It's been five years since Pokémon Blue and Red appeared here in Europe and the impact the games had on handheld gaming cannot be over emphasised. Before the release of the Pokémon games there were many good Game Boy games but none there were so captivating and so polished. The original Pokémon games changed all the rules though and proved that a handheld game could rank amongst the greatest games on any other format. Their impact was so profound that Nintendo have since released a version of Pokémon to take advantage of their handheld consoles ever since. Pokémon Gold, Silver and Crystal were designed for the Game Boy Color whilst Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire were released for the Game Boy Advance. Even at this moment the brand new Nintendo DS console is having new Pokémon games developed. Why? Well the Pokémon brand is a console seller. When a Pokémon game is released for a system sales soar and sales records are smashed. The Pokémon craze might not be at fever pitch as it was back in 1999/2000 but gamers who've played a Pokémon game can't resist owning a new version, even if it means buying a new console to do so and that says a lot.
Before we go any further a little explanation is in order for those who might not have experienced the TV shows and wonder how the game can be so popular. The Pokémon games are role-playing games and they are excellent ones at that. You'll begin any of the Pokémon games with one Pokémon and you'll go on a quest to gain gym badges (which are the mark of a trainer's quality) and when you've amassed all eight badges you'll try to beat the Elite four in an attempt to become the ultimate Pokémon master. Most RPGs allow you to control up to six characters (games like Baldur's Gate for instance) and similarly Pokémon allows you to have six Pokémon in your party at any one time. The Pokémon gain experience and level up (level 100 being the maximum) and gain extra abilities on the way. As your Pokémon progress through the levels they will eventually evolve into advanced, stronger creatures which allows you to take on stronger opponents.
The Pokémon in the game are divided into types and each type has advantages and disadvantages. For instance a fire type Pokémon will be weak against a water type Pokémon but strong against a grass type Pokémon. You have to take into account the Pokémon type you're fighting against when choosing which of your Pokémon should battle. Each Pokémon can have up to four attack or defence moves at any one time and should they acquire additional abilities you'll have to 'forget' one of the existing ones if the Pokémon already has four. Should their HP reach 0 in a battle they will only faint and not die so you'll never lose them. On your journey you'll meet other trainers who you'll have to battle and victory against these will earn you money with which you can buy potions and other essentials. Random encounters never happen in Pokémon unless you walk through the tall grass or journey through a cave. When doing this you'll occasionally bump into Pokémon who can be caught and added to your party. The games might have been labelled by some as a children's game but anyone who has ever played a Pokémon game will tell you that they are quality RPGs of the highest order and their ability to soak up hours and hours is unsurpassed.
As you probably already know Pokémon Fire Red and Leaf Green are remakes of the original Pokémon Red and Blue (which was Green in Japan). Essentially this means we're back in the Kanto region (after the game is completed though new locations are available that were not in the original Red and Blue games) and the game begins in Pallet Town but this time we have the benefit of the enhanced graphics the like of which we saw in Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire. As with Red and Blue, Leaf Green and Fire Red are virtually identical but each version has 20+ Pokémon that are exclusive. If you want all of the Pokémon you'll either need to buy both games or trade with a friend who has the alternate version. It's not just had a facelift though and there are some other worthwhile additions to the game. Wireless battles have been included (more on that later), Pokémon from titles that came after Red and Blue have also been included as have some of the other concepts such as Pokémon breeding, 2-on-2 battles and being able to pick a female character to play as etc. At it's heart though it's the same magical experience that Red and Blue were with all those original Pokémon. It's been great to control all those favourites such as Squirtle, Pikachu, Charmander and Bulbasaur and take on trainers such as Brock, Misty and Giovanni.
One of the major improvements in Pokémon Fire Red and Leaf Green is the presentation. Once again the games come with an excellent manual but an in-game help system has been included also. When you begin a new game you'll receive text that introduces you to the game and explains the basics. When the game has begun you can press the L and R shoulder buttons to call up a help system which will answer any questions you might have. If you played the original Red and Blue Pokémon games you'll know that you never had any idea of what the TMs and HMs were but in Fire Red and Leaf Green full text descriptions are always given for items so you won't need a strategy guide just to find out what they are. The game is also snazzy for the way you resume a saved game. On loading up a saved game you'll be shown your five most recent key events in short monochrome sequences. This is superb if you haven't played the game in a while and need a quick recap of what you had previously done. Without a doubt Pokémon Fire Red and Leaf Green have raised the standard for presentation in handheld gaming.
Game Boy Advance games have always been great for deaf gamers and Pokémon Leaf Green and Fire Red are no exceptions to this and are perfect for deaf gamers. All information in the games is given in text and as the text requires you to press the A button to progress, you can read this text in your own time. We mentioned above how Fire Red and Leaf Green have superb presentation and much more information than any previous Pokémon games and it really is superb. The game manual is also first class and caters for Pokémon novices so if you haven't played a Pokémon game before you only need to look at the manual or use the in-game help system to find the answers to any questions that you might have.
The Wireless experience
Both Pokémon Fire Red and Pokémon Leaf Green come with a wireless adapter and at the time of the games release they were the first games to support wireless multiplayer games. At the time of writing though more games have been released (Mario Golf Advance Tour for example) that support the wireless adaptor. What must be made clear though is that in order to use the wireless adapter you need a game that specifically supports it. It cannot be used in place of a link adapter. This is unfortunate but there must be technical reasons for this. All the same I would have loved to be able to play games such as Advance Wars without a link cable. If you want to battle with someone using a Ruby or Sapphire game a link cable will be needed and Fire Red and Leaf Green have full support for the link cable.
What does this adapter allow you to do then? Well it allows you to battle, trade, play mini-games (when you've reached a certain point in the game) and chat with up to 5 of your friends without the hassle of being tied together with a link cable. For a battle you'll need to be within 10 feet (3 metres) of each other which should cover most normal room sizes. I've noticed that chatting allows a far greater range though and we were able to chat with each other from any room in the house (probably because of the reduced information being sent) without any problems at all. The wireless adapter takes it's power direct from the GBA so there's no need for more batteries which is great. All things considered it's a great peripheral and it marks the end of the road for link cable gaming especially as the Nintendo DS has built in wireless support.
Pokémon Leaf Green and Fire Red are superb examples of what handheld gaming can really be. Cynics may point out that the bulk of the game is the same as in the original Red and Blue games but that would be a harsh attitude to what is a superb remake that not only includes a major graphical update but plenty of new features too. The only area of the game that hasn't received a major revamp is the sound and that's not an issue as far as we're concerned. Nintendo have also made the kind gesture of including a wireless adaptor which retails for £14.99 when purchased separately, and this makes the games superb value for money. It's also worth mentioning that Fire Red and Leaf Green both work with Pokémon Colosseum on the GameCube so you'll be able to take the Pokémon you've trained and see how strong they really are which again adds value to the games. To sum up then it's a classic remake of a classic game and no matter which version you choose you'll be experiencing one of the best games on the Game Boy Advance.
Game Rating: 9.2/10
Five years on and the Pokémon formula is still as addictive as ever. Fire Red and Leaf Green are a lot more than simple remakes and both are excellent value for money before you take into account the included wireless adapter.
Pokémon Leaf Green and Fire Red are both superb for deaf gamers.