From the first moment Nintendo announced that Game Boy games were coming to the Nintendo 3DS, fans wondered how long it would take for Pokémon to finally make it to Virtual Console. The answer: About nine years (if you count the original Wii).
During today's Nintendo Direct, Nintendo confirmed that the original Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow will be launching on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console next year. Even better, it will support a virtual link cable, making it something more than a neutered and soulless ROM.
This is obviously a pretty big deal for longtime Pokémon fans. Most of had reconciled ourself to Pokémon never being released on Virtual Console when it had become clear that Game Freak would never release a version that lacked the ability to trade monsters. You had to admire Game Freak for sticking to their guns and not releasing a compromised version of their game; but with it becoming harder and harder to play the original game without an emulator, it was also kind of unfortunate.
After years of denials, though, Game Freak seems to have finally been moved to figure out a way to release the original Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow with the trading functionality intact. Perhaps they were moved by the outsized success of Twitch Plays Pokémon, which took the Internet by storm when it appeared out of nowhere last year, giving rise to countless memes. More likely they correctly realized that a lot of adults with disposable income were nostalgic for the original 151 monsters, and that they needed something to fill the gap while they worked on whatever was coming next for the series.
I'm interested to see how people react to Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow when they finally come out next year. Even by the standards of the day, they were quite simple - black and white RPGs with pudgy little avatars and static images for monsters. It was able to transcend its simplistic presentation by being the first truly social RPG, encouraging kids to trade monsters on the playground like they might trade cards. In an era when the Internet was only just starting to get traction, this was a really big deal.
Today, obviously, games are much more advanced, even Pokémon itself hasn't changed a huge amount in the interim. Will people still dig this rather basic little RPG given how dated it looks these days? I suspect they will. The power of nostalgia knows no bounds.
I'll admit, even I'm kind of excited to pick up Pokémon Red again for the first time since 1999. I was 16 when the original Pokémon came out, and it wound up massively impacting my taste in games while indirectly getting me into anime, and by extension, convincing me to move to Japan. Crazy as it sounds, I might not be here writing this right now if not for Pokémon.
I still own a copy of Pokémon Blue, as well a copy of its Game Boy Advance remake, Pokémon Fire Red. But I don't know, it feels more "natural" somehow to be playing the Virtual Console version. Maybe it's the fact that, after all these years, I'll have people to trade with again. The link cables may be gone, but the feeling will remain the same.
Opening the Floodgates?
All that said, I really hope that Game Freak doesn't stop with Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow. In a perfect world they would release the second generation Pokémon Crystal, then making it compatible with a Virtual Console release of Pokémon Stadium 2. Could you even imagine? It's not going to happen, but I'll happily settle for just Gold and Silver, which are routinely held up as being some of the best games in the series for being true sequels that unite the Johto and Kanto regions.
If they were willing to go even further, they could also include the third generation Game Boy Advance games as well as Fire Red and Leaf Green, though they would be limited to the Wii U. Pokémon Emerald would bring with it the wonderful Pokémon Battle Frontier - a series of postgame challenges capable of pushing even hardcore Pokémon fans. The Battle Frontier was sorely missed in last year's Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire remakes, so it would be nice to have it back, if only in Virtual Console form.
The most likely outcome is that Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow will sell exceptionally well on Virtual Console, and Game Freak will be moved to release Gold, Silver, and Crystal, then leave it at that. This would be a perfectly acceptable outcome, not the least because the first two generations are wholly divorced from the current set of games due to their technical limitations, making them akin to their own ecosystems. Playing them will be like getting into a time machine and hanging out with the dinosaurs.
If nothing else, I would love for Game Freak to release the physical bundle that they've announced for Japan, which comes complete with a download code, a map, and other materials. My own love for Pokémon has faded a bit over the years, but my passion for classic boxart knows no bounds.